Liverpool huffed and puffed with little end product in a anaemic performance in Serbia last night.
After a win and defeat against PSG and Napoli respectively the two games against Red Star Belgrade were an opportunity to approach the finishing line in terms of group qualification. But now they are back in a three way race to grab one of the two spots to advance to the knockout rounds.
Liverpool, of course, should have seen the warning signs.
Napoli, conquerors of Liverpool last month, could only manage a draw in Belgrade. And the reds had suffered an in-game wobble at home to Red Star. Add to all that, Liverpool's relatively disappointing form away from Anfield in this competition. Liverpool have now lost 4 of the last 6 games in this competition, and only won 3 out of the last 9 games in all competitions.
On Monday morning, Klopp had announced that Xherdan Shaqiri would be left at home to avoid any distractions. In hindsight, this game needed a lot more fire in the belly from Liverpool and many will point to that decision as Liverpool expressing concern about the atmosphere inside the stadium.
Adam Lallana was brought in for his 2nd European game since 2014, while Joel Matip replaced Joe Gomez in defence. Up front Daniel Sturridge came in to take Roberto Firmino's spot in the fulcrum of attack.
None of those changes worked well.
Lallana is arguably approaching the terminus of his Liverpool career after too much time spent on the sidelines due to competition but mainly injury. Alongside Milner and Wijnaldum the midfield was non-functioning with an inability to tackle, control or seemingly press the ball.
Up front Daniel Sturridge proved to be less effective for 6 yards than he has been from outside the box. He both missed a clear cut chance, over-elaborated with an other, and failed to spot the run of Trent Alexander-Arnold in space in another situation. He was taken off at half time and though Liverpool improved, their finishing did not.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 6 November 2018
Salah and Mane have had a stop start season so far and tonight they were not up to the game. Mane looked like he had too many metres in his legs, devoid of his normal explosive pace and invention. Salah was too predictable in front of goal, and the sight of him attempting (and failing) at another direct corner kick merely raised eyebrows.
It was an off night too for the defence who failed to close down the sizeable Milan Pavkov who grabbed both of Red Star's goals within 8 minutes in the middle of the first half.
Former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin delivered a corner and Pavkov jumped highest to powerfully send in the header. His next goal was better.
He collected the ball and shook off the attention of Wijnaldum with ease. With van Dijk and Matip retreating, he pulled the trigger and fired past Alisson to send the home crowd in to delirium.
This was Liverpool's 200th game in the European Cup but there would be no celebratory fightback to mark the occasion.
Gomez was also sent on at half time for an under-performing Alexander-Arnold but the course of the game could not be altered. Too many missed chances in a dominant second half from Liverpool who lacked the precision and excitement of last season's campaign.
As it stands after 4 games
Napoli ahead of Liverpool because they beat us 1-0
After the game Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said that for this game the players had lost their 'mojo'. They're going to have to find it quickly before Premier League whipping boys Fulham arrive at Anfield on Sunday lunchtime.
The reds travel to PSG next and a reds win there would ensure qualification and dump the French champions out of the tournament. However, with Liverpool's grim record away from Anfield in this competition over the past 7 months that does not look like a likely result.
The threat of the Europa League now hangs over the heads of Liverpool and it's a mess entirely of their own making.