Late strikes from Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente saw Napoli get the better of holders Liverpool in a 2-0 win during the opening round of Champions League group stage matches on Tuesday night.
Mertens converted a penalty on 82 minutes after Andrew Robertson brought down Jose Callejon before a mistake from Virgil van Dijk saw Llorente seal the three points in injury time.
Here, we rate the performances of Liverpool’s players.
STARTING XI (4-3-3)
Adrian 7 – Made a truly special save to deny Mertens a certain goal. Did well to get a hand to the Belgian’s penalty later but couldn’t keep it out.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 5 – Only one of his eight crosses found a red shirt. Defended well but Napoli were wise to his diagonal passes.
Joel Matip 6 – Solid at the back without ever really standing out beside his more aggressive partner.
Virgil van Dijk 5 – Made several clearances and looked impossible to get around … but was caught napping at the death when Mertens nicked the ball away from him and Llorente applied the finish.
Andrew Robertson 4 – Made relentless runs forward but didn’t deliver a single cross. His clumsy challenge on Callejon conceded a late penalty.
Jordan Henderson 5 – Played some decent forward passes and always presented for the ball.
Fabinho 6 – Anchored the midfield well, winning possession and feeding those around him.
James Milner 5 – Superb cross for Roberto Firmino who nodded just wide. Worked hard but fairly quiet outing otherwise.
Mohamed Salah 6 – Had the beating of Mario Rui but his battle with Kalidou Koulibaly was captivating. A game-high five shots but only one really tested Alex Meret.
Roberto Firmino 6 – Went close in the first half. Caused the Napoli defence a few problems but nothing they couldn’t cope with.
Sadio Mane 5 – His poor final ball ended a promising counter-attack. Got into good positions but didn’t capitalise.
Georginio Wijnaldum (66′) 5 – Replaced Milner and was tidy with his passing.
Xherdan Shaqiri (87′) N/A – Didn’t have time to make an impact.
Skipper Jordan Henderson believes Liverpool have “improved a lot” since last season’s defeat to Napoli.
The two teams go head-to-head in the group stages of the Champions League for the second successive campaign.
The Reds were beaten 1-0 at Stadium San Paolo last October, with Lorenzo Insigne scoring a last-minute winner.
Henderson admits that result hurt the Liverpool squad and felt it played a part in them going on to lift the trophy.
He said: “When we came here last year we didn’t perform very well, at all, I’m sure the manager will tell you that.
“I can remember analysis after that game and I think we improved a lot since that game and we used that game to improve a lot.
“Hopefully tomorrow night will be a different story, the performance level is much better and if that’s the case then we have a better chance to win of course.
“It will still be a tough challenge because Napoli are a good side.”
When asked if he feels Liverpool are a different proposition for Napoli this term, boss Jurgen Klopp said: “Last year we learned from the first game and we used that experience in the second game (a 1-0 win for Liverpool).
“If you don’t defend with all you have you have no chance against Napoli. They are so strong, I really like watching them.
“Am I sure something like that cannot happen again? No, of course not, but the boys give me no signs that I can doubt them but it’s still football, we’re human beings and things like this can happen.
“We will try to reach the level of last year again…but we want to be as consistent, at least, as last year but play our football of this year.
“Use the skills, use the confidence when it’s there, get it back when it’s not there. Use the momentum when it’s there, get it back when it’s not there, stuff like this. Stay in the game, fight for everything.
“Improvement we will judge at the end of the season.”
Rhian Brewster has been included in the Liverpool squad for the game and Henderson believes the 19-year-old striker deserves the opportunity.
“He had a really good pre-season and has been really strong in training,” said the England international.
“He gives us another option. We’ve got a lot of strength in the squad but he’s been doing really well and he just needs to continue in that way.”
His team may be reigning champions of Europe but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has declared Manchester City the best team in the world.
The 2018/19 Champions League winners prepare to start their title defence against Napoli at Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday, the two teams also met in the group stage a year ago.
Klopp said in relation to a question about Liverpool being the best side in Europe: “We can’t be the best team in Europe because Man City are the best team in the world, that’s the same planet, I heard.
“There are a lot of good teams out there, and you have to prove that constantly. Last year we were really good. I am not sure we were the best team in Europe but we were really good in the right moments.”