Liverpool suffered one of their most humiliating defeats this week and almost certainly the biggest upset of the Champions League this season.
Red Star Belgrade won the game 2 – 0, their first victory in the leading European club competition since the 1991-92 season. It was almost inconceivable before the match that Liverpool, who reached last year’s final, would lose to a club that hadn’t won a Champions League game in over two decades.
Liverpool won the reverse fixture of this match 4 – 0 at Anfield and no one would have been surprised if there was a similar score line this time around. However, Milan Pavkov scored two goals for Red Star to secure victory in a night few will forget.
His first goal came in the twenty-fifth minute thanks to an excellent delivery from Marko Marin. Pavkov shook off Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum to get the ball onto his right foot and send the ball into the net past Alisson from 25 meters.
Daniel Sturridge missed an easy chance for Liverpool in the first half, side-footing the ball over the bar. Mohamed Salah was also unlucky, hitting the post after halftime. Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson also suffered when his deflected cross bounced onto the crossbar in the second half.
"It's over, the analysis has started"
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 7, 2018
Despite the defeat, Liverpool are still in a qualification spot in their group with 6 points, with Napoli and PSG on 6 and 5 points respectively. Even Red Star could still qualify for the next stage of the competition thanks to their 4 points.
Next Liverpool will face Paris Saint-Germain at home and then Napoli will travel to Anfield. Their qualification for the next round is by no means guaranteed and they will have to perform far better in both of the remaining games.
Following the game Jurgen Klopp said that he only had 10 fingers when he was asked to explain what went wrong.
When asked to analyse what went wrong for the Reds in his post-match news conference, Klopp said, “I only have 10 fingers. We had the first big chance with Daniel, a very big one. Each goal in a game like this leads the game in a specific direction. The atmosphere, noise-wise, was not a problem for us, but after the second goal they could smell it. We made it too easy for them. They deserved it with the passion they showed. We lost our mojo in the game, not in general. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
One person who was certainly not disappointed after the game was Pavkov who said that he will probably struggle to sleep for “two or three night”.
The 24 year old was thrilled with his performance, which blew Group C wide open, and said that it will stay with him for some time. Talking to UEFA.com he said, “I was hoping for this. I said earlier that I’d like to score against Liverpool and it came true. I even scored twice. Sleep? I won’t. I can’t sleep after some league games, let alone this one. Maybe not the next two or three nights. But I will have to sleep in the morning because we have an important game this weekend.”
His teammate defender Milos Degenek said that he felt that Liverpool underestimated them and also said that James Milner was shocked by the atmosphere.
“We played well and managed to shut them out. Pavkov scored two beautiful goals, but all the boys played really well – now if only we could play like this every week,” he said.
“I think Liverpool underestimated us and consequently paid for that mistake. I spoke with Milner in the tunnel and he told me he’d never experienced anything like the noise coming from above the tunnel. I believe we can repeat this against Napoli.”
Here we will take a more detailed look at what went wrong for Liverpool, what they need to avoid in their future games, and what the future holds for the group.
Liverpool’s Defence Was Weak and Full of Holes
Jurgen Klopp played a midfield of James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Adam Lallana, with the two Englishmen playing as number 8s alongside a deep-lying Wijnaldum. It is difficult to find any positives about their performances, simply put, it was shocking, especially in the first half.
Red Star were hugely boosted by their home crowd’s support and the energy seemed too much for Liverpool to handle. The midfielders failed to win a single tackle throughout the first half, with the likes of Marko Marin and Milan Pavkov coming out on top every single time. Before this game Milner and Wijnaldum had been brilliant all season, but in this game they looked like two completely different players.
There was hardly any creativity on display and on numerous occasions they lost the ball when they really shouldn’t have. Pavkov’s second goal came because Wijnaldum meekly lost possession in the build-up. In the second half Klopp changed the system to 4-2-3-1, pushing Lallana ahead, but the change didn’t really have much of an effect.
Red Star Belgrade’s Fans Cheered Their Team to Victory
In their last two away Champions League games, Red Star Belgrade conceded 10 goals, but when they play at home, they are a completely different team. Going into this match, they had lost just one of their last 44 home games, a match against Arsenal last season.
The win against Liverpool was a highly impressive performance, and the noisy fans certainly played their part. Taking to the pitch at the Red Star Stadium is one of the noisiest experiences that a player will experience, and Liverpool will certainly have felt the effects. The home fans were there well before kick-off, making plenty of noise and hurling abuse at Liverpool.
There was jeering and whistling throughout the match and it seemed to send Liverpool into a panic, a panic that only increased when Red Star scored their goals. While Liverpool have played in noisy stadiums before, it seems that this was just too much for them to handle.
Despite Summer Signing, Liverpool Still Lacks Depth in Attack
Last season Liverpool’s front three were amazing. However, there are problems with their replacements, who are just not as good. On paper the team looks very strong this season, both Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge are back at full fitness, Divock Origi has returned from a spell on loan, and the new signing Xherdan Shaqiri has looked promising.
Klopp put both Sturridge and Lallana in the starting XI in Belgrade, but both off them looked off the pace. Sturridge missed an amazing opportunity in the early stages of the game and Lallana was too loose in midfield. Shaqiri still looks good, but he didn’t travel to the game due to political reasons.
As the winter approaches and the schedule intensifies Klopp will have to start rotating his squad in order to rest players, Mane, Salah and Firmino cannot play in every game and he will have to make use of the entire squad. However, it is far from certain that they will be up to the job.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is Suffering
Last season Alexander-Arnold came to the fore, particularly across the two legs of the quarterfinal against Manchester City where he was able to quieten Leroy Sane and impress in general. After Joe Gomez’s injury it seemed as if Alexander-Arnold’s spot was secure, but now that does not seem to be the case.
Despite being a highly athletic and attacking player, Alexander-Arnold has not been good enough in defence this season. Arsenal’s goal at the weekend was partly his fault, and in Belgrade he was removed at half time and replaced by Gomez.
Gomez has shown himself to be a more assured and mature defender, and thanks to his versatility he is above Alexander-Arnold in the pecking order. Klopp also has the option of using Nathaniel Clyne for the same position, making things even harder for Alexander-Arnold. However, it is clear that Alexander-Arnold is eager to learn and there is every chance that he will return to his best.
Group C is Now Far More Exciting
Had Liverpool won in Belgrade then they would have gone straight to the top of their group with nine points and been extremely close to qualifying for the knockout stages of the competition. However, their defeat, together with Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli’s draw in Naples, means that the group is now wide open.
Napoli and Liverpool are tied at the top of the group with 6 points followed by PSG with 5, and Red Star with 4. There are two more games for Liverpool, against PSG and Napoli, both extremely tough teams, but Liverpool need to win at least one to be in with a realistic chance of qualifying.
Both PSG and Napoli are to face Red Star, but as was seen this week, there are no easy games in Belgrade. The Serbian side will be massively buoyed by their win this week and will have their own hopes of qualifying. In short, it means that every game in this group is now essential and likely to be hugely exciting.