Review: Liverpool – Napoli

A single goal by Mohamed Salah and a huge save in stoppage by Alisson Becker sent Liverpool through to the Champions League knockout stage.

Liverpool starting lineup: Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino
Napoli starting lineup: David Ospina, Mario Rui, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raul Albiol, Nenad Maksimovic, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Marek Hamsik, Jose Callejon, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens

Early on, Andy Robertson was finding space on the left flank and Liverpool nearly exploited it in the 7th minute, when the left back employed Mohamed Salah with a great cross, but the Egyptian’s first touch let him down. Marek Hamsik was close to giving Napoli the lead a minute later, when his bending shot from the edge of the box went centimeters over the bar. Moments later, James Milner had a header go wide, capping off an exciting five minutes of action.

In the 13th minute, a strong challenge by Virgil van Dijk caught Dries Mertens by the ankle and could’ve cause a serious injury to the Belgian. He managed to walk off the pitch under his own power and after some treatment gingerly returned to the field of play. Van Dijk was sanctioned for his recklessness, receiving the game’s first yellow card. Sadio Mane scored in the 22nd minute, but the goal was rightfully disallowed, as three Liverpool players (including Mane) were offside during Arnold’s cross. Then, in the 35th minute, Mo Salah came to life. The Egyptian got away from his marker Mario Rui upon receiving a pass inside the box. He easily got past Koulibaly and succeeded in finding the net from a very tight angle. Ospina made a judgement call to cover wide, leaving the near post exposed.

Liverpool got the goal they desperately wanted. All they needed to do now was to stop Napoli from scoring and they were through.

Five minutes into the second period, Salah had another scoring opportunity after getting the better of Mario Rui, but he missed the net from an excellent position. The intensity was picking up as the pressure was rising. Liverpool were actually closer to a second than Napoli were to tying it. In the 62nd minute, Carlo Ancelotti pulled the trigger, replacing Fabian Ruiz with the much more offensive-minded Piotr Zielinski. Dries Mertens gave way to Arkadiusz Milik in the 68th minute, giving the visitors the striker they were missing throughout the contest. Ancelotti’s last change came seconds later, when left back Faouzi Ghoulam came in for Mario Rui.

The substitutions slightly tweaked the formation and refreshed Napoli, who started pushing men forward. Salah was close to doubling Liverpool’s lead during a counter-attack, but Ospina was on top of his game, first punching the ball away from Salah and then blocking the ensuing cross. Ospina made another save moments later, as the home team was getting more and more space on the counter. Van Dijk had a huge chance to score following a spot kick cross. The assistant referee lifted the offside flag, even though the Dutchman was in a legal position.

On the other side of the pitch, Jose Callejon had Napoli’s best chance of the night up to that point, missing from close range at the far post. Right after that, Jurgen Klopp introduced Naby Keita to the pitch, as the Guinean replaced Roberto Firmino. Milner was cramping up, so Klopp opted to substitute him as well. Fabinho was the player to come on. Sadio Mane should’ve scored in the 87th minute, when he was served a goal on a plate by Mohamed Salah, yet Liverpool’s number 10 somehow managed to miss the net. Alexander-Arnold picked up a knock too and was taken off the pitch as the match clock hit 90 minutes. Dejan Lovren came in his stead.

In the 92nd minute, Arkadiusz Milik was gifted a fantastic chance to score. Alisson Becker’s timely reaction was the only thing that prevented Napoli from grabbing that one goal which would’ve see them through. Sadio Mane, who had one of his worst nights in a Liverpool jersey, missed yet another great opportunity in the 94th minute. It didn’t matter at the end, as the score remained unchanged until the final whistle. Luckily for Liverpool, all those unused opportunities didn’t cost them, as Napoli weren’t good enough today. After all the intrigue in Group C, The Reds did manage to qualify to the knockout round, finishing second behind PSG.

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