Talking Points: Liverpool 1 Napoli 0

Mohamed Salah’s first-half goal was enough to secure Liverpool qualification through to the last 16 of the Champions League. The victory condemned their Italian opponents to third spot in the group with Jürgen Klopp’s side doing enough to finish second.

Commanding defence fully capable of single-handedly winning games…

As bad as the whole team were in the 1-0 defeat to Napoli in Naples, the defence really didn’t impress and were the cause of plenty of the problems that night. The fullbacks particularly, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, were guilty far too often of giving away cheap possession and not being able to keep the ball. Thankfully, on Tuesday the pair were much improved in this department, and the back-line as a whole was imperious. Virgil Van Dijk once again showcased why he is one of the best centre-backs in world football, with the likes of Dries Mertens not getting a sniff all match. A huge amount of credit must also be given to Joel Matip, who defended superbly and whose incisive passing and runs out with the ball from defence were key to breaking through Napoli. Even Alisson, who had so little to do, was still present to make of his most vital saves in a Liverpool shirt to date when he prevented Arkadiusz Milik from close range right at the death. As we have seen in the Premier League all season, this Liverpool defence is now good enough to single-handedly win matches on its own. It’s the reason Liverpool did the business against Napoli, and it’s the reason the Reds are truly capable of winning silverware this campaign.

Safe midfield selection pays off…

Liverpool social media was in meltdown when the team news was announced. How could Klopp pick the midfield three that most Liverpool fans had agreed should never be played together ever again? Well, Klopp did pick it, and to the German’s credit, it worked well for the most part. The first 20 minutes or so saw the trio get bypassed by Napoli’s attackers too easily and saw the match become end-to-end far too early for Liverpool’s liking. However, as the match progressed the trio improved vastly, and were in full flow once the Reds started pressing the life out of their opponents. Gini Wijnaldum was the best of the three – offering a calmness and guile in what was a tense atmosphere, but in the second half especially Jordan Henderson and James Milner both played very well. So as it turned out, a man that is paid to be a football manager knew better than the fans. Despite this, it doesn’t change the fact that a midfield of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum isn’t good enough to win the Champions League, and that fans will always have the right to question selections and tactics. Fair play to Klopp and the midfield trio, but Fabinho and Keita need to feature if the Reds are to go deep into the competition.

Wasteful attack nearly proves costly…

It was like the game against Spurs earlier in the season all over again. Liverpool’s front three having countless attacks and opportunities to score but simply unable to find the net. Salah’s goal to open the scoring was the Egyptian at his best – great positioning, too quick and strong for defenders and a composed finish to boot. But after the goal all sense of composure in front of goal disappeared. Napoli pressed in numbers for the goal that would’ve seen them progress, but the Reds were unable to make use of all the space left to counter-attack into, and when they did get into good positions they couldn’t finish the chances. Salah should’ve had a couple, but Sadio Mane was the main culprit as the winger missed two absolute sitters. Thankfully Klopp’s attackers were bailed out by the aforementioned imperious defence, but on another night the wasteful attack could have easily been made to pay.

Reds must learn to deal with European dark arts…

Any Manchester City fans who believe Liverpool were lucky with officiating decisions in the Champions League last season will hopefully have seen just how unlucky the Reds have been this campaign. Once again Liverpool were up against a poor and extremely biased referee who continuously fell for the opponents play-acting and over-exaggeration. But this is what they will have to get used to and deal with as they go into the knockout stages. European referees give free-kicks much more frequently and let play run much less, and when it comes to tbe dark arts, Liverpool either need to wise up to it or partake in it themselves. Van Dijk is now missing the first-leg of the last 16 tie through suspension – a yellow card the Dutchman only received because Mertens rolled around on the floor for half an hour. Liverpool’s potential opponent for the last 16 – possibly a team such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus or Bayern Munich – will all attempt to get the referee on their side as much as possible, and Liverpool need to be prepared.

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