Trent Alexander-Arnold insists Liverpool can handle the pressure of being European champions as they set about trying to retain the trophy.
The right-back knows the Reds have a target on their back after their Champions League triumph in June against Tottenham.
Liverpool open their defence on Tuesday night in Italy against Napoli, a side they also faced in last season’s group stage.
“We’ve probably got a big target on our backs now because we are European champions,” said Alexander-Arnold, whose side lead the Premier League by five points with five wins from the first five games.
“Everyone wants to beat us. We’re the team to beat right now so it’s exciting for us.
“We need to try and defend the honour as much as possible and try and retain it if we can.
“A lot of the players that we have are world-class players, they know what it takes to win things, what it takes to be successful, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to embrace that as a team. I think we have so far this season in the Premier League.
“We obviously know that last season we did so well so this season we’re up there again. But we need to be ready for all types of tests.”
Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli will certainly pose a tough test. The Serie A side beat them 1-0, through a late Lorenzo Insigne goal, in this corresponding fixture last season.
It was a below-par performance that Kop manager Jurgen Klopp described as their “worst” in Europe.
“It was a tough game,” recalled Alexander-Arnold. “We were really stretched as a side, we weren’t defending properly. We just weren’t organised at all.
“We really struggled to get to grips with the game and we were punished late doors. We probably thought that we’d done enough to get the point.
“With the last five minutes to go, you’re probably thinking ‘we’ve got away with one here’ and then you switch off for a minute, and they creep in with a last-minute goal and you’re gutted you’re going home with no points.
“It’s one of those we’ll learn from it, we’ll push forward and hopefully go there and be able to get a better result than we did last year.
“We know that being able to keep clean sheets and being able to win games away from home are massively important – especially in the Champions League when you’ve probably only got one or two chances to beat teams and get results.
“You’re playing in Europe’s elite, you’re going to get less chances than what you do in the Premier League so it’s about maximising those chances and minimalising the opposition.”
Napoli also beat the Reds 3-0 in a pre-season friendly in Edinburgh where Insigne shone and Alexander-Arnold, 20, knows they have to beware the industrious and inventive Italian frontman.
“He’s a great player, probably a little bit underrated in terms of the respect and the plaudits that he gets,” said the England international.
“But he’s a real fantastic player. I think his team-mates will say the same and the people that come up against him will say how tricky he is to actually nullify. He’s a good player, they’ve got many a good player and we need to be ready for that.
“He’s someone who really helps them play football, understands the way that they want to play, really encourages the team to play out, able to hit [it to] him and he’ll be able to hold the ball up.
“He’s a really tricky player, really strong, fast, quite agile. He’s kind of like Eden Hazard I’d say, that type of player who is tricky to get hold of and mark. Coming up against him’s always a tough test, but they’re the things that you expect in the Champions League.”
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Sadio Mane struck twice to maintain his fine goalscoring form and Liverpool’s 100-per-cent start to the season in a 3-1 win against Newcastle United.
The visitors had last won at Anfield in the Premier League 25 years ago, but Jetro Willems stunned the leaders in the seventh minute when he collected a pass on the left, cut inside Trent Alexander-Arnold and then unleashed a fierce strike into the top corner.
It took a similar effort to level a keenly-fought encounter in the 28th minute. Andrew Robertson set up Mane for a curling finish.
And it was the Senegal striker who claimed the crucial second, and his sixth of the season, five minutes before the break.
Roberto Firmino, on as a sub for the injured Divock Origi just three minutes earlier, played a pass through. The ball, somehow, went over the diving Martin Dubravka and there was Mane to compound the misery of the Newcastle keeper by slotting into the empty net.
The third goal came courtesy of Mohamed Salah in the 72nd minute, a left-foot finish, after a wonderful flick by Firmino.
MANE THE MAIN MAN
Manager Jurgen Klopp and team-mates were keen to play down Sadio Mane’s show of dissent after being substituted at Burnley, but many understood the frontman’s frustration.
There is little doubt that Mane is currently Liverpool’s biggest inspiration in attack, arguably their best player.
Lively and lethal, he is producing moments of quality that matter in games. Be it goals or assists.
5 - For the second consecutive season, Liverpool have won their opening five games of the Premier League campaign – the only previous two teams to do so in back-to-back seasons were Chelsea (2009-10/2010-11) and Man City (2015-16/2016-17). Marker. pic.twitter.com/aRwWTKhNHU— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 14, 2019
It used to be Salah, but, although he was on target, the Egyptian has struggled to show the class and consistency of old.
Mane has stepped up and how the Reds needed him to do so yesterday as they found Newcastle resolute opponents.
He took his tally to six in all competitions this season and his brace was a combination of sublime and simple.
Managers don’t take off their best players unless they are injured or being given a rest before the next game. Mane should be afforded that status.
WAKE-UP CALL FOR SLOPPY REDS
“Wake up,” wailed a Liverpool fan nearby. Anfield was strangely quiet after Newcastle took an early lead so the criticism could be heard loudly.
