Liverpool’s European dreams depend on the visit of Napoli in a fortnight’s time. Jurgen Klopp’s side will need to beat the Italians 1-0 or by two clear goals in order to progress to the last 16 of a competition they had designs on winning at the start of the season.
Do-able, of course, but hardly a situation that will appeal to even the most optimistic of Reds. Yet again their team will walk the tightrope in their final group match and the Europa League, which awaits them if they fail, is no safety net.
Leonardo Di Caprio and Mick Jagger were here to watch them, but in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower it was the stars of Paris Saint-Germain who shone brightest.
First-half goals from Juan Bernat and Neymar ensured that, yet again, Liverpool fell short on the road in Europe. This was their fifth consecutive defeat away from Anfield, with James Milner’s penalty their only consolation, despite a much-improved second-half performance in the Parc des Princes. “We did not make the right decisions,” Klopp moaned afterwards.
The first 45 minutes did the damage, though. Liverpool’s woes on their travels have put them in this most precarious position, and in the first half in Paris they looked as lost as they had previously in both Naples and Belgrade. So much so, in fact, that reaching the break 2-1 down felt like a good result.
Just as against Napoli and Red Star, Klopp’s midfield malfunctioned. A return to the tried-and-trusted, the 4-3-3, was designed to give his side greater solidity and control, but his trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum failed in both of their major tasks.
They were unable to protect their defence against the threat of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co. and struggled to feed the ball to Liverpool’s own attacking stars. The gap in the middle, Klopp said, was “unbelievably wide” at times.
Milner’s spot-kick, converted in the final minute of the half, was Liverpool’s only effort on target in the opening period. The visitors improved markedly after the break, pushing for the equaliser which would have made life easier next month, but Gianluigi Buffon in the PSG goal remained untested. A crime, given the circumstances.
Klopp gambled, once, twice, three times. He replaced Wijnaldum, booked early, with Naby Keita. He threw Xherdan Shaqiri on for Milner. His last roll of the dice was Daniel Sturridge, with Roberto Firmino making way. Close, but no cigar.
The concession of poor goals, easy goals, has been a theme of this Champions League campaign and it continued here. It took just 13 minutes for PSG to find holes in the Reds’ armoury.
It was a poor goal to concede at any level, let alone the highest. Liverpool’s midfield, a worry among supporters prior to kick-off, was bypassed far too easily and when Mbappe worked the ball across the area, the response of first Virgil van Dijk and then Dejan Lovren was too casual, allowing Bernat, the unlikeliest of scorers, to break the deadlock inside the near post.
As Liverpool’s central trio toiled, a point emphasised by a Milner free-kick which he struck straight out of play, Marco Verratti stood out initially.
The Italian, a composed yet scurrying presence, dominated proceedings early on, though he was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for a high, studs-up challenge on Joe Gomez. Not for the last time, referee Szymon Marciniak baffled with his decision-making. “For me, it is a red card,” Klopp said. “It was certainly not the same colour as the other 500 yellow cards.”
PSG’s second goal was to be admired, a lightning-quick combination between Mbappe and Neymar which ripped Liverpool apart down their right-hand side. Sometimes wonderful players do wonderful things, unfortunately for the Reds.
Milner’s penalty, belatedly (and correctly) awarded for a foul on Sadio Mane by Angel Di Maria, offered a lifeline before the interval, but though it was the visitors who pushed hardest after the break, the Ligue 1 champions stood firm.
The game ended with Marciniak taking centre-stage, producing a flurry of bookings. Rumour has it that Di Caprio, Jagger and Charles de Gaulle were all shown yellow cards in stoppage time. “We were made to look like butchers,” said Klopp, who saw half a dozen of his players cautioned.
Liverpool, though, cannot and should not blame the officials. They are in this position because of their own failings. Not necessarily here, but certainly in Belgrade and surely in Naples too. Lessons have not been learned.