PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images
Mohamed Salah scored the decisive goal in the 34th minute, finishing from a tight angle after he impressively turned Mario Rui and wriggled past Kalidou Koulibaly.
The Reds missed several chances to build on their lead against the Serie A side, with David Ospina doing well to deny Salah and Sadio Mane in the second half.
Mane also contrived to produce two inexplicable misses from close range, but Napoli were unable to punish their wastefulness in front of goal and will drop into the UEFA Europa League.
Unsung Milner as Vital to Liverpool as Salah
Salah will grab the headlines for his fine goal, and it’s easy to see why:
Football on BT Sport @btsportfootball
Anfield erupts! 🙌
The man for the big occasion does it again!
Mohamed Salah puts Liverpool 1-0 up against Napoli 🔴 https://t.co/H3j0Qoj6mO
The Egyptian is talismanic for the Reds, but James Milner—who supplied the pass for Salah—is similarly crucial to the cause.
As Opta’s Duncan Alexander illustrated, the Englishman has been an impressive creative force in Europe for Liverpool:
Duncan Alexander @oilysailor
CL assists since the start of last season
Messi + Neymar + Modric = 9
James Milner = 9
On top of being an incisive contributor with his passing in the final third, the 32-year-old continues to shine as a tireless source of running in their engine room, helping them apply their press with work rate and intensity.
Football statistician Dave O’Brien shared his numbers from the first half against Napoli, as he impressed going forward and defensively:
Statman Dave @StatmanDave
James Milner’s first half vs. Napoli by numbers:
most final third passes (13)
most key passes (3)
2 tackles won
Much improved from the first game. 👏👏👏 https://t.co/s5JW6PYxLi
Though much of his work often goes unheralded, Milner is one of the Reds’ most influential players.
Klopp Right to Start Wijnaldum Ahead of Naby Keita
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp opted for a midfield three of Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Milner, with Fabinho and Naby Keita on the bench.
Football writers Leanne Prescott and Jack Lusby weren’t enamoured with the German’s selection:
Leanne Prescott @_lfcleanne
Klopp opting for Henderson-Gini-Milner which worked in the win against PSG at Anfield but it’s still a real head scratcher given Fabinho’s form and Keita ability to thread eye of the needle passes.
Jack Lusby @jacklusby_
Basically needs Wijnaldum to have a great game for that trio to be effective.
Disappointed Keita didn’t start after coming off on 65 on Saturday.
This is Anfield’s Henry Jackson wasn’t as quick to rush to judgement:
Henry Jackson @HenryJackson87
It’s absolutely right to have wanted Fabinho and Keita to start – I did – but please don’t treat the starting trio like Poulsen, Spearing and Adam. You’re being ridiculous.
Keita and Fabinho have indeed been impressing in recent weeks, but Klopp’s decision to put his faith in Wijnaldum—and to a slightly lesser extent Henderson—paid off.
The Dutchman played some excellent passes and looked to get forward where possible as well as helping out defensively.
Overall, he helped the Reds have 22 attempts on goal to Napoli’s eight, and had those in front of him displayed better finishing, Liverpool could have won the match much more comfortably.
Dominic King of the Daily Mail singled out Wijnaldum for praise after the match:
Dominic King @DominicKing_DM
Also worth pointing out on a night that was made for the hard runners, how well Gini Wijnaldum and Andrew Robertson played. Arguably Wijnaldum’s best performance of the season.
Keita and Fabinho are growing in importance at Anfield, but the former has only returned to regular action recently after a spell out injured, while the latter has taken more time to adapt to Klopp’s demands.
Wijnaldum in particular showed why Klopp was right to use him, and he may well play an important role for the Reds in the knockout phase, too.