A rupture has occurred in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It was Liverpool, torn and destroyed by Napoli on a humiliating night when Jürgen Klopp’s side looked like Champions League novices and not seasoned finalists from three of the last five years.
The worst European performance of Klopp’s nearly seven-year reign – it’s hard to think of another that comes close to the unwanted accolade – produced one of Liverpool’s heaviest European defeats. And a rare and necessary apology from Klopp to traveling fans afterwards.
Liverpool were torn from the start and unrecognizable in all facets of a Klopp side, leaving the manager to admit: “We have to reinvent ourselves.” The rupture will extend from the performance to the fallout.
Klopp has said beforehand that he wants Liverpool to extinguish the emotion and aggression that Napoli harbors inside their stadium through football principles and a compact defence. His players never read the memo. They poured oil on the incendiary atmosphere inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona instead with a passive and chaotic performance in which their defense was shredded time and time again. By the time Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa scored Napoli’s second goal in the 31st minute, it could easily have been 5-0 for Luciano Spalletti’s dynamic side. They had missed a penalty, hit a post and had a shot cleared off the line. The hosts decided at will in the first half especially. Liverpool, abysmal from behind to front, offered little resistance and were flattered by a 4-1 loss.
The Liverpool manager’s instructions were dropped after 42 seconds. Amir Rrahmani and Stanislav Lobotka blasted the ball away from the defense with flippant ease before Giovanni Di Lorenzo sent Victor Osimhen in a 50-50 with Alisson. The quick striker got there first but swept a shot from a tight angle against the base of a post. Napoli had revealed their hand to play quick and incisive passes behind the Liverpool defence. The visitors paid no attention to it.
Osimhen had almost been replayed before the home side took a deserved fifth-minute lead from the penalty spot. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, or Kvaradona as the Georgian was christened after his explosive start to life at Napoli, assisted Piotr Zielinski with a shot that deflected just wide of Alisson’s goal. It was deflected by the outstretched hand of James Milner, Liverpool’s captain for the night, and Zielinski sent Alisson the wrong way in the resulting clear penalty. Milner quickly entered the book for a strong lunge on Zambo Anguissa.
Napoli received a second penalty when VAR advised Spanish referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande to review a challenge from Virgil van Dijk on Osimhen. Play continued after the striker attempted to spin inside the Liverpool defender but, on his pitchside monitor, the referee spotted contact between Van Dijk and Osimhen’s right foot. Osimhen, not Zielinski, took the second kick and in the same direction as the first. Alisson dashed to his right to make a nice save and Di Lorenzo took advantage of a good chance thanks to the rebound.
As Del Cerro Grande consulted his monitor, Klopp railed against Fabinho and his defenders for their chaotic opening. Still, it got worse after the missed penalty. Kvaratskhelia embarrassed Fabinho by spinning him three times in the same motion inside the center circle. Osimhen dispossessed loafer Joe Gomez to advance into the penalty area where Kvaratskhelia stood unmarked. The pass to the 21-year-old was delayed and poor, however, giving Van Dijk the chance to erase his possible shot off the line.
It was nearly two o’clock when Gomez was again dispossessed, this time by Kvaratskhelia. Zambo Anguissa exchanged passes with Zielinski and wandered around the area unchallenged before beating Alisson with a cool finish. It was his first Napoli goal but not the end of Liverpool’s torment. As bad as Klopp’s side were, and their problems weren’t limited to defense with Mohamed Salah struggling to control most routine passing, they created enough openings to dampen Napoli’s mood. Goalkeeper Alex Meret tipped over a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick and saved well from a van Dijk header. Salah and Harvey Elliott also missed decent chances.
Liverpool appeared to have been relieved when Osimhen limped off injured before the break only for substitute Giovanni Simeone to score Napoli’s third goal with one of his first touches. Gomez’ terrible night continued when he was passed and beaten by the superb Kvaratskhelia near the boundary line. The Georgian crossed low for Diego Simeone’s son to convert a simple tap-in.
Gomez was unsurprisingly hooked at half-time and replaced by Joël Matip. But the rout continues. Less than two minutes after the restart, Simeone found Zielinski sprinting into the unmarked Liverpool area and, although the playmaker’s shot was parried by Alisson, he grabbed the rebound on the keeper. The arrival underlined the swagger that ran through the Napoli squad.
Luis Díaz cut the deficit in style when he cut from the left and beat Meret with a fine finish in the far corner. Liverpool’s first-ever Napoli goal was no cause for celebration. The visitors controlled the final stages but had been largely beaten in the sweltering Italian heat, outclassed and humiliated by a team that wanted victory more.