Liverpool sends Napoli home after a 1-0 win at Anfield - Qualifies for Champions League - NewzEmpire

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Liverpool sends Napoli home after a 1-0 win at Anfield - Qualifies for Champions League

This was not a European performance that will live long in the memory, but Liverpool's 1-0 win over Napoli provided further evidence they can challenge for honours without needing to be at their swashbuckling best.

Faced with needing a 1-0 result or a victory by two clear goals in their final fixture in Group C, it seemed somewhat implausible that the first possible outcome would be achieved by a Liverpool side renowned as much for their attacking brilliance as their defensive fragility in recent years.

In both the quarter-final and semi-final last year, Manchester City and Roma left Anfield flummoxed by first-leg flurries, overwhelmed by the intense approach which led Jurgen Klopp's side all the way to the final in Kiev.


Yet this year's squad feel somewhat different. That is underpinned by goalkeeper Alisson, whose last-gasp save from Arkadiusz Milik proved just as important as Mohamed Salah's first-half winner. Even slender margins are enough for this Reds vintage.
This was Liverpool's eighth clean sheet at home in all competitions and they have conceded just five in 11 games. No longer is this team overly reliant on Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane firing on all cylinders.

As of yet, those three have failed to hit the heights they reached in 2017-18. However, Salah did score his 13th goal here to settle it.

He might have got on the scoresheet inside seven minutes but a heavy touch allowed Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina to snuff out the danger. Nine minutes before the break, however, the Egyptian would not be denied.

Salah's route to goal had been shut off by Kalidou Koulibaly on two previous occasions but this time he skipped beyond him. Ospina gambled on a low cross and was beaten between his legs. The ball hit the net and Salah turned to the crowd, standing still to soak up the adulation.

That 34th-minute strike ultimately settled the game, even if it did not banish the nerves around Anfield.

"We need to score one more," shrieked one fan early in the second half. In terms of qualifying his statement was incorrect, but it was easy to see where the anxiety stemmed from, especially as one Napoli goal would need Liverpool requiring two more.

In 2004, Liverpool were faced with exactly the same scenario in their final group game against Olympiacos, and it took Steven Gerrard's late heroics to seal a dramatic 3-1 triumph and their progression in a tournament they famously won for a fifth time in Istanbul.

The supporter on this night need not have worried, though. Led by the ice-cool Virgil van Dijk, Klopp's men never panicked and looked comfortable with a precarious scoreline. That they controlled the contest under such pressure was perhaps a sign of growing maturity, boding well for their domestic hopes, as well as their European aspirations.

This is a club that boasts about their continental achievements more than their honours at home. A pre-match look across the sea of banners on The Kop referencing the five times they have conquered Europe only emphasised that. Yet this year, the Champions League has seemingly felt secondary for the red half of Merseyside.

Klopp's side came into this match top of the Premier League, unbeaten in 16 having made their best ever start to a domestic campaign. Whisper it quietly but, as Gary Neville suggested earlier this season, Reds fans might even give up another Champions League success if it meant ending a near three-decade long wait to be crowned champions of England for a 19th time.

To do so they will likely need to grind out victories and secure wins that are less memorable than the ones they enjoyed over Porto, City and Roma last season. Yet with Alisson on board, Klopp's team are showing they can do exactly that.



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