June 17, 2024

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Napoli vs Liverpool: Reds end 25-year tradition as reigning Champions League winner lose opener after late implosion

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Late goals from Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente earned Napoli a 2-0 victory as Liverpool made a slow start to their Champions League defence.

For the second season in a row, Jurgen Klopp’s side were beaten in the group stage in Naples – they lost 1-0 last October – and it was more sloppy defending which saw the game slip away from them in the final minutes.

The Reds had defended stoutly against some sustained pressure from the home side, but were unlucky to be punished when Jose Callejon skipped inside of Andy Robertson before making the most of minimal contact with the Liverpool defender and, when a VAR review failed to give the visitors a reprieve, Dries Mertens took full advantage to beat Adrian from the spot.

As Liverpool pushed for a late equaliser, well into five minutes of added-on time Fernando Llorente doubled the lead from a rare Virgil van Dijk mistake, profiting when the defender’s mis-hit pass ran into his path and he slotted the ball home to spark wild celebrations on the home bench with victory sealed – and the reigning champions beaten in their first game for the first time since AC Milan in 1994.

Liverpool defence gets off to a whimper

Liverpool were hoping for better than their limp showing at the Stadio San Paolo last season, but found themselves caught out on the break early on when, as they would have feared, Insigne found space in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold, but from his pull-back Fabian twice pulled simple saves out of Adrian from a good position.

Liverpool responded when Jordan Henderson’s lob found Mane unmarked on the edge of the box, but his heavy touch took him wide of Alex Meret’s post and from a tight angle it was simple enough for the goalkeeper to turn his effort round the post with his legs.

There was little more to shout about from either side before the break although it took a last-gasp challenge from Alexander-Arnold to take the ball off Insigne’s foot as he prepared to shoot.

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The second half didn’t take so long to liven up. It was less than four minutes old when Liverpool were indebted to a world-class save from Adrian to stay level, with the goalkeeper somehow tipping over Mertens’ near-post header when he looked certain to score.

When the visitors did get chances to attack, their front three looked out of sorts; it was summed up little better than when Sadio Mane hung onto the ball too long as Liverpool broke before overhitting a simple pass across to the unmarked Salah.

Liverpool were left to rue those misfiring attacks when Callejon took a late tumble under pressure from Robertson, the referee pointed straight to the spot and Mertens found the bottom corner, despite a commendable effort from Adrian.

It was already looking like a case of deja vu for Liverpool at this point, but things got worse in added time when Van Dijk’s uncharacteristic error set up Llorente, who had been on the defeated Spurs side in last season’s final, to slot under Adrian and seal three points for the hosts.

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