Liverpool begin Champions League defence with Napoli defeat
Naples (Italy) (AFP) – Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente scored late as holders Liverpool fell 2-0 at Napoli in the opening match of their Champions League title defence on Tuesday.
Mertens converted a penalty on 82 minutes and Llorente added a second in stoppage time as Napoli gained a measure of revenge for last season’s 1-0 defeat at Anfield that denied the Italians a spot in the knockout rounds.
The loss for Jurgen Klopp’s side makes them first reigning European champions to lose their opening game of the following campaign since AC Milan in 1994.
However Liverpool, who sit top of the Premier League after five straight wins, remain favourites alongside Napoli to progress from Group E despite Salzburg’s thrilling 6-2 win over Genk.
“We didn’t really have positive moments tonight. Give us a few more games to change the table, but it looks like Napoli are through,” said Klopp, who tipped the Italians to go far.
“Napoli can win the competition. If you have a good plan and good players, you don’t have to be the best team in the world to win the Champions League. You have to perform at the right moment.”
Liverpool also lost their group-stage match in Naples last season before going on to lift a sixth European Cup.
“Being able to match liverpool is impressive as they are the best team in Europe at the moment,” said Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti.
But the three-time Champions League winning coach warned: “The season is long, there is still a long road ahead.”
Goalscorer Llorente joined Napoli this season after playing his last game for former club Tottenham in the Champions League final defeat to Liverpool in Madrid in June.
He came on as a substitute and pounced on a rare Virgil van Dijk blunder after Mertens had opened the scoring from the spot to cause pandemonium among the crowd at the fiery Stadio San Paolo.
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Ancelotti’s side piled on the pressure early on, with Adrian pulling off a double save in the seventh minute from Fabian Ruiz before Hirving Lozano headed into the net from an offside position.
Liverpool forward Sadio Mane dispossessed Insigne, forcing Meret into a save on 20 minutes with James Milner firing over.
Salah finally managed to break free of the towering presence of Koulibaly, who had kept the Egyptian relatively quiet in an impressive display, with Mane combining with Firmino who fired over.
Firmino — making his 200th appearance for Liverpool — missed a chance to put the visitors ahead before the break with his header flashing wide.
Adrian made his Champions League debut in the Liverpool goal with Alisson Becker out injured, and the Spaniard pulled off an impressive save from a Mertens volley just after the break.
At the other end, Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret also had to be at full stretch to deny Mohamed Salah with his fingertips on 65 minutes.
The breakthrough came eight minutes from time after Jose Callejon went down easily in the box under pressure from Andy Robertson, with Mertens slotting in the penalty after a VAR review.
And Llorente pounced on Van Dijk’s loose pass to claim his first Napoli goal, sealing a famous win for the hosts.
“We have improved defensively in a short space of time,” added Ancelotti, whose side conceded seven goals in their first two Serie A games.
“The two goals came in curious and unusual circumstances, but I’m happy with the way we played tonight.
“We created a lot of enthusiasm for the crowd who repaid us.”