Napoli 4-1 Liverpool

97

You would hope those Liverpool fans who followed Jurgen Klopp’s advice in May, to ‘book your hotels’ in Istanbul for the 2023 Champions League final, secured refundable rates.

In the moments after the defeat to Real Madrid in Paris, an emotional Klopp pledged to oversee Liverpool’s return to the biggest club game in the world within 12 months and urged despondent supporters to follow his dream.

On this evidence, Liverpool will be lucky to reach the knockout stages in 2023. The tournament that has often been such a wonderful diversion from domestic matters could not have started in a worse possible fashion for Klopp and his players here in Naples.

This, frankly, was an embarrassment, a display so wretched that it made it easy to label it as the worst European performance of the Klopp era. All credit to Napoli, who were young, aggressive and dynamic, for wreaking such havoc but Liverpool, recklessly, assisted them.

Three goals down at half-time – an Alisson Becker penalty save stopped the scoreline being even more emphatic – it was scarcely believable only 103 days have passed since Liverpool were going head-to-head with Madrid, looking to conquer Europe for a seventh time.

How the issues are mounting for Klopp, who bore the dumbfounded look of a man who had just seen his house collapse in front of him. The shock, undoubtedly, was exacerbated by the fact he saw Napoli doing everything he expected Liverpool to do.

What he wanted and what he got were two different things entirely. Liverpool were a shambles and the manner in which they were carved open, time and time again, was an affront to the values this team prides itself upon.

It was apparent within 42 seconds that Liverpool were there to be taken apart. Napoli had seven players on the halfway line at kick-off, waiting to burst forward, but it was a decoy. They went backwards to launch their attack and pulled those in Red out of position.

The move ended with Victor Osimhen, the Nigeria international, skipping around Alisson, who had dashed out of his area, but, agonisingly, his shot cracked against the side of the post. This jolt should have woken Liverpool up but, instead, they froze.

Within four minutes, they were behind. Piotr Zielinski, a player whom Klopp tried to buy for Liverpool in 2016, broke into the area and shot but his effort was stopped by James Milner’s hand; referee Carlos del Cerro Grande had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Zielinski duly converted.

Games in this stadium have always given Liverpool headaches but this was the first time they had conceded here so early. Sensing the opportunity that something special might happen, the locals created a noise like thunder and watched Napoli play with the electricity of lightening.

Joe Gomez was the man whom Klopp would hold accountable at half-time, taking the central defender off, but this was not about the efforts of one man. Trent Alexander-Arnold was lamentable, Virgil van Dijk was so horribly out of sorts, Fabinho was wooden, Milner so off the pace.