This was another special European night for Liverpool. An Anfield night when Mohamed Salah scored another wonderful goal, nerves were shredded, chances were missed, the blood was pumping and they made it through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
They had to win and they did it by the narrowest of acceptable margins and even if it should have been far more emphatic there was also a dramatic twist at the end as they were stunningly indebted to goalkeeper Alisson who made a brilliant save deep into four minutes of added time.
That came from Napoli’s one clear opportunity. If it had been taken by Arkadiusz Milik then the harsh reality is that Liverpool would have been out. Dumped out. Instead as the substitute brought down a cross, that skimmed off Fabinho’s head, and shot goalwards Alisson spread himself with the ball ricocheting off his knees and away. Anfield erupted.
Soon after, at the final whistle, it erupted again. In relief; in joy but only after Jurgen Klopp had patted his heart. It had been that close and so it was also with Group C as Liverpool hauled themselves level on points with Napoli but sent the Italians into the Europa League. Paris St-Germain finished top.
As anaemic as Liverpool had been in Naples, where they lost by the same scoreline, they were as full-blooded here. They harried, they pressed, they prevented the visitors from playing and forced them to cede a host of clear opportunities in the second half. It was another of those European nights and felt wildly raw at times.
Liverpool are most definitely on the march. Momentum is being gathered, they are at the summit of the Premier League and into the knockout stages of this competition which is so precious to them and their rich history.
Salah also has his swagger back with a 10th goal in European action for Liverpool at Anfield and while he, again, did not smile when he scored there were plenty of smiles around him.
That attacking triumvirate of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were restored to the positions they occupied last season and were resurgent – even if chances, by Mane in particular, were not taken. In fact the only summer signing in the starting line-up was Alisson. But what a difference he makes. The Brazilian is a world-class goalkeeper and that one save alone underlined his importance and will draw harsh comparisons with the man he replaced, Loris Karius. The German simply does not have the same aura.
“I have no idea how he makes a save like this,” Klopp said, beaming. “If I knew Alisson was this good I would have paid double for him.” The goalkeeper cost £65 million but certainly feels priceless.
The result also means that Liverpool have kept 15 clean sheets in their last 19 home games in all competitions and Alisson has played his part in that as has Virgil van Dijk, signed last January, who was at his commanding best even if he collected a booking which rules him out of the first-leg of the next tie.
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