Jürgen Klopp has rejected the hangover theory throughout the search for answers to Liverpool’s inconsistent start but, if a punishing price has been paid for last season’s exertions and the deflating final week, he will hope for a cure at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Napoli away is no one’s idea of a gentle introduction to a Champions League campaign. The Italian club have not lost any of their past eight home games in the competition, are unbeaten this season under Luciano Spalletti, and Liverpool have not won in three visits to the stadium. The past two trips, in the group stage, brought laboured performances and late defeats under Klopp. It provides the perfect setting, therefore, for Liverpool to demonstrate the best of last season – including the ruthless touch and defensive organisation that helped them become the only team in Champions League history to win all of their away matches from the group stage to the final.
Liverpool dropped points for the fourth time in six Premier League games on Saturday yet Klopp viewed the Merseyside derby in a mostly positive light. The goalless draw could have swung either way, he admitted, albeit while ruing the fact Liverpool could have recorded a third consecutive Premier League win, and altered the narrative around their season, but for the woodwork and Jordan Pickford’s heroics in the Everton goal.
A similar refrain followed Liverpool’s thwarted attempt to win the Champions League in May. But for Thibaut Courtois and his personal crusade to foil Mohamed Salah’s revenge mission against Real Madrid there could not be a hangover attached to this campaign and Klopp’s team would be flying into it as European champions for the second time in four years.
Or so the theory goes. It has substance – Liverpool had 24 attempts on goal to Real’s four in the final, including six from Salah, nine attempts on target to Real’s one, – which was Vinícius Júnior’s winner – and nine attempts blocked compared with none for Real on a night completely overshadowed by events outside the Stade de France. It will be interesting to hear the Liverpool supporters’ reaction when the Champions League anthem is played this season, given the appalling attempt by Uefa and the French authorities to shift blame for their mismanagement of the final on to fans.
Back to events on the pitch, where Courtois was not the only barrier to a seventh European crown for Liverpool. In its review of the final, Uefa’s technical observer panel wondered “whether a long campaign spent challenging on four fronts [and yielding two domestic cups], had finally told in Liverpool’s 63rd match”. Roberto Martínez, one of the 23 making up the observers on a panel that also includes Gareth Southgate, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and the former Liverpool goalkeeper David James, noted: “I didn’t see their normal energy and they didn’t have the space for the front three.”
It is far too early to contemplate a return to Istanbul for a Champions League final at the end of a season interrupted by a World Cup but Klopp has started to manage the game time of key players.
Kostas Tsimikas deputised for Andy Robertson in the derby and James Milner replaced the struggling Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back for the second successive game in which Liverpool were searching for a winning goal.
“It’s nothing to do with performance, even though I know Trent can definitely play better,” said Klopp at Goodison. “Trent is playing all the time, Robbo is playing all the time. There we have alternatives and we have to use them to bring in fresh energy on the pitch.”
Klopp was handed mixed injury updates with Thiago Alcântara available following a hamstring strain although the captain, Jordan Henderson, will not be back until after the international break. Curtis Jones has suffered a recurrence of his calf injury while Fábio Carvalho is missing because of a dead leg.