I made mostly made poor choices last weekend, which may have something to do with why I also ended up mostly watching only half games. But the start of the Champions League and various Europa competitions this midweek turned out better for me.
Napoli 4 – Liverpool 1. This was probably the pick of the Champions League ties this opening round of group fixtures, so I’m glad that it’s where I landed. Napoli were supposed to be in a rebuilding phase following the departures of Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Fabián Ruiz, David Ospina, and Dries Mertens. But that rebuild seems to have happened in a single transfer market, as they have flown out of the gates. After scoring nine goals in two opening wins, they followed up a pair of ties (with Fiorentina and Lecce) with a come-from-behind win against Lazio that saw them second in the domestic table coming into this opening round showdown with last year’s finalist.
Liverpool, on the other hand, were struggling mightily. Notwithstanding a 9-0 win against Bournemouth, they have lost to Manchester United and tied Everton on the way to a 2-3-1 record to start the season. While no one doubts their squad quality or potential, Jürgen Klopp’s side are struggling mightily at the moment. I’ve been reluctant to put too much into that slow start–and there is a lot of the season left–but this game was a wake up call for me.
Full credit, though, is due to Luciano Spalletti’s side, especially to their new recruits. André-Frank Zambo Anguissa was imperious in midfield, looking a much more complete player than the last time I saw him; and left wing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, formerly of Rubin Kazan, tormented Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez with support from new left back Mathías Olivera. Kim Min-jae, too, had an excellent game filling Koulibaly’s boots. Though not a new signing, Victor Osimhen up top showed terrific pace and gave Virgil van Dijk fits until his injury substitution at the end of the first half. But his replacement, the newly signed Giovanni “Cholito” Simeone, scored Napoli’s third goal and played a part in the fourth.
With a missed penalty and a goalie clearance by a recovering van Dijk, Napoli still went in 3-0 ahead, scoring their fourth at the start of the second half. It was a dominant a half of football as seems possible against a side with Liverpool’s quality. It is worth noting that, as one of the commentators on the Totally Football podcast pointed out, Liverpool’s two best performances came from Luis Díaz and Harvey Elliot, two of the most recent additions to Klopp’s side. It will be interesting to see whether the senior members of the squad can regain the focus and intent that has made them one of the world’s best sides for the past several seasons.
West Ham United 3 – FCSB (Steaua Bucharest) 1. This was one of two games on English soil that went forward following the announcement of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, and in truth Manchester United’s loss to Real Sociedad in the Europa League (played at the same time as this match) would probably have been the better option for someone not tied to the Hammers (#OverLandAndSea). In truth, there was little to commend this game to anyone who is not a West Ham fan.
David Moyes gave starts to Gianluca Scamacca, Maxwell Cornet, and Emerson Palmieri, as well as to Manuel Lanzini, youngster Flynn Downes, and cup keeper Alphonse Areola. It was not an inspiring half, and Bucharest went justifiably ahead with a well-worked goal just after the half hour mark. Scamacca couldn’t quite get his efforts on frame, with four missed goals in the half.
At halftime, he was replaced by Michail Antonio, along with Jarrod Bowen and Lucas Paquetá, replacing Saïd Benrahma (who had been playing out of position on the right) and Manuel Lanzini. West Ham did look slightly better, but when Bowen scored off a 50-50 penalty just before the seventieth minute, it was the Hammers first shot on goal. But the game was definitely swinging in West Ham’s direction, and the go-ahead goal by Emerson (taken off Antonio’s toes) was not long in coming. Antonio scored the insurance goal at the end of regulation, ensuring a win that no one really needed to see.