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Liverpool begin the defence of their Champions League crown at the venue where Jurgen Klopp felt his side delivered their most anaemic performance in a 1-0 defeat to Napoli nearly a year ago.
With that encounter still vivid in the memory ahead of Tuesday’s return to Stadio San Paolo when the teams renew hostilities in the group stage of the competition, the German stressed “we don’t go there as a favourite.”
Liverpool departed southern Italy last season without having a shot on target and needed a superb late save from Alisson in the reverse fixture at Anfield — a 1-0 victory — to secure their passage to the knockout stage.
Despite going on to win the tournament — the club’s first trophy under Klopp and sixth European Cup — the Premier League leaders are expecting another daunting challenge against Napoli.
“Yes, we won the competition last season, but you know it is difficult,” the Reds manager said.
“They are a very strong side, [runner-up] of Italy two or three years in a row and really close to Juventus this year.
“Napoli plays a specific style. To make it very simple, we played against them in our defending like they had one No. 6, but they had two.
“We knew before, we told the players, but then everyone reacted too late. We tried to change it in the game and nobody listened and nobody could change it — in the end they were lucky they scored, but we were lucky it was only 1-0.
“It was really this kind of day off and now it is not about ‘will you invest that much again?’
“Yes, we have to invest whatever we have.
“The majority of the Napoli team stayed together and they have started this season spectacularly. We’ve both built on what we did last year.
“They are stubborn in a positive way. They play football, they break lines, good counter-attacks. They are creative. I enjoy it when I analyse Napoli. I like to watch them.”
Klopp also dismissed suggestions Liverpool are Europe’s premier side by countering that “Manchester City are the best team in the world.”
“We cannot be the best team in Europe, because Man City are the best team in the world,” he said.
The loss at Napoli last October proved to be a catalyst for Liverpool to go on to conquer the continent and relentlessly push Manchester City for the league title, which they missed out on by one point.
“When we came here last time, we didn’t perform very well,” captain Jordan Henderson said.
“I still remember sitting through the analysis from that game, we used the lessons to improve a lot.”
Klopp concurred with the midfielder’s assessment. “We did everything right in the next game and for the rest of the season that we did wrong at Napoli.
“We try to reach the level from last season, we want to be as consistent again.”
Klopp insisted that finally achieving Champions League success after two lost finals — with Borussia Dortmund in 2013 and Liverpool in 2018 — has not diminished his appetite for European success nor elevated his confidence in the competition.
His players, however, still want to make a strong statement after reaching back-to-back finals by underscoring their status as continental kings.
“Nothing has changed for me. I was self-confident before,” Klopp said.
“I have never had an issue with self-confidence. For the boys, they are young people and they feel they have things to prove. Not to me, but to the outside world. To go for the next one. And the competition in this team is really big, yes. If that line-up is not performing, the others are really there.”
Klopp picked out Xherdan Shaqiri, who has not started a single game and has only been afforded three substitute appearances so far this season, to illustrate his point.
“Shaq — he is so creative. He is a real option. If you have one good game and another good game the dynamic changes,” the 52-year-old said.
Further assessing the depth at his disposal, Klopp added: “Dejan Lovren has not been in the squad and I have no explanation for that other than two centre halves on the bench is probably not necessary.
“Naby Keita is coming, everyone knows that. When [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] played really well at Southampton, for the all others it was ‘ooh’ — you should see training. They all want to make sure, ‘I am ready, you can use me.’
“This is a really big club with competition between friends. It is not I have to kill him to play, it is really for the team.
“That is what the boys did so far and as long as we have that we will go for everything. Then we have to see what we get because we have really good opponents and that is the problem.”
Left-back Andy Robertson will be assessed ahead of Tuesday’s fixture after picking up a knock in Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over Newcastle United.
Divock Origi, who twisted his ankle in that game, is expected to be sidelined for one or two weeks.
Meanwhile, Klopp clarified that his agent Marc Kosicke was joking when he told German website SPOX that the 52-year-old has not agreed a contract extension at Anfield due to the weather conditions
“It was German humour and nobody got it,” the Liverpool manager said, bemused that the story had been taken seriously and run around the world.
“The weather is never the reason for me to chose a country. It is not a reason for me to leave a country. There is nothing in that story.”