Will we ever do it the easy way? I doubt it, but, we did it, and we did it in the only way Liverpool could, missing multiple clear-cut chances, needing a wonder save from who is surely now the worlds best goalkeeper and by the smallest margin possible.
Needing either a 1-0 win or a win by more than 2 clear goals, Jurgen’s men were faced with a tricky position against one of Europe’s best sides, albeit, they did put themselves into said situation after failing to beat arguably the easiest side in the group, Red Star Belgrade. A midfield three that was complained about by fans online, with none of Shaqiri, Keita or Fabinho included in the starting XI turned in a performance of the highest calibre, pressing for the duration of their time on the pitch and the assist for the goal coming from James Milner.
Napoli insisted on playing out from the back from the start, passing their way out of trouble instead of clearing it up the pitch proved to be effective, but Virgil van Dijk doing Virgil van Dijk things wins the ball back and initiates the first chance of the game, transitioning into midfield and setting Salah away. Seven minutes in and the man who was last season scoring everything that came his way was running down at Ospina’s goal, alas, a rare bad touch dispossessed the Egyptian and denies the shot. The Italians responded instantly, with a cutback to Marek Hamsik skied over the bar, rare from Hamsik, who is usually reliable when it comes to keeping the ball low and hard.Embed from Getty Images
PSG’s first goal vs Red Star in the other Group C fixture started with an early goal from Edinson Cavani, meaning that one of Liverpool OR Napoli will drop into the Europa League if the result stays in Paris’s favour. The refereeing was subject of criticism, and fairly so, some decisions were controversial, to say the least, Virgil van Dijk executed a perfectly timed challenge on Dries Mertens with a sore but unintentional follow-through, and the referee books the Dutchman, leaving the Reds without him for the first leg of the Round of 16.
Liverpool fans are elated as Alexander-Arnold’s delightful delivery results in Mane finishing from a few yards out, but the linesman’s flag is up, and the goal doesn’t stand. The final ball has been a problem for Liverpool all season, and the problem hasn’t been solved today, with crosses overhit and final balls too short. Tonight’s captain Jordan Henderson attempts to take matters into his own hands with a rangy effort from 25 yards but it dragged wide of the goal.
The scoring form continues for one man however, Mo Salah carries over his momentum from the hat-trick at Bournemouth by grabbing the opener here at Anfield. Truly spectacular from the ‘Egyptian King’, drifting past the defence, proceeding to slot home from the tightest of angles with his week foot through Ospina’s legs. As things stand, Liverpool and PSG are qualified. 34 minutes, Liverpool 1-0 Napoli.Embed from Getty Images
A resort for Liverpool when it isn’t quite clicking, and they need a moment of excellence has come up clutch once again, but the danger isn’t over, as if Napoli score, then Liverpool need 2 more to go through. Two more was what Liverpool almost needed too, as a poor clearance from Liverpool’s Alisson results in the ball worked over to Fabian Ruiz, but caught in two minds, he can’t decide whether to shoot or cut it back, and the outcome is the middle of the two, with the ball fizzling into no-mans-land.
Napoli’s star centre-back joins his counterpart in the book as a stamp on Salah’s foot is more deserving of a red card than anything else this game, Mo looks to be in a lot of pain following the challenge, but it is eventually ran off and he continues just fine.Embed from Getty Images
PSG’s lead doubles, and the pressure on Napoli increases by the same multiplier, with the Italians needing a response or they are faced with Europa League football, and the comeback isn’t looking likely. Liverpool look to be easing into the game, looking more and more comfortable as it gets closer to the halftime whistle.
Dries Mertens was giving it a lot of talk before the game, but the tiny Belgians most prolific moment was the tackle from van Dijk that earned the defender an undeserved yellow card, knowing his spot in the lineup for the second half is under threat, he takes a pop in extra time of the first 45 after spotting Alisson off his line, but he can’t get the power or the accuracy behind it. Firmino is put through after a last attack of the half but ends in nothing and the whistle goes for halftime.
Jurgen’s team talk clearly prevailed, with Liverpool starting the half the better of the two sides, Mane sprays the ball out to Robertson down the left flank, but it gets cut out. Wijnaldum goes for an awkward volley with the outside of his boot but is well wide, the goal of the tournament attempt from the midfielder.
