Bayern Munich star Muller to miss Liverpool Champions League clashes through suspension …
Salah the saviour steps up yet again to keep Liverpool alive
Liverpool’s Champions League hopes are still alive, and as so often they have Mohamed Salah to thank.
On the big stage, with the stakes high, the Egyptian delivered. Again.
His first-half goal gave Jurgen Klopp’s side what they wanted, what they needed. Their 1-0 win means it is the Reds who join Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, while Napoli must contemplate a New Year spent in the Europa League.
Tough on the Italians, but few inside Anfield will care. Finalists last season, Liverpool will hope something special is brewing once more. What is it about this competition and the men in red?
What is it about this competition and Salah, too? He’s been on Merseyside less than 18 months and he has 14 Champions League goals. Only Steven Gerrard, in the club’s history, has more.
After his hat-trick at the weekend, only one goal was needed this time.
There didn’t seem a huge deal of danger when James Milner rolled a ball into his feet, 11 minutes before half time.
But great players have the ability to make a lot out of very little, and Salah did just that. First he used his strength to shrug aside Mario Rui and move into the area, then he used his skill to dance past Kalidou Koulibaly, one of the world’s best defenders, onto his right foot.
The angle was tight, but as David Ospina dived for a ball across goal, Salah slipped it between the goalkeeper’s legs and into the net. No celebration, but as long as he’s scoring there can be no issue.
That’s 13 for the campaign now. For the fourth season in a row, Salah is a one-season wonder. Where will his remarkable exploits end?
At Anfield it is 35 in his last 38 appearances. In 2018, he has 34 in all competitions. Not since Robbie Fowler, who scored 37 in 1996, has a player managed more in a calendar year for Liverpool. He’s the worst one-season wonder in the world, this lad.
He was not the sole hero by any means. Liverpool would be out were it not for the brilliance of Alisson Becker, whose sprawling save from Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time was worth every penny of the £65 million paid to Roma in the summer.
Elsewhere, there were huge contributions all over the field. Liverpool ran until they dropped, literally in James Milner’s case, and could well have wrapped the game up long before they did, with Sadio Mane particularly wasteful in front of goal. Thankfully for Klopp, his team’s profligacy did not come back to bite them.
“Create an atmosphere with the way you play,” Klopp had told his players on Monday. They did that, producing a performance which was controlled in the first half, aggressive in the second.
There were signs of the old Liverpool in the way the home side pressed and harried after the break, but signs of the new Reds in the manner in which they held out. They have struggled on the road in Europe this season, but they are some side. Their spine is strong, they have big players in big positions, and in Salah they have one of the continent’s finest match-winners. They’ll fancy their chances of another big run after Christmas.
The last time Napoli were here they were undone by Steven Gerrard, whose one-man show settled a rather less intense Europa League group game. There was no one-man show this time, just a team performance decorated by one magical goal and one magnificent save. Liverpool stared into the abyss and faced their fears. Top of the Premier League, they were not ready to say goodbye to the Champions League just yet.
“Klopp lift us up where we belong,” read the banner on the Kop. He is, bit by bit. The manager got it right tonight, but it is his players who deserve the bulk of the credit. They got themselves into this situation; here, they dug themselves out.
Who knows where this journey will end? Maybe in Madrid in May?