Scott Groom explains why the tactics employed by Napoli on Wednesday could spell trouble for Liverpool moving forward this season.
Liverpool suffered their first defeat of the new season at the hand of Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli as a Lorenzo Insigne goal a minute before the end of the game gave the Italian side all three points.
The result was disappointing from a Liverpool perspective but what was worse was the manner in which Klopp’s men were beaten. Napoli were better than the Reds in every aspect, and Liverpool simply did not look up to the challenge.
As much as this has to do with the Liverpool players themselves, you can’t help but look at the way in which Ancelotti set his side up against Liverpool that must be commended.
Liverpool’s front three were ganged up on
One of the more obvious tactics that Napoli deployed was perhaps one of the more old-school defending tactics which can sometimes be the best option – like it was against Salah, Mané and Firmino.
Liverpool’s usually potent front three were reduced to a unit that failed to create anything during the game, which is something that few sides will achieve this season.
They were swarmed upon like bees to a honeypot every time they got on the ball, particularly Mo Salah who it seems Napoli identified as Liverpool’s main threat.
A picture that really drove this home was one I saw of Salah trying to turn on the ball, surrounded by three blue shirts blocking off his every route out of the situation.
This was not the case just once or twice, but every time either of the front three got on the ball; they were suffocated and smothered and simply not allowed to get into the game and this prevented Liverpool from stamping any real authority on proceedings.
With Liverpool unable to break from the front or counter with any degree of threat, it meant that the midfield area was constantly under threat and being stretched – and stretched they were as Napoli began to pick holes and spaces with more frequency as the game went on.
Swarming back in numbers to stop the counter
Speaking of preventing counter-attacks, this was another area in which Napoli managed to stifle Liverpool’s threat.
Whenever the side from Naples went forward, they were always wary of the threat going back towards their own goal that Liverpool carried and when they needed to get back and defend, boy they did.
It wasn’t just the speed in which the Napoli midfield got back and regrouped behind the ball, but the vast numbers of them that managed to get back into position to keep the Reds at arm’s length.
Every man was back in position before Liverpool could build any momentum and shift the ball any further forward than their own midfield ranks, making it difficult for that blistering, trademark speed to accumulate, thus stemming the flow of any attack from the men in red.
It made for difficult watching for Reds fans, as Liverpool failed to build momentum, thus making the entirety of their play sluggish, laboured, lethargic and lack-lustre performance.
Fighting fire with fire with the full backs
It was also a disappointing night for two of Liverpool’s usual steady performers, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, who both turned in below par performances in Naples.
Maybe part of this was just down to the rest of the team not functioning properly, thus resulting in more pressure than usual being placed on the pair, but they too were sloppy all night.
But this may well also have been down to the fact that Napoli’s two fullbacks did what Trent and Robbo usually do so well – pushed on with pace and ferocity and pegged Liverpool’s right and left backs into really defensive positions.
Their marauding runs of usual were non-existent, they were forced back and into sloppy play by Napoli and this also helped to stem Liverpool’s usual thrust going forward.
Other teams, both in Europe and domestically in the Premier League, could take note of this and potentially provide Liverpool with some more really frustrating game weeks this season.
Klopp will undoubtedly be picking apart the footage, the ins-and-outs of the performance to see what he can do to overcome such tactics in the future.
One thing is for sure, it poses a difficult question which could prove to be akin as to how they couldn’t beat lower opposition a few seasons ago. Let’s hope it doesn’t.