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Liverpool analysis – James Milner situation is unfair but five players can help Jurgen Klopp

James Milner has been around the block enough times to know he was having an absolute shocker.


Skipper for the evening, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp would have expected his most experienced player to use his nous and help guide the team through an anticipated early maelstrom.


Instead, the veteran did the complete opposite, conceding a penalty after five minutes when needlessly handling Piotr Zielinski’s shot and then a touch fortunate to escape with only a booking after cleaning out Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa with an act of a frustration before 10 minutes had been played.


Of course, that Milner was even starting this game underlines the ongoing problems in midfield, with too many players either unfit or not quite ready to begin a match.


In some ways, it was unfair on the 36-year-old, who has already featured more often this season than even he would have anticipated. Up against a youthful Napoli, his aged legs were glaringly apparent.


But while Milner’s performance will have sharpened the knives of his critics, the fact is Klopp would surely shudder to think what would have happened had the midfielder not agreed a new deal in the summer, so often has the Reds boss turned to the player in the last month.


And with Harvey Elliott’s tender years and lack of defensive leanings exposed, Fabinho was hugely overworked as, collectively, the midfield couldn’t help disguise a badly faltering defence.


In the end, it could be considered something of an act of mercy. As the Napoli fans revelled in their team’s devastating first-half display, Joe Gomez was told to head for the shower.


The Liverpool centre-back had actually started well, particularly in reading the game. But when one such action was sullied by being instantly dispossessed by Victor Osmihen to spark an opening thwarted only by Virgil van Dijk’s goalline clearance, Gomez descended into a personal nightmare.


The defender was one of several Liverpool players guilty of ball-watching for Napoli’s second and was too weak up against the dangerous Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the build-up for the third.


It was all the more puzzling given Gomez had been one of Liverpool’s better performers in keeping a clean sheet in Saturday’s goalless draw at Goodison.

Gomez wasn’t alone. Trent Alexander-Arnold, while probing with his passes first half, was way off his best defensively, particularly with the third goal, while Van Dijk still isn’t quite fully firing.


Add in the midfield issues, and it’s easy to see why Liverpool suffered their heaviest European defeat since being tonked 5-1 by Ajax – the team they face next week – back in 1966.


Thiago encourages as Diaz and three more send messages


Trying to find glimmers of hope from this chastening night is almost as futile as expecting a swift taxi up to the stadium here in Naples.


And while Jurgen Klopp indicated towards the hardy travelling Liverpool support that he was sorry for such an abject performance, there was at least one reason to, if not be cheerful, then at least not consider jumping into nearby Mount Vesuvius.



It won’t be long before the Reds boss is able to shake up a tired and hurting line-up.


Chief among those on the way back is Thiago Alcantara, who was bright in both his possession and pressing during his second-half cameo. How Liverpool have missed his composure and vision during his month on the sidelines.


Diogo Jota is close to allowing a jaded Mohamed Salah to have a much-needed breather, Joel Matip added composure to the defence while Arthur Melo took an important step with his first competitive action since May.


And of the starters, Luis Diaz produced an impressive second-half showing that underlined he has the heart and fight for such a battle. Others should take note.


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