Bad week in Europe for English sides as Liverpool & Spurs lose in Champions League

Liverpool and Spurs both fell to defeats in the Champions League last night. Liverpool lost 1-0 in Italy, as Lorenzo Insigne’s late goal won it for Napoli. Barcelona beat Spurs 4-2 at Wembley, with Harry Kane and Erik Lamela scoring for the hosts, as Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic and a Lionel Messi double gave Barcelona the win. These two defeats can be added to Manchester United’s poor draw against Valencia on Tuesday night, meaning Manchester City – with their late 2-1 win against Hoffenheim- were the only English side to win in the Champions League this week.

Napoli 1-0 Liverpool

Liverpool were unrecognisable in their defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side. They were extremely poor throughout the game, and didn’t manage to test on-loan Arsenal ‘keeper David Ospina once. The Reds didn’t manage to have one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. Napoli were much the better team, and got the three points they deserved when Insigne slid onto Jose Callejon’s cross and converted in the 90th minute.

Naby Keita was replaced on 19 minutes after picking up a back injury. His performance was poor before he went off. Jordan Henderson replaced him, and Keita is now surely a doubt for Sunday’s game against Man City. Keita wasn’t their only poor player, though. Their front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane didn’t impress. Salah, again, didn’t look like the player he was last season, and that has to be very worrying for Liverpool. Currently, they’re playing it down and saying that he also started last season slow before finding his feet. They say that he needs time before he starts firing again. At this stage, they seem to be saying that more in hope than expectation.

Jurgen Klopp was, understandable, disappointed with his side. But the German decided to take some of blame for the performance. He said:

The start to the game was OK and then the timing of our defensive moments wasn’t right, which allowed them to play through us.  We closed the gaps too late, which takes energy. We weren’t calm when we had the ball and didn’t create chances. The second half was not good enough. It’s always a bad sign when you have to say your goalkeeper was your best player, but it was obvious tonight. A big part of the performance is my fault. It didn’t look like it should have done tonight.

The result doesn’t mean the end of the group for Liverpool. After beating PSG in their first game at Anfield, and with successive games against Red Star Belgrade to come, they’re still in a strong position. They’ll beat Red Star home and away, and PSG and Napoli will take points from each other. Liverpool could be top of the group after their next two games, before the two harder fixtures come at the end. They host Napoli in their last game of the group: that could be the decider.

With a huge game to come against Man City at Anfield on Sunday, Liverpool need to dust themselves off and go again. They can’t be too down about this performance, as they can’t be expected to reach a high level in every game. They will be beaten at times this season, but it’s how they respond to those defeats that will be important.

Spurs 2-4 Barcelona

Spurs battled against Barcelona, and almost got themselves back into the game on a couple of occasions. In the end, they were completely outclassed by the champions of Spain. Lionel Messi scored a double, and Spurs were actually fortunate that that’s all he could manage. The Argentine could have had five last night!

Barcelona opened the scoring through Philippe Coutinho. Hugo Lloris, back in the team after injury, was at fault here. With a ball around the back, he needlessly rushed out of his goal to try to intercept. He didn’t get near it, and Barcelona pulled the ball back to Coutinho, who finished easily.

Barcelona went 2-0 up before the half hour mark. This one was an absolute screamer by Rakitic and you can’t really fault anyone for it. I’m sure there was somebody to blame in the build-up, as there usually is, but when someone finishes like that, you just have to get on with it. It was a cracking effort from 25 yards that hit the post and went in.

Just after half-time, Harry Kane pulled one back for Spurs. He did really well keeping the ball. He faked to shoot on his left foot, while sending Semedo onto his back, and finished well into the bottom corner. But, just four minutes later, Messi scored and restored Barcelona’s two-goal advantage. Before that, Messi, the little magician, hit the post twice. He really should have scored the first one, and was a bit unfortunate for the second.

Spurs again looked to drag their way back into the game when Erik Lamela scored to make it 3-2. They felt they may have snatched a draw at the death, but it wasn’t to be the case as Messi scored his second late on. Spurs tried to play it out from the back when they probably would have been better off lumping it forward, especially with 6’5” Fernando Llorente on the pitch at this stage. But they didn’t, and Moussa Sissoko lost the ball in his own half. Barcelona were ruthless, with Messi finishing into the bottom corner. It finished 4-2, and Spurs lose their second Champions League game in succession.

So, while Spurs lost by a two-goal margin, it could have been much, much worse. Messi, unsurprisingly, pulled the strings throughout. It was an exceptional performance by the Argentine, who really was amazing. He scored twice and had a hand in Barcelona’s other two. He is, simply, too hard to stop. It’s not Spurs’ fault that they couldn’t deal with him, as he would destroy anybody – as we have seen in the past – when in that form. Maybe Spurs could have done more to stop Barcelona, as they shot themselves in the foot for both of their goals, but as I have said, it could have been worse.

I have heard people saying that Luis Suarez is in decline and doesn’t score as many as he should. I will confess to not watching Barcelona all that much, but based on last night’s evidence, you can see why he may not score as many as he might. Twice, the ball came towards him in the box. And twice he brilliantly let the ball run for Messi, who was in a better position to finish. Strikers don’t do that. It’s rare you ever see a striker leave the ball for somebody else in the box, never mind twice in one game.

Most strikers control the ball in the box before getting a shot away, even if they’re not best-placed to finish it. But Suarez has this awareness of what’s going on around him, and is selfless as he lets his team-mates score when he has the opportunity to score himself. I’m not sure whether Messi gave him a shout on both occasions or if Suarez just knew he would be there. Regardless, he deserves praise for letting the ball run. Jordi Alba will get the assists for Messi’s goals because he passed the ball. But they should be given to Suarez, because what he did was vital. He was immense, and, love him or hate him, there’s no denying that he is a tremendous player.

Spurs face an uphill battle in the Champions League now. After losing to Inter Milan in their first game, they now trail behind both them and Barcelona. They need to beat PSV Eindhoven at home and away in their next two if they’re going to have any chance. They have to travel to the Nou Camp in their last group game, which may really work against them. Wins against PSV and Inter Milan are vital. Can they do it? Only time will tell.

There are two more English sides in action tonight, as Arsenal are in Azerbaijan (Europe, alright!) to play Qarabag. That’s a 5:55pm kick off. Then, at 8pm, Chelsea host Vidi FC. They should both be handy wins for the London sides. There’s a bit of a worry for Arsenal, as they face a long flight home before playing Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday, with a 12pm kick off. They’ve actually brought a really strong squad with them, which I found surprising. I thought they’d have left more at home.

Anyway, I’m not going hugely in-depth about those games. I generally won’t be won’t be for the Europa League games until it gets to the later rounds.

For some extra reading, check out Tom’s post on Belgian players in the Premier League. Part one is here and part two is here.

That’s that for today. I’ll be back tomorrow, as always, with more. Have a good Thursday.

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