Napoli 2-0 Liverpool: Mertens and Llorente down Champions League holder

For the second season in a row, Liverpool lost away to Napoli in the Champions League group stage.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has now failed to score in all three away appearances for his side this season.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has now failed to score in all three away appearances for his side this season.   -  Getty Images

Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente struck late to earn Napoli a 2-0 win at home to holder Liverpool in the first game of the Reds' Champions League defence.

Carlo Ancelotti's men won the corresponding fixture last term with Mertens' spot-kick and Llorente's injury-time goal enough to ensure history was repeated in the Group E clash at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday.

Andy Robertson was deemed to have tripped Jose Callejon in the box and, after VAR ratified the penalty decision, Mertens squeezed his penalty past Adrian in the 82nd minute.

Liverpool rode its luck in reaching the knockout rounds in 2018-19 and Jurgen Klopp's men will again have to bounce back from an away loss to Napoli this year after Llorente's first goal for the club sealed all three points.

Napoli had an early strike ruled out for offside when Hirving Lozano headed home the rebound after Adrian's excellent double save from Fabian Ruiz.

READ: Liverpool not favourites against 'cheeky b*******' Napoli, says Klopp

Sadio Mane's shot was saved by Alex Meret in the 20th minute - Liverpool recording its first shot on target in the game having failed to manage any in last season's visit.

And the Reds should have gone into the break 1-0 up, Firmino heading wide a fine James Milner cross on the Brazil forward's 200th Liverpool appearance.

Napoli had the first big chance of the second half, Adrian showing superb reactions to prevent Mertens from turning in Fabian's deep cross, then Mane overhit a pass to Mohamed Salah as Liverpool broke at speed.

Liverpool was starting to build pressure and, after successive errors from Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas handed him a sight of goal in the 65th minute, Salah's drive was turned around the post by Meret.

Napoli's goalkeeper had to deny Mane again as Liverpool looked to finish strongly, but when Callejon jinked into the box he went over Robertson's outstretched leg to win a penalty.

Mertens had to wait for the VAR check, but calmly drilled his strike past Adrian, with Virgil van Dijk's terrible error in stoppage time ensuring former Tottenham striker Llorente could ease home a second.
 

What does it mean? History repeated in Naples

Lorenzo Insigne's late strike earned Carlo Ancelotti's side a 1-0 victory against Liverpool last season and lightning struck twice, with Liverpool becoming the first holder to lose the first game of its Champions League defence since AC Milan did so in 1994-95.

Liverpool has kept only one clean sheet in eight competitive games this season, which must worry Klopp, especially as reliable leader Van Dijk was badly at fault for Llorente's clincher.

Mertens the matchwinner

An 11th Champions League goal from Mertens set up this win, with the Belgium international also helping to force Van Dijk's error for Napoli's second goal.

Ancelotti named four attackers in his starting XI with the three-time Champions League winning coach's bold selection justified by an eye-catching win.

Another away blank for Salah

Chances were at a premium for both sides for most of the game, but Salah is a player expected to create opportunities for himself. He failed to do so against a tough defence, although Mane undoubtedly should have set him up.

The Egypt star has now failed to score in all three away appearances for Liverpool this season.

Key Opta Facts:

- Napoli has now won five of its six Champions League home games against English opposition (L1 – a 4-2 defeat to Man City in November 2017).
- Liverpool has lost its opening Champions League match of a new campaign for only the second time (P12 W6 D4 L2), and for the first time since a 2-0 defeat to Valencia in September 2002.
- The Reds have lost six of their last eight away games in the Champions League (W2), as many as in their previous 25 such matches in the competition.
- Napoli striker Dries Mertens has scored more Champions league goals than any other Belgian in the competition (11).
- Since a 2-0 win over Udinese as Borussia Dortmund boss, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has lost on his last five visits to Italian sides in all competitions (P5 W0 D0 L5).
- Napoli striker Fernando Llorente has now scored a Champions League goal for four different clubs (Juventus, Sevilla, Spurs and Napoli) – the joint-most sides of all Spaniards alongside Fernando Morientes.

What's next?

Liverpool travels to Chelsea in a blockbuster Premier League clash on Sunday, the same day Napoli goes to Lecce in Serie A. When the Champions League returns for matchweek two early next month, Anfield will welcome early group leader Salzburg with Napoli going away to Genk.

- Klopp says Napoli can win Champions League after Liverpool loss -

Jurgen Klopp said Napoli can win the Champions League, while backing his team to bounce back from its defeat.

The German said he was frustrated with the penalty decision afterwards and when asked about the Champions League chances of Carlo Ancelotti's side, he said: "They can win the competition, that’s how it is.

"If you have a good plan, if you have good players, which is what they obviously have, then they can win the competition. We experienced that you don't have to be the best team in the world to win the Champions League.

"You have to be in the right moment, you need to be lucky in some situations and when there's only two guys in the room that think it's a penalty you still have to accept that's a penalty, but that's all. They can win the competition, of course."

Klopp was pressed as to whether Napoli was fresher and finished stronger than Liverpool due to Serie A starting later than the Premier League, and the German was not happy.

"Tonight, the questions are really a challenge, to be honest," Klopp said. "I think the guy from Sky Italia asked me or told me Napoli was much better than us. I didn't see that game, so I don't know exactly where he was when the game happened.

"But now you say we were tired. Who had the cramps? Who was on the ground? Liverpool players or Napoli players? After the 2-0 they looked fresher than us, after the 1-0 they looked fresher than us – that's normal. You have a boost. But there was no fresher team on the pitch. There was no physical problem apart from the normal physical problems in a game like this, which is very intense [because] both teams fight hard and all that stuff. It's not a physical problem tonight," he said.

Klopp added: "I hope it [the result] is not decisive. Give us at least a few more games to change the table. In the moment it looks like Napoli’s through, but we still will be playing. We will not stop."

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