42 min: Liverpool take their corner, and after a little pinball, the ball drops to Van Dijk. Surprised, he can’t get a proper shot away. For all their issues at the back, Liverpool are causing Napoli a few problems up the other end.
41 min: Osimhen is replaced by Simeone.
40 min: Elliott has been lively, Liverpool’s best player this evening, though that’s not saying too much in and of itself. His exchange down the right with Salah leads to another corner. Before it can be taken, though, Osimhen goes down, that muscle problem having presumably reared up again.
39 min: Firmino crosses deep from the left. Elliott shapes to swivel a shot from the edge of the box, but he chances his mind at the last minute, slipping the pass right to Alexander-Arnold, an ersatz version of Pele to Carlos Alberto in the 1970 World Cup final. Alexander-Arnold can’t complete the tribute, and his shot is blocked.
37 min: Your timely reminder that Liverpool have never scored in this stadium.
35 min: Milner curls in from the left. The cross skims off Olivera’s head and drops to Elliott at the far stick. Elliott improvises in the hope of bundling home, but can only knee it wide right. Liverpool have had 61 percent possession, but that’s as close as they’ve come.
34 min: Alexander-Arnold sends a free kick in from the left. Van Dijk does well to climb and send a header towards the top right, but Meret is behind it all the way. Thing is, Liverpool have been half-decent in attack. But they’re all over the shop at the back.
33 min: I mean, this could so easily be 4-0 … and it wouldn’t flatter Napoli one jot.
Kvaratskhelia, undeterred, robs Gomez down the left. He cuts back for Zambo Anguissa, who one-twos with Ziellinski down the channel. Zambo Anguissa is free in the box! He opens his body and powerfully sidefoots past Alisson, who was totally exposed. Napoli are ripping Liverpool’s defence to shreds again and again!
30 min: Salah stabs a shot straight at Meret. So near to an equaliser, but then …
29 min: What a clearance that was, though Kvaratskhelia should never have allowed Van Dijk the opportunity of making it. Nothing comes of the resulting corner, and Liverpool have somehow limited the damage to 1-0. They could so easily be three down already.
27 min: Napoli should be 2-0 up (part II). Osimhen strips Gomez of possession 20 yards from goal. He races into the box from the right, and rolls into the centre for Kvaratskhelia, past the committed Alisson. Kvaratskhelia must score … but sees his weak shot cleared off the line by Van Dijk’s superb goalline lunge!
25 min: Diaz, in plenty of space out on the left, lets the ball rear up onto his arm. Free kick, and a dangerous position gone. Liverpool, perhaps unsurprisingly given the start to their season and the end of their last one, look a little short on confidence. Every task appears a little more difficult than it should.
24 min: Alexander-Arnold, out of form recently but perhaps slowly getting his eye back in, lashes a shot from distance wide of goal. Not too far away, though the whistle goes for a Diaz clip on Lobotka, so it’s all moot. Liverpool are at least asking a couple of questions now.
23 min: … Salah should be working the keeper at the very least. The corner is worked back up the inside-right channel to Alexander-Arnold, who wedges a glorious diagonal pass towards Salah, in acres, just inside the Napoli box on the left. If he takes the ball down, he’s one on one with the keeper, 12 yards out … but the only thing he takes is his eye off the ball. It flies under his boot and out for a goal kick.
22 min: A free kick for Liverpool out on the left. Alexander-Arnold sends a power curler towards the top right. It’s going over, but Meret takes no chances and fingertips away. One Liverpool leads to a second, and from that …
20 min: While Osimhen was preparing to take the penalty, Jurgen Klopp went onto the pitch and gathered his team together, issuing them some beneficial advice in the no-nonsense fashion. Shades of Bill Shankly at Ajax in 1966, when the great men went onto the pitch under cover of fog to deliver a bollocking. For the record, Liverpool lost that match 5-1.
