LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Dec 12 – Liverpool survived their do-or-die shoot-out with Napoli to reach the Champions League last 16 with a 1-0 win on Tuesday.
Here are three things we learned from another memorable European night at Anfield:
Salah back in the groove
Assailed by doubters who claimed he has lost his love of the game, Mohamed Salah produced the perfect response as he fired Liverpool into the last 16 with a virtuoso strike that recalled the best days of his debut campaign.
After the joyful highs of last year’s remarkable 44-goal spree, Salah has appeared to find his second season at Liverpool more of a chore.
His traumatic shoulder injury in last season’s Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid left the Egypt forward in tears and ever since then a smile has rarely crossed his face even when he scores.
But Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp preached patience last week when asked about Salah suffering a sophomore slump.
The 26-year-old has shown the wisdom in those words with a hat-trick in Saturday’s rout of Bournemouth followed by his star turn to sink Napoli.
After fluffing an early chance when Andrew Robertson’s pass escaped his control, Salah made amends in the 34th minute.
Taking possession on the right-hand side of the Napoli penalty area, Salah accelerated away from Kalidou Koulibaly with a clever drop of the shoulder before firing his low shot through goalkeeper David Ospina’s legs from a tight angle.
Once again, Salah did not let a smile cross his face, celebrating instead by looking to the sky, then falling to his knees with his head bowed.
Yet no one in Klopp’s team will complain if Salah keeps expressing himself with goals rather than grins.
Klopp gets a response
Last year’s magical run to the Champions League final has seemed a distant memory for Liverpool at times this season as they laboured to emerge unscathed from a tricky group.
The stardust from those famous wins over Manchester City and Roma had gone missing during away defeats at Napoli, Red Star Belgrade and Paris Saint-Germain.
Liverpool’s European malaise has been all the more curious given their surge to the top of the Premier League after a club record-equalling 17-match unbeaten run.
Klopp admitted his players had to take responsibility for their perilous predicament heading into their final Group C match against Napoli.
“We caused the situation in a good way and in a bad way. It is a big opportunity for us and we will try everything to put it right,” Klopp said this week.
Liverpool responded to the German’s challenge, coping with a tense situation to deliver a confident display, much more reminiscent of last term’s swaggering form, as they avoided the angst of an early exit from the competition they have won five times.
Chasing a first Champions League crown since 2005 and a first English title since 1990, Liverpool’s double quest remains on course.
Reds claim another Anfield scalp
Liverpool have a rich tradition of heart-stopping European escape acts at Anfield and Napoli were the latest to fall victim to the club’s indelible connection with the competition.
The memories of heroics from David Fairclough against Saint-Etienne, Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost’ goal against Chelsea and Steven Gerrard’s stunner against Olympiakos still stir Liverpool fans like nothing else.
This wasn’t quite as dramatic as those generation-defining victories, but Salah’s winner was more than enough to raise the roof.
Klopp set the tone, fist-pumping towards the crowd demanding greater volume moments after kick-off and, with the atmosphere red-hot, Liverpool got the 1-0 win that would guarantee their progress.
But it would not have been a great Liverpool European night without some nerve-jangling moments.
Reds goalkeeper Alisson joined the pantheon of Anfield icons as his superb save in the final moments denied Arkadiusz Milik and earned a huge hug from the beaming Klopp at full-time.