Liverpool booked their place in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, courtesy of a Mohamed Salah goal that ensured their 1-0 win over Napoli.
Liverpool knew that they needed all three points to stand a chance of qualifying for the Round of 16, and they translated that need into desire and urgency on the field. But, the end product was lacking for the most part, as the Reds wasted a number of clear-cut chances to take the game beyond Napoli, who did not create as many opportunities.
Liverpool did break the deadlock in a little after the half-hour mark as Mohamed Salah danced his way past Kalidou Koulibaly before beating David Ospina from a tight angle. Thereafter, the hosts conjured up several chances, with Sadio Mane proving to be the most wasteful of their players in front of goal.
"IT'S ANOTHER SPECIAL NIGHT AT ANFIELD!" 🙌🔴
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 11, 2018
At the other end, Napoli came close with a couple of chances as well, only to see Jose Callejon fluff his lines and Arkadiusz Milik being denied by a point-blank stop from Alisson Becker. In the end, Liverpool held on for the narrow win, which saw them qualify from Group C as the runners-up, following PSG’s 4-1 win over Crvena Zvezda.
Napoli, on the other hand, went from potential group winners to third, dropping down to the UEFA Europa League in the process. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Jurgen Klopp’s men, following their crucial 1-0 win on Tuesday.
Alisson Becker: 8/10
It was a largely quiet evening for Alisson, with Napoli spurning whatever little chances they created. But, when he was finally called into action, the Brazilian made sure he left a lasting impact on the game, as he denied Arkadiusz Milik from point-blank range, adding to his burgeoning reputation and list of crucial saves.
Has now kept 15 clean sheets in all competitions this season. pic.twitter.com/8CXBcV4r0c
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) December 11, 2018
The single biggest reason why Liverpool kept their place in this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: 7/10
Alexander-Arnold had a tough outing to come against Lorenzo Insigne. But, the youngster dealt with most of the threat in a diligent manner, although he did get caught out of position on the odd occasion. On the other end of the pitch, the Englishman delivered a number of inviting crosses.
But, he was taken off late, which presents a concern over his fitness ahead of the game against Manchester United.
Joel Matip: 8/10
With Joe Gomez unavailable and Dejan Lovren not fit enough to start, Matip was given the nod once again. The Cameroonian stepped up wonderfully, keeping a check on Dries Mertens’ output while also proving to be a fantastic outlet on the ball. Has proven to be a superb backup option for Klopp.
Virgil van Dijk: 7.5/10
Van Dijk, like Matip, was largely solid at the heart of the Liverpool defence, bar a couple of lapses in concentration early on. Handed a reprieve with just a yellow card after he caught Mertens on the ankle with a reckless challenge, although he did win the ball initially.
After the early booking though, van Dijk was colossal, giving no inch in the central areas while organising the backline smartly. Will be missed in the Round of 16 first leg.
Andrew Robertson: 8/10
Liverpool’s Mr. Reliable was in his elements once again on Tuesday. Although Napoli concentrated most of their attacks on the opposite flank, Robertson remained composed on the odd occasion he was tested. Going forward, the Scot was typically dependable, delivering a number of dangerous crosses into the Napoli box to create clear-cut openings.
James Milner: 7/10
Milner turned back the clock in brilliant fashion on Tuesday, providing a timely reminder of his performances from last season’s Champions League campaign. The veteran midfielder put in a shift defensively, running himself into the ground to nip Napoli’s counter-attacks in the bud. Was always an outlet in the final third as well, coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions.
Jordan Henderson: 7/10
The Liverpool captain was much improved from his previous outing in the competition against PSG. Showed the required urgency from the get-go, not shying away from making crunching tackles to stop Napoli in their tracks. Sloppy on the ball at times, Henderson became neat with his passing as the game went on. All in all, a solid outing.
Georginio Wijnaldum: 8/10
After a few sub-par performances, Wijnaldum is rediscovering his best form. A bundle of energy from the off, the Dutchman was typically industrious on and off the ball, showing the willingness to close down the Napoli midfielders while not getting knocked off possession easily. Another player who made himself available in the final third constantly.
Mohamed Salah: 8/10
Mohamed Salah’s game by numbers vs. Napoli:
4 chances created
3 take-ons completed
3 fouls won
2 tackles won
Match-winning performance. 👑 pic.twitter.com/7OGTjLmspK
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 11, 2018
It was an odd outing for Salah. The Egyptian was marked relentlessly, which did neutralise his output to some extent. But, when Liverpool needed someone to step up, it was Salah who delivered the goods once again, shimmying past Koulibaly before beating Ospina from a tight angle. A moment of genius that ultimately decided the game.
Roberto Firmino: 7/10
Returning to his preferred false nine role, Firmino was much improved on Tuesday. As is often the case with the Brazilian, he dropped deep to help prevent Napoli from initiating counters, while his movement also helped Salah a great deal. A different sort of threat altogether in the 4-3-3.
Sadio Mane: 5.5/10
Mane was the liveliest outlet for Liverpool all through the game, which might make the rating a bit perplexing. But, the Senegalese winger was frustratingly profligate, spurning a number of glorious opportunities in either half. Could have scored a hat-trick on another day.
Naby Keita: N/A
Introduced late on, Keita replaced Milner’s tenacity with his energetic output, which helped Liverpool immensely towards the end of the game.
On for the final five minutes or so, Fabinho barely had any time make an impact.
Dejan Lovren: N/A
A typical Klopp substitution late on. But, this time, Lovren replaced Alexander-Arnold, who was struggling in the dying stages of the game.