Yet again! Liverpool bounce back from disappointment in the Premier League — where they had lost consecutive games to games in the relegation zone — to outperforming and deservedly beating significantly stouter opposition in Europe. This time, it was Europe’s premier in-form team, Napoli, who were put to the sword, in a game that Liverpool fans have been dreading since the Reds were pummeled 4-1 one by the Partenopei in the opening game of the Champions League back in September.
It took a pair of set-pieces to secure the win in the end, but the performance was one of fine vintage, matching their guests for effort and keeping the high-scoring duo of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen to six shots worth less than 0.25 expected goals combined.
Below, then, we dig into the narratives of the match and crown our winners and losers of the night.
Intensity: One of the defining features of Liverpool’s struggles this season — and one that stands in stark contrast to what has characterised them in the past — has been the lack of intensity. Sluggish starts in which they concede early, stupid goals, a dramatic drop in high intensity runs and sprints, an inability to turn the screw when needed, and an aversion to winning physical duels against teams that come out and make it ugly have been the hallmarks across the squad in a team-wide manner that has made it hard to pinpoint whether any individual player has been underperforming.
They found that intensity again when Manchester City arrived at Anfield, and they rediscovered it tonight, keeping pace with a dynamic Napoli side that has been crushing teams all season with their aggressive pressing and athletic, vertically oriented frontline. The Reds matched their guests in the running, and were able to adjust the tempo of the game to their liking, playing through the press when desired and keeping the ball to calm things down when necessary.
Exactly what had caused the Reds to be so consistently aenemic this season remains unclear, but if they can find the sort of dynamism they managed tonight more consistently, the rest of the year should go better than it has thus far.
LiVARpool: In games between high-quality sides, margins are usually extremely fine, and tonight, the millimeters were on Liverpool’s side, with Leo Østigård’s second-half header being ruled out for a marginal offside after a three-minute review, and Darwin Núñez’s injury time goal-line smack-in — initially flagged by the linesman — ultimately being awarded to the Uruguayan, making it his seventh goal of the year.
The Reds haven’t always been on VAR’s good side — leading the league last year in negative overturns — but tonight it made the difference between a draw and a win, helping the officials to make the right calls when they were unable to in real time.
Baby Szn: Liverpool might have one of the oldest teams in the league, and the XI that started tonight’s match might have had an average age of 28.4 years, but they got youngers over the course of 90 minutes, bringing a number of youngsters onto the pitch as the match progressed — handing an LFC and Champions League debut to Calvin Ramsay — and finishing the game with an average age of 24.4 years and three teenagers on the field.
Successfully turning over his first and building a second great team has long been considered Jürgen Klopp’s greatest remaining challenge at Liverpool, and although many of the stalwarts of the past half decade are still around, signs are undoubtedly pointing towards a significant contingent of the club’s future already being in place.
Concussion Protocol: James Milner went down after a headbutt to the side of the cranium with ten minutes to go in the first half, spent several minutes on the ground receiving treatment, both for his brain injury and the blood leaking out of his skull, saw out the 45 minutes, came back out for the second half, then sat down with a grimace and was subbed after 32 seconds.
We love an iron man and all that, but it seems patently unsafe to allow Milner to come onto the pitch in the second half. Please do better.
What Happens Next
Three games to go until the season takes an extended break due to the winter World Cup, and Liverpool need every point they can muster if they are to right the ship that is this league campaign.
A trip to London to face set-piece and injury time specialists Tottenham on Sunday comes first, before a visit from League One promotion hopers Derby County the following Wednesday. Five days to recover is a rare luxury, and hopefully the Reds will be refreshed enough to deliver a performance similar to tonight’s on the weekend.