Reds sick of the sight of Napoli as Italians bring out the worst of them again
It was another night of frustration for Liverpool against Napoli as the Reds were held to a draw in the Champions League
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent
22:57, 27 NOV 2019
If familiarity really does breed contempt, then Liverpool must be sick of the sight of Napoli.
The visiting Italians made sure the Reds' Group E campaign in the Champions League extends to the final game after they stubbornly held on for a 1-1 draw here at Anfield .
Jurgen Klopp will not have the luxury of resting his big-name players at Red Bull Salzburg in just under two weeks' time after Carlo Ancelotti's men hung on with a potent mixture of snide and skill.
Liverpool 's recent European history is peppered with meetings with this Serie A outfit. Throughout the decade, the Reds have squared off with the Neapolitans no fewer than six times.
From Roy Hodgson's Europa League also-rans of Poulsen, Shelvey and Jovanovic, to Jurgen Klopp's would-be Champions League winners , Napoli have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from Liverpool these past 10 years.
Last season, they provided the highs and lows of the group stages - save for one aberration in Belgrade - and this season, too, Carlo Ancelotti's men have given Liverpool the nadir of a campaign that has otherwise not dropped out of the clouds.
Once more, Ancelotti and his squad dug their heels in and denied the holders victory. However, where there was only dejection in San Paolo back in September, Dejan Lovren's equaliser provides the Reds with the chance to make it into December's draw unscathed when they travel to Austria.
The home side struggled to get going in the first half hour and were forced to bring Fabinho off after Hirving Lozano collided with the Brazilian after slipping under a challenge from Lovren. The midfielder is vital to the Reds' cause but with a suspension upcoming in the Premier League, the hope is that he will be raring to go after sitting out Saturday's visit from Brighton.
Wholly in-keeping with the story of the season to date, Liverpool didn't have it all their own way and fell behind when Dries Mertens was given the freedom of the penalty area after Virgil van Dijk had pulled up in the centre circle with an injury.
Dries Mertens celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League group E match between Liverpool FC and SSC Napoli at Anfield on November 27, 2019 (Image: Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Reds fans had got used to seeing Monday's Ballon d'Or hopeful strutting around with an aura invincibility these past two years, so the sight of Van Dijk in a heap was worrying. The £75m man is so important to what the Reds are aiming to achieve this season and they can ill-afford to be without him. Mercifully, he climbed to his feet as Reds fans let out a huge sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, two VAR checks confirmed that Napoli's opener was a legitimate one. After the technology had ruled on the side of Liverpool's at Crystal Palace on Saturday , here it failed to as offside and foul claims were dismissed by the officials.
Three minutes and 10 seconds after Mertens had slammed home, Liverpool were finally allowed to try and restore parity. Quite why it took so long is anyone's guess, but nearly four months since its introduction across the continent, its meandering is no shock.
Massive boos greeted the sound of the half-time whistle as referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande got firmly under the skin of Anfield's faithful. First, he denied a penalty for Sadio Mane before booking Klopp who was angered that Andy Robertson's quick free-kick was brought back.
The Spanish official's standing worsened as he called time on the half with the Reds firmly on the lookout for the equaliser. The Spaniard will be waiting a while for a drink on Merseyside after that performance.
Dejan Lovren celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League group E match between Liverpool FC and SSC Napoli at Anfield on November 27, 2019 (Image: Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Liverpool lacked the balance and poise of Trent Alexander-Arnold down the right and it was no surprise to see Joe Gomez's evening over before the hour mark as he gamely tried to replicate what his team-mate does so well. It was an unconvincing tribute act, however.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on in his place as Klopp switched Jordan Henderson to right-back and the Reds looked closer to home as they raided forward with more menace. Firmino had one hooked off the line from Kalidou Koulibaly after goalkeeper Alex Meret had spilled it.
Liverpool deservedly restored parity when Lovren nodded home James Milner's corner. The Croatian has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts over the last few weeks and was once again excellent alongside Van Dijk at the back for the Reds. His celebration gave way to the biggest cheer of the night as Liverpool finally found a way back into the contest.
The Reds smelled a second and went in search with the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain bombing on alongside the usual front three.
The Champions League has been kind to Oxlade-Chamberlain this term. While his big Premier League moment continues to elude him, he has been a big player for Klopp's Reds on the continent. Three goals against Genk in the last two outings kick-started his Anfield career after that career-threatening knee injury.
Once more he was bright, inventive and full of purpose here. Fabinho's suspension could open the door for him against Brighton at the weekend.
Yet again, Liverpool were left pushing for a late goal as the game ticked closer to the 90th minute and the only surprise was that it never arrived. The impressive Koulibaly once more proving a hard man to escape from as he repelled several attacks and hopeful crosses into the area.
This wasn't the result Klopp had hoped for, but crucially, Liverpool remain in control of their own destiny. Avoid defeat in Salzburg and the Reds' defence of the most prestigious crown in the game will go on.
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