18 min: Osimhen goes for the bottom left. Alisson reads his intention and parries brilliantly! The ball rebounds towards Di Lorenzo, on the right-hand corner of the six-yard box, but the Napoli captain blazes over the open goal. What a save! What a miss! What a start this has been!
17 min: Van Dijk clipped Osimhen on the toe, and over he went. There really wasn’t much in it, and the ball was already squirting away from the striker … but contact is contact, and the referee points to the spot. Osimhen will take it himself.
15 min: Olivera slips a pass down the inside-left channel for Osimhen, who very nearly gets the better of Van Dijk. The Liverpool defender blocks. Osimhen crumbles to a heap. Play goes on as Liverpool clear, but eventually VAR calls the referee over to have a look. This could be more bother for Liverpool.
14 min: Robertson and Milner combine down the left and win themselves another corner. Robertson will take this one himself. Meret punches it clear, but not in a wholly convincing fashion.
13 min: This is yet another game in which Liverpool have started slowly and conceded first. Don’t quote me, but is that now eight times in the last ten games? Whatever it is, it’s not good.
11 min: Elliott floats a lovely diagonal pass towards Salah on the right. Salah chests down and enters the box, but his shot is blocked the second it comes off his boot. A little better from Liverpool, who have otherwise been rocking in a very unsettling fashion. Speaking of unsettling … “That preamble should come with a trigger warning,” writes Philip Taylor. “It also makes me think perhaps Man United last season weren’t so dire in comparison. However, it’s always nice to remember third Fairbrass brother and all-round legend Pepe Reina.”
10 min: Zambo Anguissa looks pained as well, because he’s just been caught by a ludicrous late Milner slide. Liverpool’s stand-in captain goes into the book. A penalty conceded, and now this: he’s had a nightmare start.
9 min: A bit of space for Elliott down the inside-left channel. He dribbles a shot … or is it a cross? … through the Napoli six-yard box. Salah reacts late and can’t meet it at the far post. He looks pained.
7 min: Can Liverpool respond? They look shellshocked. Diaz goes on a dribble down the left and wins the first corner of the evening. Alexander-Arnold takes it, but Osimhen heads clear powerfully. Napoli counter, and Zambo Anguissa has a whack from distance. His shot is blocked, but Liverpool are all over the place. They’re in danger of being blown away by Napoli’s astonishing full-blooded start.
Zieliński whips into the bottom left, sending Alisson the wrong way. Only five minutes have been played, and yet that had been coming. What a start from the hosts!
4 min: Napoli come again, again. Kvaratskhelia dribbles down the left and cuts back for Politano, who shoots from the edge of the box. His effort is deflected wide right for a corner … or is it a penalty? Zieliński puts the ball on the spot! It is … and it’s the correct decision, Milner having hung out a hand, the ball hitting it clearly.
3 min: … and Osimhen is away again! This time racing after a long ball down the middle. He’s away from Van Dijk, but Alisson has come way out of his box to head clear.
2 min: Wow. What a start that could have been for the hosts. It’s a marker down, if nothing else. Liverpool get away with a big one, big style.
42 sec: Osimhen hits the post! What a start this could have been! Di Lorenzo plays a long pass down the inside-right channel to release the striker, who times his run perfectly to tear away from Gomez! Alisson comes to the edge of his box but loses the race. Osimhen rounds him, but the angle’s tight and he hits the base of the right-hand post!
All jokes and smiles between captains Giovanni Di Lorenzo and James Milner, and the match officials, as everyone clasps hands in a very friendly fashion. Then the hosts get the party started. A huge roar from the home fans as their heroes kick off.
The teams are out! Napoli wear their famous azure blue, redolent of the water of the Gulf of Naples, while Liverpool sport their storied first-choice red. Shock breaking news: there’s one hell of an atmosphere at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, lending a little burst of extra heat to an already warm, clear night on the western coast of southern Italy. We’ll be off in a minute or two, after a quick blast of Zadok the Priest (Version).
