LOST IN NAPLES
Defending Champions Liverpool Falter As VAR Takes Centrestage
Naples: It didn’t take long for VAR to become a talking point as the video refereeing system made its debut in the Champions League group phase.
Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp was left livid over a penalty awarded to Napoli that helped the Italian side beat the defending champion 2-0 on the tournament’s opening night Tuesday.
Dries Mertens converted the penalty eight minutes from the end of an entertaining match after a contentious foul by Andy Robertson on Jose Callejon. Substitute Fernando Llorente then sealed it in stoppage time with his first goal for Napoli — a measure of revenge after playing on the Tottenham side that lost last season’s final to Liverpool.
Klopp thought that Callejon exaggerated the contact after Robertson was adjudged to have tripped the Spaniard in the area. “I’m pretty sure there are different views on that. When a player jumps before there is contact it is not a penalty,’’ Klopp said.
Klopp then wondered aloud how the referees came to the decision. “I’m not the best loser but I’m not a bad loser. It was a decision made by human beings. As long as human beings make the decisions there is potential for failure. The referees and the VAR were all German, and they have experience with the VAR in Germany,’’ said Klopp, who is also German. “I’m sure they will find an explanation on why they did the right thing.’’
Still, he was not altogether discouraged. “That was the game changer tonight and we have to accept the result,’’ he said. “We are really critical with ourselves but it was not a really, really bad performance.’’
The latest chapter in what is becoming an intense rivalry between the two attackminded clubs, who also met in last season’s group phase, was full of action.
The atmosphere inside the newly renovated Stadio San Paolo was electric from the start as both sides attacked relentlessly from the opening whistle. “It was very balanced match,’’ Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “They’re the best squad in Europe and they were again tonight, because they forced us to be extraordinary.’’
Last season, Napoli also beat Liverpool 1-0 at home before the English side won by the same score in England — denying Napoli a place in the knockout rounds. “I told Klopp to relax, because if he loses here, he tends to go on and win the Champions League,’’ Ancelotti said. “I reassured him.’’
The English are off to a poor start this season. Chelsea were beaten 1-0 by Valencia thanks to a volley from Rodrigo, with Ross Barkley missing a chance to equalize when he fired a penalty onto the crossbar. It was the first European test for the newlook Chelsea team under coach Frank Lampard.
GAME-CHANGER: Napoli’s Dries Martens celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot 12 9 3 0