THOSE NINE MONTHS – NAPOLI (HOME)

Liverpool will be playing Champions League football in February. Mike Nevin reflects on a pulsating night at Anfield as progress was secured.
Mike Nevin  |  12th December 2018

We’re running out of superlatives for this Liverpool team.

What a night at Anfield with victory secured by the narrowest of margins in front of a crowd that willed its heroes over the line – but not without an enormous fright in the dying embers of a classic European encounter.

Alisson Becker is an absolute phenomenon.

It feels like Jurgen Klopp should be on the first plane to Rome this morning to pay another instalment on a fee that already seems like daylight robbery. They say you can’t buy class but this fella has, in the space of just a few months, underlined just how crucial a goalkeeper is to a football team’s fortunes. At the final whistle, his name echoed round Anfield after a save that takes everyone’s breath away.

Liverpool to win the 2018/19 Champions League – 10.00*

Substitute Arkadiusz Milik is about to ruin the night. Time stands still as he stretches to control and slot home with no time left for Liverpool to respond. But we reckon without Alisson who summons all of his instincts and pounces like a cat stalking prey to parry with a flailing yellow arm. From the Kop it feels like we’ve witnessed a miracle. It is something to behold; a save that you never want to see again on a television screen so that memory of seeing it live never fades.

If Alisson is staking a claim to be the world’s best keeper, Mohammed Salah might be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Is there a better striker on the planet? Lionel Messi is cracking on a bit and Cristiano Ronaldo has had his time. Step forward Mo and wear your crown, son. They say the meek shall inherit the earth but there’s nothing timid or humble about the Egyptian King. How did we ever doubt him earlier this season when for just a few weeks he ruffled his hair in frustration at the temporary loss of his God given genius.

Mo Salah to score 2 or more goals (v Man United) – 6.00*

What we don’t fully appreciate about Salah is how much of a street fighter this lad is. He might be fleet of foot; the wizard of the dribble but he’s also hard as nails.

He’s making a mockery of all our heroes with every stride.

In the modern era the feats of Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres are being eclipsed and for those of us lucky enough recall the insane intensity of Kevin Keegan, the artistry of Kenny Dalglish and the predatory instincts of Ian Rush even we are being forced to re-evaluate the pecking order in the Anfield hall of fame.

Nerves were jangling from the off, with Liverpool walking a tightrope and Napoli looking a slick counter-attacking unit capable of a goal on the break to scupper all the best laid plans. One shot from Marek Hamsik – after a flowing Napoli move – arrowed towards the top corner before rising to sail marginally over bar, was enough to induce palpitations on the Kop.

Liverpool to beat Man United 3-0 – 12.25*

Salah’s 35thgoal in 38 games on sacred home turf brings the house down. Showing the full array of all his gifts, the crowd’s favourite son shrugs off a Neapolitan headlock and spins into the penalty area before a shuffle of his dancing feet flummoxes the attentions of man mountain Kalidou Koulibaly. In the blink of an eye, Salah switches ball from his trusty left foot onto his right before he squeezes a precise right-foot finish under the keeper David Ospina at the near post. The outpouring of relief is remarkable and the Egyptian’s name is hollered at full throttle by a home crowd now in tumult. It’s a goal reminiscent of all last season’s sorcery.

In the second half, Liverpool constantly threaten a second goal but contrive to miss a hatful of chances, only ramping up the tension. Sadio Mane spurns several gilt-edged opportunities before the Reds settle on their single precious strike and bed in to weather a Napoli storm. One mistake and all our efforts are in vain but Virgil Van Dijk is a colossus at the back and Joel Matip also rises to the occasion; every sinew stretched to clear and block for the umpteenth time.

Virgil Van Dijk to score a header (v Man United) – 17.00*

The final few minutes are absolute purgatory but the Reds prevail and after a fraught campaign away from home, we can reflect that at Anfield, Liverpool remain impregnable.

The big names of European football beckon in the spring and for all their protestations, none will fancy coming here to take on a Jurgen Klopp team that seems capable of rising to every challenge it faces.

*Odds are subject to change.

 

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