A smiling Jurgen Klopp speaks to BT Sport. “It is important that we play football here. It could become quite hectic, emotional and aggressive, and you have to take that, but you have to respond as well. It’s not that an easy place to come, because of the atmosphere people can create. Tonight is a game that we have to defend together, get really compact, we have to be brave. Everyone has to be responsible and cause them problems offensively. The bench looks OK, but so does the team, so let’s give it a go. Napoli are always strong. The teams change but the people don’t change. At the hotel, fireworks last night! They make sure they don’t forget why you are here, and we know now!”
Final score in Amsterdam: Ajax 4-0 Rangers. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men were thoroughly outclassed. They did at least improve in the second half, though given how ragged they were in the first, that’s not saying a great deal.
More news: we have it. Ajax are now 4-0 up, Steven Bergwijn scoring his second of the evening after latching onto Ryan Jack’s misplaced backpass. But that goal has come at a cost: Bergwijn can’t continue, having pulled up during his celebration with what could be a hamstring injury, but hopefully is just cramp. He’s in a fair bit of pain, either way. Ten minutes to go. Rangers in full damage-limitation mode now, as they stare down the barrel of their second 4-0 reverse on the bounce.
The other game in Group A is already underway. In fact, it’s not far from finished. It is kind of already finished, though, in that Ajax are currently 3-0 up on Rangers with 15 minutes left to play. Edson Alvarez gave the hosts the lead with an uncontested header after 17 minutes. Steven Berghuis and Mohammed Kudus then added two more in two minutes, just after the half hour. Borna Barišić thought he’d pulled one back on 70 minutes, but Ryan Kent was caught ambling offside during the build-up. So it looks very likely that Rangers’ first Champions League group game for 12 years will end in defeat. More news when we have it.
Some pre-match reading …
… and a quick blast of pre-match fume.
Liverpool make three changes to the starting XI named for the Merseyside derby last Saturday. Andrew Robertson, James Milner and Roberto Firmino come in; Kostas Tsimikas and Darwin Nunez drop to the bench, while Fabio Carvalho misses out altogether through injury. Thiago Alcantara returns to the bench after a month out. Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, who had picked up a knock, has been passed fit to start.
Napoli: Meret, Di Lorenzo, Kim, Rrahmani, Olivera, Lobotka, Zambo, Politano, Zielinski, Kvaratskhelia, Osimhen.
Subs: Juan Jesus, Mario Rui, Elmas, Lozano, Simeone, Zerbin, Sirigu, Ostigard, Zanoli, Gaetano, Raspadori, Ndombele.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson, Milner, Fabinho, Elliott, Salah, Firmino, Diaz.
Subs: Thiago, Adrian, Jota, Tsimikas, Nunez, Arthur, Matip, Bajcetic, Phillips, Davies.
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande (Spain).
Liverpool first played Napoli in October 2010. Here’s their Europa League line-up that day: Pepe Reina, Paul Konchesky, Jamie Carragher, Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Ryan Babel, Jay Spearing, Christian Poulsen, Jonjo Shelvey, Milan Jovanovic, David N’Gog. Subs: Brad Jones, Fabio Aurelio, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Danny Wilson, Joe Cole, Maxi Rodriguez, Nathan Eccleston. Manager: Roy Hodgson.
Quite a lot has changed since then … except one thing. That game ended 0-0, and to this day Liverpool still haven’t scored at the San Paolo, despite visiting on another two subsequent occasions, both under the yoke of Jurgen Klopp. Lorenzo Insigne scored a last-minute winner in the groups in 2018, and at the same stage a year later, Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente secured a late 2-0 smash and grab for the Italians. Liverpool don’t much like it in Naples … and the home heroes, unbeaten and currently second in Serie A, will provide tough opposition as they always do. Kick off at what is now known as the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona is 8pm BST. It’s on!