Liverpool’s defeat to Napoli could see Jurgen Klopp make changes – but the Reds boss has already hinted that he knows what could be wrong.
It was bad enough viewing the first time around. Jurgen Klopp, though, knew there was no other option than to spend part of Thursday watching a re-run of the previous night’s horror show at Napoli.
And the video nasty will surely prove instructive as the Liverpool boss sifts through the wreckage of an alarming Champions League evening.
“I really think it makes sense to watch the game back and try to understand and have the right message for the boys, because that’s the most important thing,” said Klopp as he fielded questions deep within the bowels of a Stadio Diego Armando Maradona still resonating with the shockwaves from his team’s 4-1 defeat.
Ensuring there is no panic will be the immediate concern, along with lifting spirits and confidence with the relentless schedule bringing a Premier League visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. There is simply no time for Liverpool to feel sorry for themselves.
But it was telling Klopp declined the invitation to retract his immediate post-match assessment the Reds need to reinvent themselves with a return to basics.
As the boss himself admitted, it wasn’t difficult to see where the issues lay in midweek. With too many poor individual defensive performances, an absent of midfield cohesion and a largely misfiring attack, the reality is Liverpool did well to keep the margin of defeat down to three goals, even if it did represent their heaviest European defeat in 56 years.
Some of the problems have an immediate fix. Certainly, reminding Liverpool players to be more alert and not ball-watch – as the strangely static Trent Alexander-Arnold did for Napoli’s second goal – is straightforward enough.
Mohamed Salah will not have many games where he so regularly struggles to control a football, while Joe Gomez ’s recent encouraging form disappeared with his collapse midway through the first half. Some reassurance should see that return.
But what became apparent in Naples is the Reds no longer have the belief they can truly grab a game by the scruff of the neck early on and exert their influence on proceedings. From the moment Victor Osimhen hit the post after 44 seconds, the pattern of the game was definitively set on Wednesday.
Part of that can be addressed with the type of counter-pressing Klopp noted was completely missing against Napoli until Thiago Alcantara’s welcome comeback shortly after the hour. Liverpool have long shown the benefit of organised enthusiasm, but were schooled in that department by Napoli until it was way too late to offer a meaningful response. If intensity is the Reds’ identity, they were faceless on Wednesday.
Increased options – Joel Matip and Diogo Jota are now back in the saddle and loan signing Arthur Melo will get more minutes – will keep players on their toes and allow some to be taken out of the firing line.
But Liverpool are also not capitalising on their own periods of dominance. Despite ceding plentiful possession to their neighbours in the first half last weekend, Everton largely kept the Reds at arm’s length with Jordan Pickford only becoming regularly employed once Klopp switched approach after the interval.
Getting it right from the off – and those once famed fasts starts are becoming the exception rather than the norm – can see the extra substitutions the Liverpool boss had longed call for being used as managing game time and maintaining team energy levels rather than scrambling to correct tactical failings.
How, though, can Liverpool reinvent themselves in the short term?
One alternative may be to switch formations to make the most out of the available players. The Reds have made a huge financial commitment in Darwin Nunez and, while still very much in the formative stage of his Anfield career, the Uruguayan could benefit from a switch to 4-2-3-1 where he becomes the clear focal point of the attack.
That, of course, is still possible with the regular 4-3-3 set-up, but having two deeper midfielders – Fabinho and Thiago the obvious candidates – will provide greater cover for the backline and also free the likes of Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho or, given his fine showing at Goodison, Roberto Firmino in a more advanced central midfield role.
This is not a call for Klopp to dump a formation that was the bedrock of success in recent years, but the availability of more players means they now have scope for greater unpredictability that could both inject fresh impetus into the team and offer opponents some new problems.
But arguably the most enlightening comment from Klopp in Italy was his hint at knowing what’s wrong.
“A few things are really clear we have to change and the reason it’s now like this is getting a bit more clear as well,” he said. “But I need time for saying the right things, because at the moment it’s not 100% clear.”
That quote is open to interpretation. It most probably was Klopp’s need to send the correct words to his players in the wake of Wednesday’s defeat, but could also suggest he is currently struggling to get his points across to the squad. Liverpool supporters will hope it isn’t the latter.
Managing expectations of those fans may also form part of Klopp’s thinking, given the slow realisation the thrilling previous campaign provided a full stop on one Liverpool team while marking the beginning of the next.
Klopp and his coaching staff, then, have an awful lot to address. It all starts, though, with a return to absolute basics. Time to dream it all up again.