Napoli are looking sloppy this half, Salah close to capitalising on the poor defending as he leaps onto a pass from Firmino, shakes off a challenge, but can only muster up a shot to the side-netting. Koulibaly has been solid in the Napoli back-line, managing to keep up with Salah (just), following a quick exchange of passes between Liverpool’s front three, the Reds still comfortable in possession despite Napoli needing to press for an equaliser.Embed from Getty Images
Alisson finally called into action over 10 minutes into the half, with a rare Napoli corner leading to Albiol getting on the end of the delivery, lacking power, our Brazilian shot-stopper claims easily. A similar position, similar scenario, two minutes in advance, Firmino meets a cross in a similar position to Albiol just two minutes prior, Ospina with a routine stop can only get it as far as the edge of the box, where Virgil van Dijk goes for an outlandish strike, over the bar.
25 more minutes of this would be taken, no questions asked, by the Liverpool manager, as Napoli look to pose no threat to tie the score, and the home side playing with the prowess to double their lead. Ancelotti needs something new here, and he hopes that comes in the form of Arek Milik, who scored a brace at the weekend. Zielinski also replaced Ruiz not too many minutes earlier in midfield.
Uncomfortable for Ospina, who has the deflected shot of Trent Alexander-Arnold fired at him, coming off both Koulibaly and Firmino on its way to the goalmouth, the deflections, however, take all the venom off the ball, leaving Ospina time to gather his bearings and collect the loose strike. Three changes in six minutes for the Napoli manager, Ghoulam replacing Mario Rui at left back as they are desperate for any kind of foothold on the game.Embed from Getty Images
These changes seem to have triggered something, with Napoli suddenly looking more likely to score, but all they have to show for their efforts so far is a corner that concluded to nothing. Liverpool not quite having to resort to ‘hanging on’ just yet, the shots are racking up for Napoli, with Milik firing over the bar from fellow substitute Zielinski’s pullback.
Redemption for Ospina after the first half’s mishap leading to Salah netting, the Columbian gets a hand to the ball as Mo attempts to dribble around him, just like he did against Bournemouth, this time, less successfully, as the keepers hand claws it out of the forward’s control. Committing men forward is leaving gaps at the back for the hosts to exploit, Robertson’s ball is met by Mane, but, seemingly forgetting his finishing boots today, Ospina saves again.Embed from Getty Images
Keita replaces Firmino with 10 minutes to go and it’s understandable, Napoli are getting through the midfield seemingly every time with ease, so an extra man can’t do any harm. Salah takes slowing the tempo into his hands, delaying the visitor’s keeper from playing it quickly by grabbing his arm, the result is a booking. So many missed chances could come back to haunt Liverpool’s whole campaign if Napoli grab this equaliser, Gini is put in a promising situation but drags it wide of the target.
Fabinho for Milner is the substitute after James picked up a little knock, 85 minutes and the second Red’s change is made. The chances just go begging, Sadio Mane fires into the side netting from just eight yards out after having it put on a plate by his partner Mo Salah, the 21st attempt for Liverpool, only one goal from the lot. Trent Alexander-Arnold is added to the long list of players sustaining knocks, and, no chances taken in the 90th minute, Dejan Lovren replaces the youngster at right-back.Embed from Getty Images
Now, the save on everyone’s lips, Alisson produces another stop that proves him to be the best goalkeeper around, 92nd minute, Milik sprints onto a header from 8 yards, but Liverpool’s keeper makes himself big and is equal to the shot! Jubilation from the Liverpool players around him, singing his praises and congratulating him infinitely.Embed from Getty Images
Now this is silly, Sadio Mane misses a clean one on one with Ospina, not even managing to get it on target, but he’s laughing, he knows time must be up, 94 minutes gone.
Sadio knew right, with the next passage of play, the referee blows for full time and Liverpool are through to the last sixteen of the UEFA Champions League, joining PSG from Group C. Multiple wasted chances to put the game to sleep, but we won, and Alisson again got the opportunity to step up when the stakes are high, and come up trumps.Embed from Getty Images