Napoli 2-0 Liverpool
A passionate Stadio San Paolo is a perfect setting for Champions League nights.
The passion of the Partenopei in Naples is very special when at its finest, as is the atmosphere to which fans of European champions Liverpool create.
So this was always destined to be an exciting night between two evenly matched teams who edged each other 1-0 at home in their two respective group clashes last season.
Would it be as tight again?
Highlights of the game
The SBOBET Champions League betting odds favoured Liverpool but expected it to be close, and so it proved.
It was always unlikely to be a stalemate mind.
Jose Callejón, Dries Mertens and captain Lorenzo Insigne all started for Napoli with exciting new signing Hirving Lozano also in the line-up as Carlo Ancelotti opted for an attacking 4-4-2.
Liverpool, meanwhile, were kicking off their defence of Europe’s premier competition — against the team who came perilously close to ousting them from last season’s competition — with a forward trio gaining wide acclaim in every passing week.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine now that Champions League news statistics show us Liverpool didn’t attempt a single shot on target in their 1-0 defeat here last season.
Sure enough, there was action on both ends from the first whistle. Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian producing a double save to deny Fabian Ruiz before Lozano nodded in from an offside position.
Then the highly-rated Kalidou Koulibaly produced two first-class tackles to sniff out danger from the visitors who saw Sadio Mane force Alex Meret into a save and Roberto Firmino fire over the crossbar.
Back up the other end and from a ball whipped in dangerously by Mertens, it required a desperate header from centre-back Joel Matip to stop Lozano nodding in the opener.
Liverpool were inches away from breaking the deadlock themselves just before the break as Mario Rui stopped Mo Salah as he was about to tap home before Firmino headed a matter of inches wide.
The entertainment continued straight after the restart at both ends.
Adrian got a hand to keep out Mertens’ cushioned volley. Rui then did just enough to stop a two against one counter-attack in Liverpool’s favour and Menet produced a superb one-handed save to prevent Salah from scoring after a Kostas Manolas mistake.
The crucial and arguably questionable moment came eight minutes from time when Callejon was adjudged to have been fouled in the box by Liverpool full-back Andrew Robertson.
Referee Felix Brych pointed to the spot while the VAR chose not to intervene — and that is a debate for another day — and Mertens converted clinically, despite the best efforts of Adrian.
While it was clear to see why Brych awarded a penalty at full speed of play, it’s moments like this where the video assistant system needs to intervene. Liverpool, of course, benefited from a similarly poor decision in the opening minutes of last season’s final. However, two wrongs don’t make a right.
As time ticked, Liverpool had to threaten more in attack and a rare, sloppy error from centre-back Virgil van Dijk – recently voted the best player in last season’s UEFA Champions League – effectively settled the contest.
His back pass to Robertson in stoppage time was uncharacteristically poor and substitute Fernando Llorente — also a late sub for Spurs in last season’s final defeat to Liverpool — had a modicum of revenge as he slipped the ball past the onrushing Adrian.
San Paolo roared. In an even contest, their team had proved clinical when it mattered the most.
Napoli are up and running!
Napoli have scored eight penalty goals in the Champions League, with seven different goalscorers.
This was the first time the reigning Champions League winners have lost their opening game since AC Milan did so in 1994-95 against Ajax – who also went onto beat them in that season’s final.
The last Italian team to defeat the reigning European Champions in the group phase were Juventus against then holders Chelsea in 2012 (3-0).
Jurgen Klopp’s side have lost their last three matches in Italy, but have only been beaten in four of their last 10 away games against Italian clubs.
This was the first Champions League appearance of his career for Adrian, 32.
Napoli will resume Serie A action at the weekend on September 22 with a trip to newly-promoted Lecce before entertaining Cagliari next midweek.
For Liverpool, it’s a visit to Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday before taking on MK Dons in the League Cup next midweek.
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