Liverpool – Salah (34’)
Napoli – None
Mohamed Salah the difference maker for Liverpool in a special 1-0 win over Napoli at Anfield.
The Anfield atmosphere did not disappoint on Tuesday night as Liverpool took on Napoli to reach the round of 16 in the Champions League.
The first-half stunner from Mohamed Salah was enough for the Reds as they clung on to a 1-0 lead to see them through.
Despite late pressure from the visitors, the last minute save from Alisson Becker ensured Liverpool kept a clean sheet and that it would be Napoli who dropped into the Europa League.
Both teams came into the game in fine form. Napoli unbeaten in 12 across all competitions and Liverpool coming off the back of some big wins in the Premier League.
Anfield was rocking as the ref blew the whistle for kick-off, Klopp asked for the crowd to get behind the team and the supporters duly delivered.
It took just 7 minutes for Liverpool to create a clear-cut opportunity. Robertson was unmarked and able to find Salah, but the Egyptian’s poor first touch let him down and he was unable to get a shot away.
Virgil Van Dijk picked up a yellow card in the 13thminute, which will see him suspended for the first leg in the round of 16. The Dutchman timed his challenge perfectly and won the ball cleanly, but the follow-through caught Dries Mertens on the ankle, which the referee deemed a foul.
Liverpool continued to mount pressure on their opponents throughout the first half, but it was in the 34thminute when the Reds made the breakthrough. Salah’s brilliant footwork allowed him to dodge both Mário Rui and Kalidou Koulibaly, who had been defending brilliantly so far. He was then able to beat David Ospina at his near post, sending the ball through the Colombian’s legs.
The Reds were dominant throughout the first half, but they were still in for a huge second 45 minutes as one goal from the opponents would change the game completely.
Napoli looked rather sloppy throughout the second half as they pushed men forward in search of the equalizer. This played into Liverpool’s hands as their pressing led to numerous counter-attacks which could’ve, and probably should’ve, led to a number of goals.
Ospina was called into action countless times and Sadio Mane scuffed some clear-cut opportunities which would’ve made things a lot more comfortable for Liverpool.
Fans sat anxiously, hoping they wouldn't rue the missed chances. I doubt any Liverpool fan was able to watch as the ball fell to Arkadiusz Milik who was only 8 yards out in the 92ndminute. Alisson does brilliantly making himself big and pulls off an outstanding save to see the Reds through to the round of 16.
This result saw Liverpool qualify second from their group, with the French Champions Paris-Saint-Germain taking the top spot after their 4-1 victory over Red Star Belgrade.
Player and Manager Ratings:
Alisson – 8 (He didn’t have a lot to do as Napoli struggled to create a lot of chances. There was one wayward clearance that led to a half-chance, however. But he stepped up once again when it mattered and pulled off a huge save in stoppage time. Making £65 million seem like nothing).
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7 (Another big test coming up against Insigne but held his own once again. Created some brilliant chances, more than the entire Napoli team managed to create in 90 minutes. Hopefully, his injury isn’t too serious).
Joel Matip – 7 (Another solid performance, also did really well keeping Liverpool on the front foot. Again, hopefully, his shoulder injury isn’t serious as he’d most likely start alongside Van Dijk against Manchester United).
Van Dijk – 8 (Colossus. Once again).
Robertson – 8 (Just doesn’t stop running. Provided some brilliant crosses, was having a field day down that left-hand side).
Henderson – 7 (Struggled a bit first-half, but was outstanding during the second).
Milner – 7 (Played brilliantly all game and got the assist for Salah’s goal. Subbed off with a cramp).
Wijnaldum – 8 (Linked the midfield and attack brilliantly, scuffed a few chances himself and made a few wrong decisions in the final third. But controlled the game and was extremely influential).
Salah – 9 (Was always going to be difficult coming up against a defender as quick and as strong as Koulibaly. But held his own and showed just how World Class he is with his goal).
Firmino – 7 (Back in his favored position and some brilliant skill at times. Was subbed off but definitely made an impact).
Mane – 6 (All eyes would’ve been on Mane had Liverpool lost or drew that game, given the chances he missed. Really should be doing better with some of those sitters).
Keita – 7 (Fresh legs in the midfield were what Liverpool needed. Helped control the game and added something extra going forward).
Fabinho – 7 (Was crucial when Napoli opted to go more direct with long balls. Solid).
Lovren - 7 (Came on at right-back. Did Okay. Saw the game out).
Manager Rating: Klopp – 9 (Huge win for Klopp’s men. Got the better of Napoli this time around. Was being ridiculed pre-match for his team selection, opting for a midfield trio of Henderson, Milner, and Wijnaldum. Further evidence that the manager knows what he’s doing, contrary to what fans on Twitter say).
Ospina – 6 (Made some important saved to keep the scoreline at 1-0, but should’ve done better for Salah’s goal).
Rui – 6 (Did well against an in-form Mo Salah).
Koulibaly – 7 (Showing exactly why he’s one of the best defenders in the world. Did extremely well, only got done by Salah once. Got booked for a dirty challenge on the Egyptian).
Albiol – 6 (Defended well, challenged Alisson with a header early in the second half).
Maksimovic – 5 (Struggled against a very good Liverpool attack).
Allan – 7 (One of Napoli’s better players on the night. Won an awful lot of tackles Constantly pressing and harassing Liverpool’s players, smart on the ball as well).
Hamsik – 6 (Had a couple of good chances but mainly a passenger. Expected more from the midfielder).
Fabian Ruiz– 6 (Left Rui vulnerable at times against Salah and Trent, which Liverpool was able to exploit. Not the best performance).
Callejon – 6 (Missed a few big chances, skied a sitter).
Mertens – 5 (This is Anfield, Dries).
Insigne – 5 (Didn’t turn up for Napoli, scuffed a few chances. Was always going to be difficult up against Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip).
Zielinkski – 5 (Provided a bit more going forward for Napoli, but not enough).
Milik – 6 (Napoli looked more threatening when he came on but scuffed arguably their biggest chance of the game).
Ghoulam – 5 (Ancelotti said after the game the full-back is not yet 100% fit but did well when he came on).
Manager Rating: Carlo Ancelotti – 6 (Disappointing night for the Italian. No answer against a brilliant Liverpool team. Should never have doubted the power of this Liverpool side and Anfield).
Liverpool faces another big test when they take on Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday. They’ll be hoping to keep their place at the top of the Premier League table. Klopp will, however, have some decisions to make as the defensive injuries begin to mount up. Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold remain a fitness doubt as Sunday approaches, which means Liverpool face a right-back dilemma with Joe Gomez injured, Nathaniel Clyne seemingly absent from training recently and James Milner also coming off with an injury.
Napoli will be hoping to bounce back when they face Cagliari at the weekend. The Sardinian side currently sits 13th in Serie A, compared to Napoli who are second and are 8 points behind 1stplace Juventus.
By Hannah Pinnock