*Liverpool forward Mo Salah (right) sees an effort blocked by the outstretched leg of Napoli centre back Kostas Manolas
A costly mistake by Virgil van Dijk, the world’s best defender was what led to a spot kick Napoli capitalized to open their account in this year’s Champions League group stage. But another goal by former Tottenham striker, Fernando Llorente who came off the bench to grab the second goal ensured that Napoli beat Liverpool 2 -0 on Tuesday.
With that defeat, Liverpool became the first European champions to lose their next game out in this competition since AC Milan in 1994. True, the Milanese went on to the final that year, as did Ajax, the team that beat them. And Liverpool also lost away to Napoli in the group stage 12 months ago, and eventually won the tournament. It’s the earliest of early days. Nobody reads too much into these group games anymore.
Even so, this was a crashing disappointment, given Liverpool’s current domestic form and their pedigree and growth in this competition. European champions usually get to bask in the glory a little longer than this. Instead, it is sleeves up and here we go again, given that one of the groups, RB Salzburg, opened by putting six past Genk. Now this may be because the Belgians are hopeless, and Salzburg may have been greatly flattered. Yet Liverpool cannot presume.
Next month, when they play the Austrians at Anfield, there can be no slip-ups. And, recently, that has been a given. Part of Liverpool’s relentless run of league wins – not to mention their European crown – has been the excellence of Jurgen Klopp’s defence. Van Dijk is widely considered the finest centre-back in Europe; Robertson one of the greatest bargains in Premier League history.