As far as famous Anfield nights go, Liverpool‘s win over Napoli was on the boring side. Yes, the Reds needed a last-gasp save from Alisson Becker to deny Arkadiusz Milik but, aside from that, it was a fairly straightforward night for the home side.
Its yet another example of how this side is maturing under Jürgen Klopp. The German arrived in 2015 and spoke about bringing teams down to their level. He wanted chaos on the pitch. Such an environment balances the playing field.
But the need for this is no more. Liverpool have a team capable of competing with the very best. They have a genuine squad with talent throughout and it’s showing. The team, and the manager, showed superb game management, and game intelligence, to see out a 1-0 win.
Into the last-16 they go.
Mohamed Salah netted what turned out to be the winner in the first half but in reality, this could have been a rout. Sadio Mané missed chances. Salah missed from close range. Thankfully for the home side, one goal was enough.
Here, we take a look at five things we learned.
Alisson is everything most English goalkeepers aren’t and it’s because of this that he’s been under scrutiny ever since his arrival in the summer. The Brazilian is composed with the ball at his feet, at times he’s perhaps bordering on arrogant, and it’s because of this that people think he’s a mistake waiting to happen.
The truth is, however, that he’s the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. And it’s becoming more and more apparent as the season progresses.
In three of the last four matches, he’s played a vital role in Liverpool picking up maximum points. He pulled off a superb save from close range in the Merseyside derby with the scoreline level. He managed to tip the ball to the post in the dying seconds against Burnley. Tonight it was Milik who was foiled by the Brazilian’s imposing frame.
The world record fee the Reds parted with to secure him in the summer is looking like a genuine bargain.
Goals in the #UCL since the start of the last season –
— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) December 11, 2018
Salah back to his best
The one-season wonder now has 13 for the season. He’s scored 10 goals in his last 11 starts as well as chipping in with three assists during the same period. He’s hitting form just at the right time. The Reds are into the last-16 of the Champions League and sit top of the Premier League thanks to his goals in recent weeks.
Many doubted whether he could repeat his goalscoring exploits of 2017/18 but he’s proving that the record-breaking season was no fluke. Salah the elite goalscorer is here to stay and there is very little teams can do about it.
His goal, a moment of magic, saw him leave Kalidou Koulibaly, a player many consider to be one of the top five defenders in the world, for dead. The Senegalese giant was bamboozled by Salah’s quick feet and that split second allowed the Liverpool No.11 to race clear in the area and calmly fire the ball past David Ospina.
Mané off the boil
The new Liverpool No.10 started the season like a man with a point to prove. He was scoring goals. He was creating chances. He was just a menace. However, the goals dried up. His decision making has become questionable and he’s now back to his frustrating best, something Southampton fans will know all about.
Many expected his new deal to be the springboard he needed to play his way into form but he looks a man short of confidence. On multiple occasions tonight he had the opportunity to double Liverpool’s lead. But he failed to do so. Had it not been for Alisson, his misses could have played a part in the Reds now readying themselves to play in the Europa League.
A sharper, more focused Mané will be needed in the new year.
Klopp’s starting midfield was under the microscope when the teams were announced. James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson had been chasing shadows in away defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli. There was no control. There were no signs of any link up with the attack.
With Fabinho and Naby Keïta catching the eye in recent weeks, many wanted the summer signings to start. But Klopp kept faith with his experienced midfield. It paid off.
The Reds smothered the away side. They shut up shot defensively, apart from the final few moments when Alisson was forced into action, and Milner was instrumental in driving the team forward.
The xG score for the match, with has Liverpool winning 3.4 to 0.9, highlights just how one-sided the match was. The midfield played their part and Klopp’s decision was justified.
Robertson impresses again
Andy Robertson is a one-man left side. He was a threat throughout for Liverpool and was always on the overlap giving Mané a passing option. He’s grown into this team since getting the nod in place of Moreno 12 months ago and it’s now difficult to see how this team would function without him.
He does everything. He’s defensively solid and he’s an attacking threat. If Klopp could design a full-back in a lab then it would basically be Robertson. Another eye-catching performance from the Scotland captain.