'We lost our mojo' - Jurgen Klopp bemoans misfiring Liverpool as his men lose on the road in Europe again
Red Star Belgrade 2 Liverpool 0
Andy Robertson warned Red Star Belgrade would be a different beast in their own stadium. Try Mickey Mouse turning into Godzilla.
Liverpool underwent the reverse transition, not only failing to tame the Serbian monster but enduring what can only be described as a mechanical and mental breakdown in the Rajko Mitic Stadium.
This was Jurgen Klopp's side suffering what they inflicted on others last season - surrendering to the sound. The 2-0 defeat means they are in serious risk of Champions League elimination. Defeat in Paris later this month would put them on the brink.
There is no room for error in the group now. It was a shocking performance, probably the most timid of Klopp's reign in a rowdy, unnerving arena where they had to be at their most resilient.
The German manager has spoken enough about a crowd's power of persuasion. He had hoped his players had gathered enough experience to cope. As they trudged off at half-time having already conceded the defining goals - a furious Klopp motioning substitutes Roberto Firmino and Joe Gomez to prepare for their introduction - he had to acknowledge collective failure.
When asked went wrong, he remarked he had only ten fingers from which to list the problems.
The lack of character in those opening stages must have hurt most. This was the antithesis of everything Liverpool have come to represent under this manager. At their best, incisive, attacking football is complemented by that quality Klopp name-checks most before the biggest challenges - courage. There was none of that here.
This was a serious malfunction; a collective brain freeze. Liverpool failed to play any football until they were invited to tippy-tap in midfield in the second half. It looked a bit better then, but was a mirage.
"For us it was not clicking. We made life too easy," said the coach. "We lost our mojo."
This was a third consecutive away defeat in Europe - Roma, Napoli and now Red Star. This team needs to reconnect with the good habits that preceded that run.
"I don't say it is already serious if you lose twice but we have to make sure it doesn't not happen again as the next game is an away game before a very difficult home game against Napoli," said Klopp. "We had a lot of moments when we could get in control of the game and we didn't do it, we just made the wrong decision. I don't think it is to do with away or home, it just happened. We will talk about it and change it, 100 per cent."
Momentum must rapidly shift if Liverpool are to thrive again in Europe. It was no surprise Klopp refreshed the line-up and starting Daniel Sturridge ahead of the rested Firmino ought not to have backfired so painfully.
Even the energy was not there. Those who still wonder why Klopp has so much faith in captain Jordan Henderson must witness how he was missed here. His return from injury cannot come soon enough.
Red Star looked a limited side when defeated 4-0 at Anfield. They were two up before 30 minutes this time through Milan Pavkov.
He headed the first from a corner, sparking the kind of pitch invasion usually greeting last-minute winners. It betrayed the pre-match emotions of the hosts, who believed the throaty roars were needed to repel one of Europe's best teams.
Hype about intimidation levels was not overcooked. The home fans nearly combusted with excitement when Pavkov pounced on James Milner's wayward pass and slammed in the second. Klopp was non-committal when asked if the emotion in the arena got to his players
"It was a good football atmosphere. It wouldn't have been impossible to perform. It was only loud," he said. "The atmosphere singing-wise, noise-wise, was not a problem but the atmosphere after the second goal - the whole club - half-time it is a long way to the dressing room."
There were some first-half chances with Sturridge and Mohamed Salah volleying over from close range
Inevitable half-time changes helped. The reality is Red Star invited more pressure in the second half and there was no penetrative threat. Salah went close again a few times - including clipping the crossbar - but a fightback never looked likely.
All the conviction and confidence on parade by Liverpool's front three in Europe a year ago was absent - and in truth has been for a while.
Red Star's coach Vladan Milojevic said his team had beaten a contender to win this year's Champions League.
It sounded generous. Rarely has a team looked so transformed between a matter of weeks. That applies to Liverpool as much as Red Star. (© Daily Telegraph, London)