By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool joined PSG in the Last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, following a 1-0 victory over Napoli at Anfield which was full of drama and tension, and had no shortage of goalmouth action.
Mohamed Salah maintained his scoring ways, netting the only goal of the game, but the Reds had Alisson to thank as the Brazilian stopper made a huge save in injury time to ensure they qualified out of Group C.
Anfield was bouncing as the sides made their way out onto the pitch, with the classic “You’ll Never Walk Alone” ringing around the stadium, before chants of “Allez Allez Allez” were belted out by the army of Kopites as the game kicked off.
The game started as many predicted, fast paced with neither team sitting back. The Reds in particular looked to get themselves ahead early, set-up in their free-flowing attacking system of last season as opposed to this season’s more structured approach.
The tactical shift seemed to be working for the home side, creating two golden opportunities within the first 10 minutes of the game – though both Salah and James Milner failed to open the scoring with either.
After 20 minutes, the Reds had the ball in the back of the net courtesy of Sadio Mané. Trent Alexander-Arnold was released down the flank by Salah before fizzing a ball across goal towards the Senegalese frontman.
Mané had the ball in the back of the net but unfortunately for the celebrating capacity crowd, the linesman had raised his flag, and the goal was disallowed for offside.
Liverpool kept the pressure on Napoli and found the breakthrough in the 33rd minute. Milner fed the ball into space for Salah to run onto, and the Egyptian did the rest. The number 11 showed great strength to roll Mario Rui, before dancing around Kalidou Koulibaly.
From that point on the PFA Player of the Year was through on goal and kept his cool to outwit David Ospina with a right-footed shot, to give the Reds the lead. Salah delayed the strike as long as he could, allowing Ospina, who expected a cross, to go to ground before slotting it into the bottom right hand corner
Anfield erupted and chants of “Mo Salah, Mo Salah” echoed through ground. Going into half-time Liverpool were 1-0 up, and as it stood, Jürgen Klopp’s men were through.
Klopp’s half-time talk seemed to work as Liverpool almost doubled their lead minutes after the restart. Jordan Henderson’s intense pressing saw the Liverpool skipper win the ball back on the edge of the Napoli penalty area before initiating another Liverpool attack.
The English midfielder released Salah, who outmuscled Rui again before fizzing a curling effort towards Ospina’s goal. Fortunately for the Colombian keeper, the shot flashed past his post only hitting his net after bouncing off the advertising boards.
As the game progressed into the final 20 minutes, Liverpool changed their tactical approach and set-up to counter-attack as Napoli ramped up the pressure. The shift saw the home side almost double their lead twice, with the visitors needing to call on Ospina, who pulled off a flurry of acrobatic saves to deny both Salah and then Mané.
The final moments of the game were heart in mouth moments for Liverpool fans as the Reds failed to take the golden opportunities which continued to fall at their feet.
The atmosphere in Anfield turned into a nervous tension as Napoli threw everything they had at the Reds, who required a world-class intervention from Alisson to assure them of victory, with the Brazilian making a save from point blank range in the dying embers of the game.
Liverpool now look to Sunday, as they will look to keep up their winning run when they host Manchester United in the Premier League.