By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
Liverpool produced a respectable performance in their return to European action, but would pay the price for their failure to produce and convert chances as they lost at Napoli in their opening Champions League Group E fixture.
A penalty scored by Dries Mertens would have been enough to win the three points for I Partenopei with Adrián unable to deny him. The Spaniard got a glove on his effort but still conceded – a blemish in an otherwise excellent debut in the competition. Substitute Fernando Llorente sealed the victory in injury time.
Jürgen Klopp’s side had the better of the play and the most chances, but would pay for their profligacy to become the first side to lose their first game after winning the Champions League since AC Milan in 1994/95.
With FC RB Salzburg winning emphatically against KRC Genk in the other game, it meant that Liverpool finish the opening round in third place.
Napoli thought they had the lead after six minutes but were thwarted by the offside flag. Adrián produced a good double save as Fabián Ruiz had two bites at the cherry, before Hirving Lozano headed home illegally.
Both teams looked dangerous at times in the first period, but neither really caused any real threat to the goals after the hosts’ early chance. That was until the very last minute of the opening half, when Roberto Firmino watched his glancing header sail agonisingly wide of Alex Meret’s post.
Minutes later the visitors broke away after a Napoli corner. Sadio Mané carried the ball for 70 yards with he and Mohamed Salah in a two-on-one situation with Kostas Manolas, but the Senegalese overhit his pass when an accurate one would have given his teammate a simple opportunity to score.
The Egyptian would get a clear-cut chance just after the hour mark, when a mistake in the Napoli back line allowed him to produce a left-footed drive across the goalkeeper. It was well struck, but Alex Meret produced a fine stop to keep the scoreline level.
But the hosts would take the lead with ten minutes to go. José Callejón burst into the box and was brought down by Andy Robertson. It looked harsh, but VAR did not overturn referee Felix Brych’s decision and the spot kick was given. Adrián got his right hand on Mertens’ effort, but could not prevent the goal.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side held on to their lead and made sure of the victory in stoppage time. Fernando Llorente came off the bench to score, taking advantage of an error from Virgil van Dijk.
For Liverpool, attention turns back to domestic matters as they travel to Chelsea in a bid to make it six wins from six in the new season. Napoli are also on the road, visiting newly-promoted Lecce on Sunday.