Champions League hits and misses: Liverpool's machine looks broken, Richarlison shows Spurs can hit from all angles – Sky Sports

  • September 22, 2022

Champions League hits and misses: Liverpool’s machine looks broken in Naples, Richarlison’s double shows Tottenham can hit from all angles and a second thrashing in four days raises the pressure on Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Friday 9 September 2022 12:33, UK

It was a tough day for Champions League-winning German coaches in the Premier League but while Thomas Tuchel’s travails with Chelsea are now over, Jurgen Klopp’s problems are an ongoing concern following Liverpool’s chastening 4-1 defeat to Napoli.
The result equalled the biggest defeat that the club has suffered in the Champions League and it could have been far worse. Alisson saved a penalty and Virgil van Dijk cleared from near the line in the first half. Napoli’s substitutes were wasteful late on.
There were individual errors to alarm. Joe Gomez was culpable on three occasions and hooked at half-time. Trent Alexander-Arnold appears to regard it as an affront to his creative instincts to sully himself with tracking runners. Van Dijk looked sluggish.
But it was the fourth starting defender who summed up the problem facing his fellow defenders when speaking afterwards. “We were miles too open,” explained Andy Robertson. “You cannot come to a place like this and not be compact.”
It is the lack of pressure on the ball that makes a mockery of Klopp’s high defensive line and means that the problems facing the Liverpool manager are a little more complex than simply switching his defensive personnel – as he did when sending for Joel Matip.
At their best, Liverpool are a machine of a team, the system being their source of strength as much as the individual quality. At their worst, the opposite occurs. The system breaks down and suddenly the once imperious individuals find themselves woefully exposed.
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As Klopp saw it, the Liverpool midfield was too wide. One wonders whether Harvey Elliott, as encouraging as his performances have been, does make them more open. James Milner is not finding it any easier to be the engine of this team as he approaches 37.
But there is some hope that the solutions can be found. Klopp noted that the sort of counter-pressing situations that he loves to see from his side only started to happen once the fit-again Thiago emerged from the bench. That will make Liverpool a better team.
Diogo Jota will take time to find his best form as he recovers from injury but his ability to go in search of the ball high up the pitch has been missed too – making Sadio Mane’s absence more keenly felt in attack than it might have been. Liverpool can start pressing again.
The challenge now is to fix this team on the fly amid a congested calendar. Wolves go to Anfield on Saturday before Ajax are the visitors on Tuesday. Identifying the problems is the easy part for Klopp. The correction must come quickly to avoid talk of a crisis.
Adam Bate
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Luis Diaz scored a superb goal, Harvey Elliott showed glimpses of fight and Thiago Alcantara is back. Tangible positives were few and far between for Liverpool against Napoli. 102 days on from losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid on a chaotic night at the Stade de France, Liverpool’s return to continental action was somewhat of a misadventure.
The warning signs were there. Leaky defence, stop-gap midfield selections and a languishing forward line. As Jurgen Klopp’s side scurried down the tunnel at half-time, shellshocked by Napoli’s brilliance, they were lucky to only be three goals down.
But while most in Liverpool red were wilting under the immense pressure inside the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, Diaz’s toil never waned. His endeavour was rewarded with a fine right-footed strike in the 49th minute – ambition that he alone attempted to build on. Unfortunately for the Colombian, the Reds’ first-ever goal in Naples barely caused a ripple of celebration, such was its insignificance.
Only Diaz can take heart from a display which was individually defiant and dogged. But there will be precious little reprieve for Liverpool’s other representatives. Klopp will need no telling that his side must find momentum, and fast, to avoid their season unravelling beyond repair.
Laura Hunter
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In times of trouble and frustration it is usually Harry Kane who gets Tottenham out of a sticky situation. He wasn’t needed on this occasion as Spurs now have another world-class finisher that only needs a moment to make a difference in a game. It was Richarlison riding to Tottenham’s rescue here as they ground out a rather ugly win.
One of Spurs’ problems in trying to reach the next level with Kane at the forefront has been the tough task of convincing a central striker of sufficient talent to make the move and potentially play as Kane’s understudy. This is why Richarlison is such a savvy signing from Antonio Conte.
They now have a Kane understudy, who on his day isn’t too far away from the England star’s ability, but the beauty of Richarlison is that such is his flexibility and desire he can play anywhere across the front-line and is very good at it too. There is a child-like joy in the way Richarlison plays football, especially in a competition he is obviously so keen to make his mark on.
“I’m happy for Richarlison,” said Conte.
“He deserved to have a night like this. I remember him telling me when he signed he wanted to listen to the Champions League music and play in this competition. Those were important words from him.”
Lewis Jones
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Celtic 4-0 Rangers. Ajax 4-0 Rangers. Two identical scorelines and despite two vastly contrasting opponents, two depressingly similar collapses.
This Ajax team is built of different stuff than teams Rangers face in the Scottish Premiership, even their Old Firm rivals. There’s a reason they made more than £200m from player sales alone this summer, and have one of the best academies in European football.
So on the one hand, getting outclassed in Amsterdam is no disgrace in itself. Ajax have won five out of five in the Eredivisie and reached the Champions League semi-finals three years ago.
But on the other, that same lack of character which showed itself against Rangers’ biggest rivals at the weekend was evident in the Dutch capital too. Giovanni van Bronckhorst said his side “could not compete” given the financial clout of their Champions League opponents, and losing Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo this summer has not helped him.
Even so, fight and commitment don’t cost a cent and if this keeps on, fan patience is going to begin wearing thin with Van Bronckhorst.
“It’s like the Celtic defeat and it results in managers being under pressure,” former Rangers striker Kris Boyd told Sky Sports News. “That’s where Van Bronckhorst will be after tonight.”
The manner of three of Ajax’s four goals summed things up. An unmarked header from a corner, minutes after Rangers had been given a warning sign from a near identical move. The captain being spun with depressing ease. A lazy blind backpass picked off at a canter. And two goals within two minutes of another to boot.
Worse sides than Rangers will go to the Johan Cruyff Arena and manage more than one hopeful shot on target. They spent a whole Europa League campaign raising their game to make up their financial shortfall en route to last season’s final, so it can be done.
That spirit seems a long way away now, and if it doesn’t return for Saturday’s trip to Aberdeen, the pressure will really begin to rise.
Ron Walker
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