[Liverpool 1 – 1 Napoli]
Before the game started, I was one of a fair number of people who thought it would be reasonably easy to clear this particular hurdle. After all, Napoli are in a disarray at the moment, Liverpool were playing at home, and a win would make the last game against Red Bull a mere formality. That last bit is important, because it would have allowed Klopp to rest his important players for that match, seeing as it is going to come in the “heat of December”, which refers not to the weather, but rather to the intense schedule Liverpool is about to face.
But it was not to be. Napoli, the one European side that seems to cause Klopp’s team the most trouble most consistently, did not fail to disappoint the home crowd. A brilliant individual effort from Dries Mertens suddenly made the game a lot trickier than it deserved to be. The goal echoed the one given to Manchester United in Liverpool’s other 1-1 draw of the season thus far, on account of the clear foul Mertens intentionally committed on Van Dijk before he broke free. The replays show he wasn’t even pretending to play the ball, but VAR still being its infantile mysterious self showed no interest, and Mertens’ subsequent brilliant finish stood.
Yet somehow, as the final whistle blew, I still felt an odd mix of having been both right and wrong. That goal was Napoli’s only shot on target, out of a very few attempts; the stats make it clear that Liverpool dominated the game, start to finish. It was just one of those games. In fact, it looked so one-sided to me, that during half-time I predicted the Reds would score 3 or 4. I felt confident, which is admittedly an odd sensation for a lifelong Liverpool fan.
Lovren’s goal was a strong effort too, and Oxlaide-Chamberlain coming on certainly added spice. If Napoli are falling apart, then they certainly weren’t doing it tonight. Otherwise the game was not particularly exciting, and I am finding it difficult to come up with any other notable moments, barring maybe Lovren’s fantastic stop of a Napoli counter a few minutes after his goal. I don’t recall which Napoli player it was, but Lovren simply stood on the ball, ignoring the attacking player, as if he was a two-ton truck being angrily pelted by a mosquito.
Then, of course, we have the very worrisome injury to Fabinho, which I suppose is another notable moment. This may have ultimately been the cause of all the trouble, because Liverpool were clearly missing his transitional capabilities, as in, he wasn’t there to terminate the opposing attacks and quickly launch one for his side. Added to the missing Alexander-Arnold (nothing against Gomez, but his attacking skills are not on the same planet as Trent’s), this dramatically reduced the overall effectiveness of Liverpool’s system.
I’m finding it hard to pick an outstanding player for Liverpool today, so I’m going to pick the very same player that did so much to hurt the Reds in Napoli. Kalidou Koulibaly proved, again, to be too much for the vaunted merseyside attack, and were it not for him, the game would have indeed been easy for the home team. It’s not just the crucial save he made from the goal line off a Firmino trickshot, it was his positioning and game reading capabilities. My secret wish is that the Reds can pluck him out of Napoli in January, taking advantage of that sailors revolt. Him and Van Dijk together, with Alisson behind them, is something dreams of world domination are made of.
Plus we’ll finally get some clean sheets back on the record.