It’s the morning after the night before.
Jurgen Klopp’s breakfast will have had a bitter aftertaste having watched Liverpool endure what was surely the worst half of Champions League football of his reign.
The Reds were overwhelmed by Napoli in the first 45 minutes at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium and were perhaps lucky to only be 3-0 down at the interval.
Victor Osimhen squandered the chance to heap more misery onto the visitors when he missed a penalty in the 18th minute, Napoli’s second spot-kick of the game after Piotr Zielinski had successfully converted from 12 yards following a handball from James Milner (£1.4m).
Virgil van Dijk (£5.3m) was penalised for the second penalty upon VAR review and while the Dutchman got away with that particular misstep thanks to Alisson’s (£3.9m) save, he was most certainly punished for his unusually shaky performance as Liverpool ultimately succumbed 4-1 to Luciano Spalletii’s side.
The 31-year-old centre-back was far from the only Anfield resident guilty of a poor performance in Naples, Joe Gomez (£2.8m) looked horribly vulnerable while Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.9m) was noticeably off the pace when asked to defend, showing little interest in tracking runners.
However, it was Van Dijk’s performance, and indeed his overall form since the start of the season, that will concern fans most.
So much of Liverpool’s strength in recent years has been rooted in the invincible nature of their No4.
The Klopp era didn’t start delivering trophies until after Van Dijk and Alisson were added to the squad at considerable expense.
Prior to the pair’s arrival, there was a sense that while the Merseyside outfit packed a punch going forward, they were undermined by persistent errors at the back.
Van Dijk’s unflappable nature instilled the back four with a sense of calmness and massively reduced unnecessary mistakes, helping the club claim seven honours in the space of four years.
However, the uneasy feeling in defence has returned at the start of the 2022/23 campaign with Van Dijk appearing uncharacteristically bothered and beatable.
He has conceded as many penalties in seven games this season (two) as he did in his previous 164 appearances for Liverpool in the Premier League and Champions League.
In Van Dijk’s defence, he has not been helped by a porous midfield in front of him and Klopp’s reluctance to move away from the high defensive line that worked so well last term but has caused major problems in recent weeks.
However, as a defender who was correctly heralded as the best player in his position on a global scale not that long ago, a drop in his individual standards should also be acknowledged as a factor in Liverpool’s mixed start to 2022/23.
Van Dijk’s wobbling form is reflected in his Dream Team returns.
With a starting price of £6m he was one of the most-expensive assets prior to Game Week 1 and one of the most popular too.
After five Game Weeks, he returned 14 points at an average of two per game – a total that was hurt badly by a haul of minus four points when all was said and done in Naples.
Ryan Sessegnon (£2.6m), Ben Mee (£2.3m) and Pascal Struijk (£1.5m) are just three defenders currently outscoring Van Dijk.
The Netherlands international’s tally is boosted by a 13-point haul against Bournemouth from Liverpool’s 9-0 win in a fixture that is something of a freak result in that it’s unlikely to be repeated again any time soon.
All things considered, the 17% of Dream Team gaffers currently backing Van Dijk may well be better off seeking an alternative.
Ruben Dias (£5.1m) is currently available for a smaller portion of your budget and he’s the sixth-best defensive asset having accumulated 28 points – Man City look in much better shape than Liverpool right now.
Eric Dier (£4.3m) is another potential replacement that would unlock more cash to invest elsewhere – he’s on 24 points currently.
Remember, you can always bring Van Dijk back into your XI later in the season if he rediscovers his imperious form but right now his returns are below par.