Preview: Liverpool vs Napoli
They may have smashed Bournemouth 4-0 on Saturday, but Liverpool have bigger fish to fry on Tuesday. After all, their Champions League fate hinges on the outcome of their final group game. Napoli will be the visiting team, with them eyeing 2nd spot in the group too. Winner takes it all, with only one able to progress into the knockouts. So bring out the popcorn, for it promises to be a special night at Anfield.
Timely Return To Form
Dancing past Begovic, many thought Salah would take the shot early. The Egyptian had other ideas though, as he skipped past Begovic a second time before calmly slotting the ball into the net. That goal sent Salah to the top of the goal scoring charts, tied with Aubameyang on 10 goals. It also meant that Salah became Liverpool’s joint-9th highest scorer in the league, even though he’s only been at the club for a season and a half. For a supposed one season wonder, those are some stunning numbers.
From Liverpool’s perspective, Salah’s hat-trick couldn’t have come at a better time. They need their star forward firing if they stand any chance of beating Napoli. Firmino’s performance on Saturday was also hugely welcome, as he harried and pressed the Bournemouth defenders throughout the game. It was his first-time shot that led to Salah’s opener, followed by winning the ball and releasing Salah for the second. He may not have scored, but assuming that creative role for Liverpool is equally important.
Discounting Firmino’s goal against PSG, none of the trio have really produced the goods in a big game. That could change against Napoli, especially as they are currently fit and firing. With Mane also given a run-out against the Cherries, Liverpool now have their strike force ready for Tuesday’s showdown.
The Real Keita
Against Burnley, Keita was arguably Liverpool’s best player on the pitch and was unlucky not to score. He was subsequently rewarded with another start against the Cherries, where he produced another scintillating performance. Drifting left at times, he combined well Robertson to make life hell for Bournemouth’s right flank. Him skipping past three opponents was one of the highlights of the game, and he ended up completing 3 out of 4 dribbles. That made him the best dribbler on the pitch, with no other player even completing one take-on.
Besides dribbling, he was one of Liverpool’s better tacklers, winning 1 of his 4 attempted tackles. That desire to win the ball back is what Klopp wants from his players, and Keita fits that profile. His robustness could also have been why Liverpool’s 4-2-3-1 worked to perfection. His willingness to drop deep allowed Firmino to remain higher up the pitch and be more involved in the attack.
Against Napoli, Liverpool will need to be aggressive if they are to win the tie. Starting Keita on Tuesday would certainly help, as he had shown with his previous two performances. His directness and work rate off the ball is important if the Merseysiders are to go for the jugular. The gaffer has done well to ease the Guinean into the team; it’s time now to unleash the No. 8 against the Italians.
Never Write Liverpool Off
December 8, 2004. With 86 minutes played, Liverpool were leading 2-1 against Olympiacos, but they still needed a goal to progress into the knockouts. Mission impossible. Or so everyone thought, until Gerrard unleashed a rocket of a shot past Nikopolidis. The rest would be history, as Liverpool went on to win the Champions League that season.
That wasn’t the only time Liverpool did the impossible. Luis Garcia’s ghost goal in the semi-finals against Chelsea took the Reds into the 2005 Champions League final. Stunning Real Madrid 4-0 in 2009 got the footballing world talking. And who could forget Lovren’s dramatic winner against Borrusia Dortmund in the Europa League, a game which the Reds looked to be down and out when Reus made it 1-3 on the night.
And what do all these games have in common? They all happened at Anfield. It’s a magical place, where the impossible happens time and again.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game at Anfield, Liverpool are once again up for the fight. They need to win 1-0, or by two clear goals to earn passage into the knockouts. But as past results showed, anyone writing Liverpool off will be doing it at their own risk. And led by a manager who believes in the impossible (see the Miracle of Malaga), Liverpool are ever the more capable of producing miracles. So even if Liverpool go a goal down early, Anfield has to believe that their team can achieve it. They’ve done it so many times over the years, why not again?