He was not the only one to voice his displeasure, though, as another pass was misplaced.
It was a sloppy and subdued start from the leaders. They were being pressed in the same manner as other teams usually opposing the Reds – and they didn’t like it.
50 - Mohamed Salah has been directly involved in 50 Premier League goals for Liverpool at Anfield, scoring 36 and providing 14 assists (41st appearance). Unstoppable. pic.twitter.com/skduO9qYTS— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 14, 2019
The normally reliable Robertson was particularly culpable and yet again this was an indication of how Liverpool’s much-vaunted defence of last season is susceptible under pressure.
Better teams will take greater advantage and punish such mistakes.
Napoli, and their livewire Lorenzo Insigne, are up next in the Champions League and Klopp’s men can’t afford to be as slack.
They also had far greater control when Roberto Firmino came on and provided the perfect link between defence, midfield and attack. Liverpool may still be unbeaten, but there is room for improvement.
PROMISING SIGNS OF PROGRESS FOR TOON
It has been a tough start for Steve Bruce since taking charge at Newcastle, but there are clear signs of progress and potential.
Until Mane’s fine equaliser, they had squeezed Liverpool to the extent the hosts were giving the ball away cheaply and forced to send hopeful, hopeless long balls into the box.
With a five-man backline and full-backs Jetro Willems and Emil Krafth encouraged to push forward against Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, they were organised, fit and the tactics worked well.
100 - Liverpool have now scored 100 goals against Newcastle in the Premier League; the third team to score 100+ against a single opponent in the competition, and first to do so against a side who hasn’t been ever-present (Arsenal 107 v Everton, Man Utd 100 v Everton). Century. pic.twitter.com/Hyfp7A039y— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 14, 2019
Captain Jamaal Lascelles was strong in the middle of three centre-backs and made some timely interventions.
He had previously been tipped for England honours when coming through. Now working under Bruce, himself a distinguished former centre-back and Manchester United captain, Lascelles could take his game to another level if he learns and develops.
Liverpool recovered from going down to an early Newcastle goal to record an eventually comfortable 3-1 win at Anfield.
The Toon Army marched south and would have been delighted to see their side take a shock lead after just seven minutes, Jetro Willems showing nice skill before arrowing an unstoppable shot past Adrian.
The home side were back in it just before the half hour mark when Sadio Mane was given space in the box and hammered into the top corner. The same man made it 2-1 before the break, Roberto Firmino’s threaded pass was brilliant and Mane tapped in after his initial attempt was blocked.
Newcastle did not go quietly though, giving a good account of themselves and had some decent chances to level. Mohamed Salah – a peripheral figure prior to that – secured the points 18 minutes from time when he tucked in the Reds’ third.
Here’s how the home players rated:
Adrian 6: Helpless for Willems’ goal which was a thunderbolt. Otherwise had little to do even if his defenders were busy.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7: Quiet in first half, maybe could have got a little tighter to Willems for goal. Got going after the break, deflected cross almost led to chance. Seven key passes highlighted his impact.
Joel Matip 8: Steady first half, lucky not to get booked early in second. Commanding in the air, winning an incredible 12 aerials. Three clearances – both team highs. Solid partnership forming with Van Dijk, Joe Gomez has some work to dislodge Cameroonian.
Virgil van Dijk 6: Erred in lead-up to opening goal, not getting tight to Atsu who brought down high ball and teed up Willems. Out of position for Krafth chance too but otherwise played on front foot, had three shots.
Andrew Robertson 5: Assist for Mane’s first will be one of the simplest of his career. Where was he for Krafth chance? Four dribbles led side. His poked shot somehow crept wide.
Fabinho 5: How did VAR not deem foul on him by Lascelles a penalty? Aimless pass across the pitch almost allowed visitors a second goal. Defensively astute.
Georginio Wijnaldum 6: Rusty in first half against his old side but much improved in second, cute chip landed on roof of the net rather than in it. Led those in red who didn’t come on or off with impressive 96.2 per cent pass rate.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 6: Busy and energetic as he continues to get back to full strength. Two dribbles was second most among team-mates.
Mohamed Salah 6: Neat and tidy in his build-up play but kind of on periphery of play, distribution far too casual. Better after break when he started and finished the move that killed the game.
Sadio Mane 7: Fresh from not being involved during international break and it showed with a crisp finish to draw Liverpool level. Alert to tuck in a second and generally a handful for Newcastle defence.
Divock Origi 5: Goalscoring chance taken off his head when Alexander-Arnold’s cross was flicked away by a defender. Succumbed to injury midway through first half.
Roberto Firmino 9: Came on and within three minutes had supplied a slide rule pass that led to Mane’s second. Energised his side. Back heel to Salah was devastating, almost had a third assist for Mane’s hat-trick but he was offside. Unplayable.
James Milner 6: Replaced fading Ox, 25 passes, 25 completed.
Xherdan Shaqiri N/A: No time to make any meaningful impact with game drifting.