Salah, Alisson the heroes as Liverpool beat Napoli, reach Champions League last-16

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Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker produced a world-class save to deny Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time and sent Liverpool into the Champions League round of 16 following a 1-0 win against Napoli at Anfield. Mohamed Salah’s goal on 34 minutes looked to be enough to clinch the victory required by Jurgen Klopp’s team, but Liverpool would have been out had Milik not been denied by Alisson’s point-blank save three minutes into injury time.
Liverpool, last season’s beaten finalists, went into the game knowing that a 1-0 win or a victory by two clear goals in the event of a Paris Saint-Germain victory against Red Star Belgrade would see them through Group C. But with PSG coasting to the win in Belgrade and securing top spot for Thomas Tuchel’s team, Liverpool’s qualification as runners-up came with the realisation that they could face the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund in the next round.
Liverpool were prepared for a tense night at Anfield against a Napoli team currently in second place in Serie A. But aside from Virgil van Dijk escaping a red card for a 13th-minute challenge on Dries Mertens and late misses from Jose Callejon and Milik, it was ultimately comfortable for the home side.
Liverpool should have won by a more convincing margin but were unable to translate their dominance and take their chances: The hosts had 22 shots but only four on target, adding to a fraught atmosphere. It meant that they had to rely on Alisson to produce his heroics in the dying stages to ensure they made it into the knock-out stages.
Mohamed Salah’s goal proved just enough as Liverpool advanced to the last-16 with a narrow win over Napoli. Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images
Beyond Salah’s goal, the biggest moment Tuesday involved their influential defender. Van Dijk had a lucky escape when he received only a yellow card for a 13th-minute challenge on Mertens, which could have left the Napoli midfielder with a serious injury. Van Dijk won the ball, but his follow-through caught Mertens with his studs, just above the Belgian’s ankle, and the Liverpool centre-half was swiftly booked by referee Damir Skomina.
A week after lambasting Burnley for their physical approach during Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Turf Moor, Jurgen Klopp cannot now argue that Van Dijk’s tackle was clean and fair if he wants to be seen as being consistent on his view of challenges during a game. Even though Van Dijk was fortunate not to be sent off, the yellow card could still return to haunt him and Liverpool, with the booking triggering a one-game suspension for the first leg of the round of 16 due to UEFA rules about accumulation.
Van Dijk has been a huge influence on Liverpool since his £75 million arrival from Southampton in January. He has eradicated the defensive uncertainty and become a crucial cog in the team, so how Liverpool cope without him could decide their Champions League fate. By finishing as runners-up in Group C, Liverpool could face the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in the next round, and such a task will be so much more difficult without their talisman in central defence.