Liverpool will have most likely have to win their matchday 6 trip to Salzburg in order to top their Champions League after being frustrated 1-1 by Napoli at Anfield tonight.
A Dejan Lovren header from a corner equalised an early Dries Mertens strike, but Liverpool produced an atypically meek European home performance and missed a chance to win their group with a match to spare.
Jurgen Klopp elected to make three changes from the victory over Crystal Palace, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain being replaced with Mohamed Salah and Joe Gomez and James Milner coming in for Trent Alexander Arnold and Georginio Wijnaldum respectively.
Many fans worried about the selected midfield — Fabinho, Milner and Henderson — and their ability to create opportunities. These fears would have escalated when Fabinho, after becoming the meat in a sandwich when Dejan Lovren tussled with Hirving Lozano, was replaced by Wijnaldum with what appeared to be a knee injury.
With the Brazilian off and shorn of the creative abilities of Alexander Arnold, Liverpool contrived to produce an anaemic performance. Slow, ponderous and lacking intensity the European Champions after 21 minutes, albeit with a massive helping hand from the referee, Carlos del Cerro.
Jumping for the ball with Virgil van Dijk, Mertens — on second inspection — elbows the Dutchman in the ribs and takes him out of the game, as he fell to the ground in pain. From the next phase, taking advantage of the poor defensive alignment of Lovren and Andy Robertson, Giovanni Di Lorenzo sent the Belgian forward in behind with a clipped pass. Mertens, who VAR confirmed was onside, then fired past Alisson with aplomb.
The home team can rightly feel aggrieved with the goal being allowed to stand, but their performance didn’t warrant them being level even if Napoli weren’t exactly ripping up trees themselves.
With the midfield not showing between the lines for the ball, much of the Reds attacks were funnelled down the left hand flank with Sadio Mane, Milner and Roberto Firmino all attempting to prize open the stodgy Italians.
Mane came close on several occasions to providing the final ball, but his efforts were thwarted by last ditch blocks as the half time whistle sounded with the players, Jurgen Klopp and the Anfield faithful all visibly frustrated.
Henderson’s floating cross — more a hit and hope than incisive creativity — was spilled by Alex Meret and Napoli had Kalidou Koulibaly to thank for saving them a conceded goal with the Senegalese giant clearing Firmino’s effort off the line.
In the minutes following the Englishman’s introduction, Salah worked Meret and Firmino ought to have done better from his angled cross, as he headed wide. Finally, Liverpool were giving their fans something to get excited by.
Milner’s out swinging corner was powerfully headed into the left hand corner by Lovren at the Kop end.