Is the Napoli loss a blessing in disguise?
Napoli proved that Liverpool’s defence of the Champions League will not be an easy challenge for Jurgen Klopp and his side this season. Late goals from Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente handed the Italian outfit the victory at the Stadio San Paolo as the Reds’ new European campaign began with a humbling defeat. Klopp’s men should still ease through to the knockout phase of the competition, facing Red Bull Salzburg and Genk as their other two opponents in Group E.
However, the presence of Napoli and the experience of Carlo Ancelotti could pose problems that could prevent them from earning top spot in the table. Napoli have the quality to maintain that level of form considering that they are one of the leading contenders in the Serie A betting odds for their own domestic crown. Liverpool will have reason to be wary of the return match as Gli Azzurri did play out a thriller against Juventus on the road, only losing at the death to a bizarre own goal from Kalidou Koulibaly at Allianz Stadium.
The added burden of being the hunted team could be a task for Klopp and his side, although it’s major compliment following their triumph last season. Liverpool as Real Madrid experienced before them will get the best efforts of every side in the Champions League this term, with teams determined to knock the Reds off their perch. It will increase the level of difficulty in Europe, but on the other hand could allow Liverpool to focus on their primary ambition – to finally end their Premier League title drought.
The Champions League is unforgiving and has been at times to other clubs. Manchester City have struggled with the weight of expectations in the competition, especially since the arrival of Pep Guardiola. They have been unable to cope with the demands of maintaining their excellence in the Premier League and Europe. It only takes one bad game to derail your chances in the Champions League as Liverpool proved against Barcelona in their triumph over the Catalan club in the semi-final second leg at Anfield.
Given that the Reds have captured the European crown already it could behoove them to put all their attention on ensuring that they are ready to beat out City for the Premier League title. They put forward one of the greatest seasons in Premier League history last term, mustering an incredible 97 points. It would have been good enough to win the league in all but two terms, unfortunately for Klopp and his team – City were just that one point better.
Unlike last season, the Reds have the early edge over their rivals, while Guardiola’s men have been victim to defensive injuries that could further affect their form. There is greater pressure on City to perform in Europe due to their past failures, which may even see the Spaniard prioritise the Champions League, opening up the path to the Premier League title for Liverpool. Although the defeat to Napoli was disappointing, it might be a blessing in disguise for the club to suggest that their intentions should be elsewhere this season.