Just as well that Jurgen Klopp did not pause for too long to wonder if there was a pattern to the misfortunes of managers in the opening round of the Champions League.
On Wednesday morning, a German coach who has reached two of the last three finals of the competition was sacked after a shock away defeat. About the same time, a compatriot was fired after a 4-1 loss in his opening group game.
The farewells of Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel and RB Leipzig’s Domenico Tedesco were the actions of clubs used to changing managers often and suddenly.
Klopp, approaching the seventh anniversary of his appointment at Liverpool, is reassured that his achievements – including three Champions League finals in the last five years and, like Tuchel, a win in one of them – can withstand a bruising 4-1 loss at Napoli. “We have different kinds of owners,” Klopp reckoned after Tuesday night’s hammering in southern Italy. “Ours are more calm.”
Nevertheless, the executives of Fenway Sports Group, who have had Klopp as their chief ally for more than half of their 12 years as proprietors of Liverpool will be curious about his plan to recover from the poorest start to a season on his watch.
“We need to reinvent ourselves,” suggested Klopp after Napoli, who had a penalty saved and might have racked up half a dozen goals, blitzed a Liverpool hard to recognise from the version that in May was pursuing an improbable Quadruple.
They failed to add a European Cup and a Premier League to their two domestic cups only on the last day of each of those competitions.
How Klopp defines the “reinvention” remains to be seen - “I said we need to reinvent ourselves because the basic things aren’t there,” he elaborated – but a broad upheaval of the formulas that elevated his Liverpool to second-best in Europe last season, to breathing down the neck of Manchester City in the Premier League, would be to dismantle a brilliant template.
The routines of his key players are entrenched; the clear concern is that they are not being matched by the high energy levels required, or that they are so entrenched that opponents are familiar enough with them that a counter-plan can be drawn up and put into effective practice.
Napoli set about exposing the high defensive line that has been a trademark of Klopp’s Liverpool, and signalled the intent early, a pass from Giovanni Di Lorenzo in the first minute inviting Victor Osimhen to run in behind and shoot against the post.
Napoli, with Osimhen leading the charge, and the nimble Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia wide on the left, are well equipped to stretch a back line intent on stealing yards and they executed their task excellently.
For Virgil van Dijk, so long the pillar of Liverpool’s defence, it was a haunting evening. For Trent Alexander-Arnold another game where critics round on disparities in the full-back’s large portfolio of skills – the distinction between his high standards as a passer and director of attacking initiatives and his difficulties containing or marshalling opponents.
It is often assumed that Alexander-Arnold, still only 23, will develop into a central midfielder later in his career. With each error he makes at right-back, there are calls for that change to be accelerated.
Liverpool are short in midfield, too, a contributing factor to a rickety start to the season. In the league, the competition where they lost just twice in 2021-22, they have dropped points in four of their six games.
They will go into Saturday’s meeting with Wolverhampton Wanderers with a troublesome injury list: Jordan Henderson is out, as are Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabio Carvalho; Thiago Alcantara has only just returned from a month-and-a-half recuperating.
Napoli 4 Liverpool 1: player ratings
The shortage of cover hurts because fatigue was always likely to be Liverpool’s enemy after a historic campaign in which there were no days off. They played the maximum possible 63 matches between last August and late May. Add to that the shortened summer break, and stamina, essential for a fierce pressing game, is especially tested.
Mohamed Salah, the most potent of their strikers and expert presser, shows some symptoms of tiredness. He had a sapping 2022, with Egypt involved in the Africa Cup of Nations up until a losing final decided on penalties to Senegal and in a losing two-legged World Cup play-off that also went to spot-kicks against the same opponents.
In the first half of 2021-22, he scored 22 times for his club; he added nine goals in the second half of the campaign.
He also found himself adapting to changes in the way a carefully grooved forward line was operating. With the January addition of Luis Diaz, a positive signing, Salah’s long-term partner, Sadio Mane shifted into a more central position.
With Mane’s summer departure to Bayern Munich, some of the old Liverpool’s instincts up front had to again be rethought While Darwin Nunez, recruited from Benfica, is a formidable addition, his opportunity to develop relationships on the pitch has been interrupted by a red card in his second Premier League match and subsequent suspension.
Fact is, Klopp was already ‘reinventing’ aspects of Liverpool before the season began. He now needs to accelerate the process with very little pause between fixtures.