Richard Buxton: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah-Sadio Mane disconnect
Despite truce, they are on different wavelengths against Napoli and could derail Liverpool's EPL quest
The more things change for Liverpool, the more they seem to stay the same.
Juergen Klopp's side may be European champions, but history continues to repeat itself after they suffered another late defeat by Napoli yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Aside from the Champions League trophy, little has shifted in the Anfield landscape in the last 12 months.
They are still incapable of winning a group-stage fixture on their travels, while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane remain on different wavelengths despite calling a truce.
Mane insisted on the eve of the trip to the Stadio San Paolo that his recent fallout with the Egyptian at Burnley had been "forgotten".
Ahead of the Reds' 3-1 win over Newcastle last Saturday, they had engaged in some social-media bonhomie in efforts to defuse the situation.
The prolific pair, however, still appear to be poles apart.
Yet it was not events of three weeks ago which are at the heart of their continuing disconnect.
They were at odds with each other at this same stage last season.
Cracks first started to surface in Liverpool's previous continental opener, against Paris Saint-Germain, with Mane and Salah lacking the cohesion that made them such a potent combination.
This time around, Roberto Firmino was unable to bail out his attacking cohorts.
Salah's reluctance to use the Senegal international as an outlet at Turf Moor became a source of frustration for his teammate, who inadvertently turned the tables in Italy.
A speedy counter-attack should have seen Liverpool break the deadlock in a two-on-one situation.
Except Mane undid his hard work of a 60-yard sprint with a pass that arrived both late and overhit.
It was an act borne from poor decision-making rather than any vindictiveness, yet highlighted how Klopp's side are still susceptible to lapses in judgment even as champions.
That undue hesitation was not the sum of Liverpool's shortcomings but symptomatic of it.
PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
Both players regularly had chances to advance on Napoli's goal, as did the much-vaunted Firmino, only for the final passes to lack a similar level of precision and urgency.
Nothing could separate Salah and Mane in the EPL's scoring charts at the end of last season.
Their ability to drive each other on makes them Liverpool's very own Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost; two players steeped in a continuing pursuit of excellence which will never abate.
But their current discombobulation will only fuel fears that the past underlying issues could derail the English top-flight's leaders in their bid to end their league title drought this term.
Striking a balance will also help land a blow on an injury-hit Manchester City in the title race.
Whether technology will belatedly find in their favour is an entirely different matter.
VAR was expected to aid and abet the Champions League winners above all other teams.
But, twice in as many games, their backline has been on the receiving end of unjust calls.
Andy Robertson fell afoul of the "clear and obvious" ruling after he was adjudged to have tripped Jose Callejon.
Similarly skewed principles had been applied four days earlier, when Joel Matip was grappled in the area by Newcastle defender Jamaal Lascelles during a corner-kick.
Human error continues to cast a shadow over VAR's foray at the highest level.
For now, Liverpool can only focus on remedying their own issues rather than those of external forces.
Salzburg 6 Genk 2
Napoli 2 Liverpool 0
Inter Milan 1 Slavia Prague 1
Borussia Dortmund 0 Barcelona 0
Lyon 1 Zenit St Petersburg 1
Benfica 1 RB Leipzig 2
Chelsea 0 Valencia 1
Ajax Amsterdam 3 Lille 0