Dries Mertens’ penalty and a late Fernando Llorente goal condemned Liverpool to defeat in their Group E Champions League opener against Napoli.
Belgian forward Mertens scored from the penalty spot after Liverpool defender Andy Robertson was judged to have fouled Jose Callejon.
Former Tottenham forward Llorente then capitalised on a mistake from Virgil van Dijk in stoppage-time to roll the ball past Liverpool keeper Adrian.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are the first winners of the competition to lose the opening game of the following campaign since AC Milan in 1994.
Goalkeeper Adrian had earlier made two keys saves for Liverpool, who initially struggled to impose themselves in the intimidating atmosphere of the San Paolo Stadium.
The 32-year-old, deputising for the injured Alisson, twice saved from compatriot Fabian Ruiz during the first period and produced an outstanding point-blank save from Mertens’ volley just after the break.
However, unlike the corresponding fixture last term, when Liverpool failed to register a shot on target in their 1-0 defeat, Klopp’s side did produce moments of slick football to threaten the hosts.
A flashing Mohamed Salah drive was superbly tipped to safety by Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret, who also saved Sadio Mane’s toe-poked shot with the score at 0-0.
But while Klopp’s side have made a blistering start to the Premier League, averaging three goals per game, their failure to exploit several good breaks consigned them to a sixth defeat away from home in their last eight matches in the competition.
Koulibaly snuffs out Liverpool threat
Liverpool’s failure to puncture the home defence was largely down to the impressive form of Kalidou Koulibaly, at the heart of the Napoli defence.
The Senegal international repeatedly demonstrated why he has been mentioned in dispatches as a target of the Premier League’s biggest clubs, throughout the summer.
Named the best defender in Serie A last term, the 28-year-old made several key interceptions and dispossessed both Roberto Firmino and Salah in one-versus-one situations.
And he continued in that vein, patrolling behind left-back Mario Rui to snuff out the danger posed by the Egyptian’s pace and trickery.
His reading of the game was exemplary throughout, ensuring he was rarely caught out of possession and was able to spring Napoli attacks.
Conservative Liverpool fail to sparkle
Klopp’s team lost all three away games in last season’s group stage, but overwhelmed teams at Anfield with their pace, energy and the brilliance of forwards, Mane, Salah and Firmino.
And initially Jordan Henderson’s searching second-minute pass into the path of Salah seemed a precursor to the narrative that has served Liverpool so well.
However, on a warm evening in Naples, Klopp’s side appeared to take a more conservative approach exemplified by full-backs Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s failure to press forward.
In midfield Fabinho snapped away but their was an absence of sparkle in possession with Henderson and James Milner delivering solid displays but not the sort of service that Liverpool’s attacking triumvirate are accustomed to.
Only goalkeeper Adrian touched the ball less than Salah and Firmino.
And that lack of involvement perhaps also contributed to Mane’s indecision, when racing towards goal, with the Senegalese forward over-hitting a pass to Salah that could have put the Egyptian in on goal.
Napoli maintain record against English clubs – the stats
- Napoli have now won five of their six Champions League home games against English opposition (L1 – a 2-4 defat to Man City in November 2017).
- Liverpool have lost their opening Champions League match of a new campaign for only the second time (P12 W6 D4 L2), and for the first time since a 0-2 defeat to Valencia in September 2002.
- Liverpool had more shots in the opening 22 minutes of this match (five) than they managed through the entirety of this exact fixture in the competition last season (four).
- Liverpool have lost six of their last eight away games in the Champions League (W2), as many as in their previous 25 such matches in the competition.
- Since the start of last season, only Nicolas Tagliafico (six) has received more yellow cards in the Champions League than Liverpool’s Andy Robertson (four).
- Napoli striker Dries Mertens has scored more Champions league goals than any other Belgian in the competition (11).
- Since a 2-0 win over Udinese as Borussia Dortmund boss, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has lost on his last five visits to Italian sides in all competitions (P5 W0 D0 L5).
- Napoli striker Fernando Llorente has now scored a Champions League goal for four different clubs (Juventus, Sevilla, Spurs and Napoli) – the joint-most sides of all Spaniards alongside Fernando Morientes.
More to follow.