Liverpool suffered an unlucky defeat at San Paolo Stadium against Napoli in the first round of the UEFA Champions League Group Stages. Defeat was looking unlikely until the 82nd minute, when the game took a turn following a controversial decision made by the referee. Andy Robertson was adjudged to have brought Jose Callejon down in the box and Napoli were awarded with a penalty.
There seemed to be minimal contact and the foul went to VAR, who deemed the referee’s decision as just and allowed Napoli the spot-kick. In an interview, Klopp agreed that Callejon played it smart against Robertson and that the yellow card his defender received was “harsh.”
It was Dries Mertens that took the shot and though Adrian got his hand on it, he just couldn’t do enough to push it outside of the goal. Nevertheless, Adrian’s performance against Napoli was outstanding and he did well to save a number of dangerous shots from Carlo Ancelotti’s side. The most stunning being when he denied Mertens attempt earlier on in the second half, somehow managing to push the ball onto the roof of the net with his right hand as it spun rapidly towards the top corner.
Napoli did have it in the net from early on in the game but the ‘goal’ was ruled offside – Fabian Ruiz shot twice and Adrian made two successive lightning saves before the ball was nodded home by Lozano, who was correctly flagged down. Cutting a home sides raring celebration short.
More frustration came in extra time when Napoli scored again in the 92nd minute sending Liverpool down 2-0 in Naples. Virgil Van Dijk made a rare error by allowing former Tottenham centre-forward Fernando Llorente to gain pace on the ball and send it home for Napoli. He’ll be disappointed with his part in the goal and should Liverpool want to hold on to their Champions League title, errors like that can’t be afforded but we all know how capable the Dutch defender is and this small blip won’t speak for the rest of the season.
Whilst the Reds conceded two goals, they were still threatening on the counter-attack and Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret, had to make some vital saves, especially from Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
Mane whipped a shot towards the net, in attempt to go through the keeper but Meret got down well to block, cradling the ball in both arms. Mo Salah fired a low diagonal shot and again, Meret did excellently to get his fingertips on the ball and deny the shot. Roberto Firmino nearly put Liverpool ahead with his header that just flashed wide of the post – could have definitely been a goal if it had been on target! James Milner nearly had an assist when he curled a low ball towards Mo Salah but Mario Ruiz did well to clear it.
Mane and Salah also somehow made a hash of a two on one. Napoli had failed to mark the two forwards effectively and the two zoomed towards a Napoli box but Mane miscalculated the cross to Salah, sending it far too wide for him to get a clear foot on it. It was the perfect and perhaps easiest opportunity Liverpool would have had to put themselves ahead and you could see the anticipation on the away fans faces. Either way, the Reds were creating opportunity, there’s no denying that.
Liverpool had been the better side for long periods, but it was clear that Napoli had done their homework and it was a spell of déjà vu for Liverpool, as Napoli’s last-minute success was a reminder of what happened when they played the same opponents a year ago.
A disappointed Jurgen Klopp admitted: “We had our opportunities. We had a lot of counter-attacks but could not finish them off.”
But this is exactly how Liverpool started their Champions League season last year. The Reds lost four of their six away fixtures and yet still climbed to the top to win the Champions League title, so fans shouldn’t be too disheartened.
For Liverpool it seems that when the beginning is harsh, it will end in victory. They play Red Bull Salzburg next at home and whilst the Austrian side defeated Genk 6-2, they shouldn’t be too brazen as Klopp’s men haven’t lost a game at Anfield Stadium since 2017! They’ll be looking to make light work of RB Salzburg though they should keep their eye on up-and-coming star Erling Håland.
Ross Barkley Gutted by Missed Penalty That Prevents a Draw at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea also suffered a defeat in their opening Champions League game. The Blues lost 0-1 at home to Valencia, marking another frustrating night at Stamford Bridge.
It was Valencia’s, Rodrigo, the only goal-scorer of the night that put Chelsea down. He edged into the home sides box in an excellent set-piece following Valencia’s free-kick. Parejo chipped the ball over the man-made wall and Rodrigo sprinted from out of nowhere, catching the ball with his left foot to hook it around and send it past Chelsea keeper, Kepa. And the away fans were sent into a flurry of celebration.
Chelsea had opportunity to equalise after VAR awarded a penalty for a handball by Daniel Wass that came off a header by Tomori. After a round of questioning by Jorginho and Willian, Ross Barkley took the shot but missed the penalty, with the ball cannoning off the cross bar and then going over.
Valencia had evidently done their homework on Lampard’s men as they defended smartly against a home side that clearly had more possession and control for the most part of the game. Jasper Cillessen did well to deny attempts from both Willian and Marcus Alonso, who fired a lovely shot through the visitor’s poor wall and towards the corner of the post.
Willian was looking especially threatening throughout the game, which is perhaps why he was so determined to take the spot-kick for his side.
There were chances from Giroud and Christensen too, though they just couldn’t do enough to put the Blues ahead. Chelsea had also lost young star and England International, Mason Mount early on in the first half following a rash challenge by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin. Needless to say, it was a tense and frustrating encounter that marked an undesirable first for Frank Lampard, who has become the first Chelsea manager in charge to lose his opening Champions League match.
He admitted that it was a “harsh lesson”, especially for his younger players who have much to learn about Champions League Football. We know there will be better nights than this one for Chelsea and that the Blues will do well to qualify from this minor setback.
N’Golo Kante is in good form, Emerson Palmieri has returned and Callum Hudson-Odoi is set to make his comeback. We know Chelsea are capable of great football, that was seen in their 5-2 victory over Wolves and with the Blues eager to seal their first win at Stamford Bridge, if they don’t do it in the Premier League, they’ll be hoping to triumph against Ajax, who they face at home next in the Champions League Group Stages.