It’s all fun and games until the opposition end up scoring
The sense of relief around Anfield after referee Damir Skomina blew the final whistle on a live-or-die Champions League fixture for the Reds was palpable. Going forward Liverpool fans will want qualification to the round of 16 wrapped up long before matchday six after the exhilarating tie with the dangerous Napoli.
It turned out to be end-to-end but after Mo Salah’s 34th-minute strike Liverpool did indeed miss many chances to put the fixture to bed. It wasn’t as much Liverpool as Sadio Mane who was the obvious culprit and even if the sense of euphoria is still alive and well in the city, oh how different things could have been.
When the curtain does eventually come down on Alisson’s career at Liverpool few will ever forget the 91st minute save he made against an oncoming Milik that effectively kept the Reds in the Champions League. The Brazilian shot-stopper had to get it absolutely right to deny the Polish striker and he did so with his timing and use of his lower body but a fraction off and anything could have happened. It could have shot through his legs, off his hands and in or just missed him entirely as it rippled the back of the net to plunge Anfield into despair.
8 – Based on Opta’s xG model, the average goalkeeper would have conceded eight more goals than Alisson has for Liverpool in the Premier League & Champions League combined in 2018-19. Wall. pic.twitter.com/H9rdXdXZoC
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 12, 2018
Of course, it didn’t in the end but in a game where a team has to win by a number of goals should they concede they really ought to be wolfing down any chances put on a plate. A late equalizer from Napoli and it wouldn’t have been Alisson who was remembered for being alert but rather Mane for being wasteful. How the Senegalese striker missed when through on goal with no one around him in the 94th minute is anybody’s guess.
The positive is that Mane’s movement is world class and ultimately the reason he gets himself into such wonderful scoring positions. The way he peels off the back of defenders and ghosts through tackles is really a joy to watch and as painful as his one-on-one miss was in the 94th minute, he rode the challenge to get clean through on goal majestically.
The Reds now walk on to the round of 16 but after having taken a small advantage in the Premier League title race it does work out well for Klopp’s men that their European campaign is now temporarily halted until February. Despite going top of the table at 13/5 Liverpool still aren’t favourites to win the league in the football betting odds for the Premier League which really does show how big a task it will be to stop Guardiola’s City.
? Teams through in the @ChampionsLeague:
➡️ Onto the next one. pic.twitter.com/qozareYMMk
— SPORF (@Sporf) December 11, 2018
The Citizens may have blinked first after losing to Chelsea and by doing so surrendered their unbeaten record in the league this season but it was a stark reminder that any mistake will be heavily punished as both teams go hammer and tong for Premier League glory.
The Reds were able to get away with being careless in front of goal against Napoli but can’t afford another repeat like that if they are to break the 28-year wait for the top prize in England. In the change room afterwards, Klopp wouldn’t have left Mane in any doubt as to what he should have done against the Italian outfit by reminding him that it’s all fun and games until you suffer an agonizing setback.