BELGRADE: Liverpool returned to the Champions League determined to make amends for their famous final failure against Real Madrid last season. The evidence from A 2-0 defeat by Red Star in Belgrade in what as Liverpool’s 200th game in Europe’s elite tournament is that they have, in the words of Jurgen Klopp, “lost our mojo.”
The atmosphere in Marakana was intense but Liverpool’s Kop inflicts similar pressure on visiting teams to Anfield so that was no excuse. This may have been an occasion when manager Klopp’s rotation let him and his club down.
Xherdan Shaqiri had not travelled to avoid political provocations and Roberto Firmino was omitted from the starting line-up after appearing tired in recent games. That meant call-ups for Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana in attack plus Joel Matip in defence which disturbed Liverpool’s balance.
Sturridge should have opened the scoring in the early exchanges but Red Star steadily grew into the game and took command with two goals in seven minutes from centre-forward Milan Pavkov who had been on the subs’ bench in defeat at Anfield.
This was the first time Liverpool had conceded more than once in the first half of a Champions League game since trailing Real Madrid 3-0 at the interval in October 2014.
No visiting team have won in Belgrade since Arsenal in the Europa League in October 2017 and Red Star had conceded only one goal in five previous European home matches this season. Liverpool could not change those statistics despite the half-time introductions of Firmino and Joe Gomez. Thus progress to the knockout stage still hangs in the balance with this defeat following the 1:0 setback away to Napoli.
Klopp, asked to “put your finger on what went wrong,” replied: “I only have 10 fingers.”
He added: “They were aggressive. They were aggressive in the last game as well but then we did better. We made life a bit too easy for them. That was the main problem. They deserved it with the passion they showed. They gave everything. For us it was not clicking, it was not easy.
“We had the moments but when we had the ball in the box we could not really finish. I saw a few games like this already and it is really difficult to find your mojo back.
“I don’t say it is already serious if we lose twice but we have to make sure it will not happen again otherwise it will be difficult. The next game is an away game at Paris Saint-Germain and the last one is a very difficult home game against Napoli.”
Sunday’s home game against struggling Fulham and then the international break offer Liverpool the opportunity to regroup before visiting awkward Watford then PSG.
Champions League on Tuesday:
Gp A: Monaco 0, Brugge 4; At. Madrid 2, B Dortmund 0.
Gp B: Inter 1, Barcelona 1; Tottenham 2, PSV 1.
Gp C: Red Star 2, Liverpool 0; Napoli 1, PSG 1.
Gp D: Porto 4, Lok Moscow 1; Schalke 2, Galatasaray 0.