If you ever needed proof that pre-season friendlies don’t matter much, then this was it. Liverpool wiped the floor with Napoli this summer with a result that was a springboard to an undefeated start to Premier League and Champions League business. But Carlo Ancelotti did not build his reputation on such meaningless encounters. When it really counted he - and his team - did the business yet again.
Be honest, most of us were puzzled by some of his choices to tackle one of Europe’s most in-form sides. No red hot Piotr Zielinski? A starting spot for Fabian Ruiz? Dries Mertens kicking his heels on the bench once more? If nothing else, he’s made guessing the starting XI a whole lot tougher than Maurizio Sarri ever did.
But boy did he get it right with an impeccable display where everything worked to pretty much perfection. Shackle Mo Salah? No problem. Marginalise Sadio Mane? Job done. Beat one of the world’s most expensive goalkeepers? Leave it to Lorenzo the Magnificent.
This was a masterclass which looked, for a long time, like delivering only the performance Ancelotti would have hoped for but not the result. The Azzurri were on the front foot for most of the game but when Dries Mertens cracked a strike off the crossbar late in the game it looked like it would not be their night. It took little Insigne - that man most unpronounceable for UK commentators - to deliver justice.
Make no mistake, the Partenopei were worthy winners as Carletto got one over on Jurgen Klopp - for the time being at least. The German’s trophy count would represent no more than an appetiser for the silverware-hungry Italian. The future may well belong to the Liverpool manager but, for a night at least, he had to bow down before the man with the most famous eyebrows in the game. UEFA’s stats said the side from Anfield failed to muster a single shot on target over 90 minutes.
That has to be a first for a team that has made scoring look simplicity itself this season and boasts the kind of attacking power that has many opponents in England defeated before they even start.
The Napoli Coach was keen to play down the game beforehand as not being make or break but, after mustering just a draw in their opener, he was fooling nobody. A double header against another free-scoring and even bigger spending side in the shape of Paris Saint Germain means the Serie A outfit desperately needed three points from this clash. It may not, of course, be enough to see them through but at least it gave them a fighting chance.
Much has been made of the new approach Ancelotti has brought to the San Paolo - a little less hard-line, a little more flexible than the previous incumbent. It hasn’t always worked perfectly but it certainly all clicked for him in this vital Champions League tie. His track record in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and England speaks for itself. Now it is starting to make itself heard in Campania too.