Liverpool left frustrated in quest to progress by Napoli
Liverpool’s Champions League progress will come down their final match again after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Napoli.
Last December qualification was not secured until the last kick of the last game, coincidentally against the Serie A club, and while the stakes are not as high this time around – a draw will do in Salzburg – they have not got the night off they hoped for.
Dejan Lovren’s second-half header cancelled out a contentious opener from Dries Mertens and means only a win in Austria will guarantee they top Group E.
Jurgen Klopp’s 100th European fixture as a manager was not the occasion he would have liked as Napoli, unbeaten in three of their four encounters against them over the last two seasons, made things difficult.
All talk of the internal turmoil at the club – the players have had a falling out with president Aurelio De Laurentiis and have been banned from speaking to the media – was forgotten as soon as Liverpool failed in their bid to keep a first Anfield clean sheet of the campaign.
The first half could not have gone any worse for the defending champions, who lost Fabinho to an ankle problem and suffered another injury scare to Virgil Van Dijk.
While the influential defender was flat out in the centre-circle, Napoli exploited the channel the Dutchman would have been patrolling with Mertens sprinting clear to fire a shot past Alisson Becker from the narrowest of angles.
There was no heroic save like 11 months ago, when the Brazil international’s added-time block in their final group match kept his side in the competition against the same opposition, and questions could even be asked as to how he was beaten at his far post from such an acute position.
Questions were certainly being raised in the VAR booth as, having confirmed the check was complete and a goal had been scored, an announcement then stated they were subsequently checking for offside, which eventually brought a negative response.
It said much about the laboured play of the hosts, lacking the pace and delivery out wide of the rested Trent Alexander-Arnold, that their two main goal threats came from Van Dijk – who rifled a 35-yard shot into the Anfield Road end and headed an Andy Robertson free-kick straight at the goalkeeper.
Sadio Mane’s tumble in the area under pressure from behind by Giovanni Di Lorenzo was not only waved away by referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande but there did not appear to be a referral to a review either.
Klopp, whose frustrations had been bubbling under all half, was so furious his reaction earned him a booking.
Anfield found its voice again 10 minutes into the second half when Alex Meret dropped Jordan Henderson’s cross and Kalidou Koulibaly cleared Roberto Firmino’s hooked effort off the line.
Klopp gambled soon after, taking off the still-rusty Joe Gomez, dropping Henderson into right-back and giving Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his midfield spot, the England international immediately curling a cross to the far post which Firmino headed wide.
Lovren’s effort was much better, rising above Napoli’s defence to plant a header into the top corner for a 65th-minute equaliser from James Milner’s corner.
Koulibaly’s arms wrapped around Mohamed Salah, now up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation, in the penalty area failed to attract the interest of the official as the Egypt international opted to remain on his feet.
Henderson was restored to midfield as Alexander-Arnold was introduced for the final 12 minutes as Klopp went for the win which would secure top spot but, for once this season, there was no late winner.