Liverpool, Mo Salah blanked in frustrating 1-0 defeat at Napoli
NAPLES, Italy -- Here are three thoughts on the whistle from Napoli's 1-0 win over Liverpool on Wednesday evening.
1. Insigne sinks Liverpool with last-gasp goal
Liverpool suffered their second defeat of the season as Lorenzo Insigne scored a dramatic late winner for Napoli in their second Champions League match of the season. Napoli earned a deserved three points as Insigne struck in injury time to ensure that Group C remained wide open in terms of qualification for the knockout stages.
The Serie A side thought they were going to be frustrated after wasting a number of glorious chances throughout the rather drab 90 minutes before Insigne delivered right at the end.
Liverpool's passage to the Champions League knockout rounds last season went down to the final round of group stage matches. In an attempt to ensure that doesn't happen this time around, Jurgen Klopp made it clear that he wasn't looking ahead to Sunday's game with Manchester City before this one.
Naby Keita came in for captain Jordan Henderson, the only change to the lineup that drew at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. However, Keita's night ended after 19 minutes when he was carted off the field following a challenge with Lorenzo Insigne and forced Liverpool into a tactical change they never adapted to.
The fact that Alisson was Liverpool's best performer says everything about the sluggish night from Klopp's men. The Brazil international proved his importance to Liverpool's ambitions this season with two saves to deny Arkadiusz Milik in either half. Had Napoli not been so wasteful in the final third, Liverpool would have been punished much earlier than they were. Joe Gomez made a crucial clearance off the line to deny Jose Callejon in the 75th minute.
Klopp had seemingly settled on playing for a point when Fabinho was introduced for James Milner to add more control to Liverpool's play 14 minutes from time. However, that only encouraged Napoli in their search for a winner. There was another warning sign for Liverpool when second-half substitute Dries Mertens struck the crossbar in the 82nd minute.
Then, as the clock struck 90, Callejon put a low cross into the box, the outstretched Alisson wasn't able to gather, and there was Insigne at the back post to slide in and send the Stadio San Paolo into raptures.
2. Salah still struggling for form
Every touch of the ball is jeered by opposing fans, every movement is tracked, and every single facet of his game is being closely scrutinised by opponents. This is Mohamed Salah's world currently.
His performance against Napoli was the latest in a spell of patchy form since the start of the season. The closest he (or Liverpool, for that matter) came to scoring arrived in the 68th minute, when he picked the ball up outside the area only to meekly fire wide. It marked a return to the dark days for Liverpool: They failed to register a single shot on target in the Premier League or European competition for the first time since a 0-0 draw vs. Sparta Prague in the 2010-11 Europa League Round of 32.
The message to Salah from his manager and teammates this week after his early hooking at Chelsea on the weekend was: relax. That is easier to say than take on board, it seems, and he showed signs of frustration against Napoli as early as the fourth minute. Kalidou Koulibaly, the home side's dominant centre-half, was often the winner when the two were paired in a one-on-one duel.
To be fair to Salah, it isn't for want of trying on his behalf. If anything, he is trying too hard when in front of goal. In his defence, he was not the only player in a red shirt to deliver a sluggish performance in the south of Italy. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also provided little threat to David Ospina's goal, which means there was nobody in the final third to bail out Salah on an off-day.
What Salah and Liverpool fans can take solace in is that there were no obvious signs at this stage last year that his 2017-18 campaign would go on to become one of the all-time great seasons for a striker. It looks like the person placing the biggest expectation on Salah to repeat last season's heroics is Salah. That's his biggest issue at the moment.
3. Ancelotti, Napoli continue their strong start
Carlo Ancelotti's start to life at Napoli has been mixed since he replaced Maurizio Sarri in the hot seat. His side sit a respectable second in Serie A having won five of their first seven games. But a draw at Red Star Belgrade in their Champions League opener put them under early pressure.
A valuable three points earned against last season's runners-up, however, ensure that Napoli's hopes of a decent run in Europe's premier cup competition remain very much alive.
It's often forgotten that Ancelotti was one of the candidates Liverpool drew up in 2015 to replace Brendan Rodgers. Instead, Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, turned their focus toward Klopp, believing that the German was a better fit to the club at that particular time.
Now at Napoli following a relatively unsuccessful spell at Bayern Munich, Ancelotti's ultimate requirement in Naples is similar to the one he would have faced at Anfield: Finally deliver the club a league title, having last won it in 1989-90. Sarri nearly led them to the promised land last season before embarking to Chelsea. That Napoli team was eliminated at the group stages of the Champions League, but the blow was cushioned by the potential of a Serie A crown.
Ancelotti isn't so fortunate this time around. Napoli already find themselves six points adrift of a Juventus side -- now containing Cristiano Ronaldo -- after seven league games. Insigne's goal doesn't just keep their Champions League ambitions alive but perhaps their season-long aims too.