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It's Napoli or bust after Reds' Paris nightmare

Paris St Germain 2-1 Liverpool

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PSG's Edinson Cavani celebrates Neymar's goal with Kylian Mbappe in last night's Champions League clash at the Parc des Princes

PSG's Edinson Cavani celebrates Neymar's goal with Kylian Mbappe in last night's Champions League clash at the Parc des Princes

PSG's Edinson Cavani celebrates Neymar's goal with Kylian Mbappe in last night's Champions League clash at the Parc des Princes

There were times in the build-up to this Paris date when the love-in was going too far. Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel seemed eager to walk into the Parc des Princes with a floral bouquet in one hand, pistol in the other.

As they plotted their assaults, each wanted us to believe they were gazing longingly into the line-ups of the opponent, the Liverpool manager gushing over Kylian Mbappe and Neymar while his opponent fluttered eyelids at Roberto Firmino.

To the cynical ear, the starry-eyed gestures sounded not so much a courtship as an exercise in trying to soften each other up. No doubt the compliments were genuine, but Klopp and Tuchel were just as aware and thankful for the strengths of their own assets.

Tuchel's decision to confirm Mbappe and Neymar fully recovered from injury 24 hours before kick-off undermined his previous claims about "never revealing any of his line-up". It was a statement intended to fear.

The Paris St-Germain coach's purple prose was not needed, the destructiveness of his Brazilian weaponry all too apparent when his side took a two-goal lead.

Intensity

Such was the intensity of the PSG star in the opening exchanges, Liverpool were undone easily and often. But for Alisson, the early deficit could have been worse.

Liverpool's victory at Anfield looked even more impressive with each Neymar surge. The French champions' defeat had served to wind up world-class talent.

We have become obsessed with the question which team truly has the best front three in Europe. Liverpool's took the acclaim for much of last year's Champions League but this was a reminder of what single players of another level can do.

Mohamed Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane have wreaked havoc in tandem. While the attention falls on them, they might argue it is their supply line that needs retuning.

This may have been an evening for the attackers to inevitably claim the glory, but it was the influencers in midfield that had to make the difference.

Tuchel did not have Marco Verratti at Anfield. The scale of that loss was obvious within minutes. The next stage of Liverpool's development is to locate a Verratti, the multi-dimensional playmaker to thread midfield and attack with swift, penetrating accuracy.

Even that is easier said than done. When PSG took control, the Italian was a class above every other midfielder. Liverpool have not possessed a deep midfielder so rich in technical ability since Xabi Alonso.

Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum bring the same dimensions to their game, albeit in varied roles. They are very good at what they do but it is mostly the same. These are the arenas when the midfield imbalance is more obvious and undermining.

That Klopp faced a team with similar stature to Madrid with the same worker bees said plenty about their excellent form during an unbeaten league run and the lack of alternatives capable of shining in this company.

That is why Klopp wanted Nabil Fekir last summer. His introduction of Naby Keita as substitute after an hour, the player Liverpool hope will eventually add the midfield variety, was the least surprising and most telling of the night.

Liverpool's ability to hustle Verratti was their chief source of hope, Firmino needed as the first point of defence. When PSG's No 6 was able to sidestep, play a give and go and drop the shoulder, it was decisive.

That led to the opening goal, Liverpool's press bypassed and defence under siege in a manner rarely seen this season. Not even the torrid nights in Naples and Belgrade resembled this.

To Tuchel, PSG's assortment of Harlem Globetrotters may not be as collectively secure as required. That was clear during Liverpool's better periods. Their individual brilliance in every position compensates for that.

Liverpool responded, although Tuchel seemed happy to retreat in expectation of the kind of counter-attack that led to the second goal.

That risk was exposed when Milner's penalty gave Liverpool hope at half-time.

The home crowd became increasingly agitated, knowing and fearing what the visiting attack could do. Now Klopp's fearsome threesome will have to deliver against Napoli or the Europa League beckons.


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