UCL: Trouble in paradise? Liverpool toothless in Naples while Koulibaly shines

You just got to love football. You hardly can predict what may happen next, can you? Two weeks ago, we lifted the highest praise to Liverpool, especially their FAB 3 for an absolutely masterpiece performance against star studded PSG. A match in which they took the Parisians’ expensively assembled squad to school, did their homework and finished with the laundry. The Reds were really all over Neymar’s side as they eventually won 3-2. It looked like the path to some glory was as light as day but just two weeks later; we are not even sure what may happen next.


Build up to the match

In all the glitz and glamour of last season, Liverpool did always look like they lacked some dynamic players in the midfield. But you can’t say that when they are winning, can you? For sometime now, it has been the long balls and lightning counter attackers led by the front three getting the job done for Liverpool which could be coming short now.
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa

Before the Champions League matchday 2 against Napoli in Naples, Liverpool had to welcome Chelsea at Anfield for the Carabao Cup before paying a visit of their own to Maurizio Sarri’s men just a few days later for a Premier League encounter. Daniel Sturridge pulled off a rabbit from a hat in the Carabao Cup fixture but Hazard had the final say with an absolute novel goal as the Blues walked away as ‘rude’ guests, humbling the hosts to a 2-1 loss and knocking them out of the competition. It was actually Liverpool’s first loss of the season in all competitions. The Saturday EPL affair looked like the tango with Chelsea would have a familiar end after Hazard opened the scoring with his sixth premier league goal of the season but Sturridge came through to spoil Chelsea’s second Red party of the week. The match eventually ending as a 1-1 draw. As the adage goes, well “it’s just the Carabao cup, it doesn’t matter anyway” with the aid of Sturridge’s screamer, some interesting concerns from Liverpool’s last two performances went unquestioned.


Serving up a boring affair in Naples

Most people would easily dismiss the Napoli clash as the most boring match of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool era. It was simply lifeless, with no shots on goal for the full ninety. Even Liverpool’s manager, Klopp, agreed,

It’s always a bad sign when you have to say your goalkeeper was your best player, but it was obvious tonight. I have kind of a filter in my brain where I forget bad stuff immediately.
— Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool Manager
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool battles with Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool at Stadio San Paolo on October 3, 2018 in Naples, Italy.  (Oct. 2, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool battles with Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool at Stadio San Paolo on October 3, 2018 in Naples, Italy.

(Oct. 2, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

You may notice that we have said nothing of the FAB 3 up to this point, they have just been really almost non-existent in the most recent matches. Mane is putting in the work but it sure looks like he has new found love with getting his name on the score sheet above anything else. Salah is still running down the wing, ever so working hard as well but lacking the final pass or getting stopped in his tracks by defenders for some predictable movements on occasion. At the end of the day, Bobby Firmino is getting lost in the middle of the two wide-men. And guess who is laying up a major claim for a spot amongst the front three? Daniel Sturridge. I do not believe Shaqiri is sleeping either.


Lacking dynamism in the midfield

Kalidou Koulibaly player of SSC Napoli celebrates the victory after the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool at Stadio San Paolo on October 3, 2018 in Naples, Italy.  (Oct. 2, 2018 - Source: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images Europe)

Kalidou Koulibaly player of SSC Napoli celebrates the victory after the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool at Stadio San Paolo on October 3, 2018 in Naples, Italy.

(Oct. 2, 2018 - Source: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images Europe)

In all the glitz and glamour of last season, Liverpool did always look like they lacked some dynamic players in the midfield. But you can’t say that when they are winning, can you? For sometime now, it has been the long balls and lightning counter attackers led by the front three getting the job done for Liverpool which could be coming short now. It’s perhaps the reason why Naby Keita was brought to the club who got a rare start at Napoli before being stretched off with a back injury after the 19th minute. Henderson and Milner are excellent players and “servants” of the club but many a times just to slow, predictable and seldom pick the ball up from the midfield and run at defenders to create chances or free up other players. Everything that Guinea’s Naby Keita brings to the club. Wijnaldum tries to do that but goes missing on some days. This lack of dynamism has been evident in the most recent affairs against Chelsea and Napoli, more so as the FAB 3 seem to be misfiring and Van Dijk looking like he is being overworked. The premier league fixture against Southampton showed signs of how devastating Liverpool could be with one more dynamic midfielder as they played an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 in the first half with Shaqiri occupying the number 10 role. Liverpool is generally quick but they were quicker and sharper ensuring the score would be a neat 3-0 at halftime.


Forget Liverpool for a second, Koulibaly the bigger man!

Putting aside the Reds’ poor showing, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were really on top of their game, putting away a disappointing draw against Red Star Belgrade on matchday 1, they took the game to Liverpool. Central to rendering the FAB 3 toothless was Senegalese international, Kalidou Koulibaly’s organized defensive play at the heart of the defense, blocking everything, heading out everything and working seamlessly with Albiol. He even ran forward on occasion delivering crosses and trying out one or two shots at goal. That’s just how much Napoli had control, a centre-back got to swing in crosses into the opposition’s box. On a day he welcomed compatriot Sadio Mane to Italy, he finished as the bigger man.

Next up, Liverpool welcome champions Manchester City to Anfield on Sunday in the league. Who even knows what will happen? Both teams are yet to lose a premier league match.