Liverpool welcomed Napoli to Anfield for their final match of the group stage. After losing to PSG in Paris, Liverpool needed either 1-0 scoreline or a victory by at least two goals if Napoli scored in order to progress to the knockout stages.
They achieved the former with Mohamed Salah scoring in the first half to give the Reds the 1-0 scoreline they needed, beating Napoli on the total goals scored tiebreaker to advance to the round of 16.
Salah goal caps off excellent first half
Both sides were flying from the start, but it was Liverpool who looked the better side, creating chances immediately. A long ball over the top had beaten the defense, but Salah mishandled his first touch as David Ospina had come out and collected the ball.
Despite squandering the chance, the Liverpool offense already looked poised to dominate the game.
Pressing by Napoli caused issues for Liverpool, forcing multiple cheap turnovers. While the Reds adapted over the course of the half, Napoli's press created the best chance of the half early on. The visitors took the ball in midfield and found Marek Hamsik space around the edge of the box. He had plenty of time to line up the shot and nearly dipped the ball into the top corner with his attempt.
Napoli would find themselves on the defensive for most of the remainder of the half after that with James Milner nearly scoring on an early cross. Kalidou Koulibaly was a star for the visitors, denying a Sadio Mane chance and blocking a Roberto Firmino shot in short succession. He proved himself to be a brick wall for most of the evening.
Mane found the net first on the night but was judged offside. The forward had just barely mistimed his run as he tapped home a picture-perfect cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool worked the offense well to create space for the goal, but the chance was squandered after the offside call on Mane.
It wasn't long after until Liverpool found their breakthrough goal. The ball was slid into the feet of Salah in the box, beating Napoli's offside trap. He had Koulibaly one-on-one at the near post, and a feint towards the centre of the box created enough space between himself and the defender to get his shot off.
The angle was narrow, but Salah drove his shot hard and low into the far post to break the deadlock.
Sturdy defensive performance seals Liverpool's advancement
Despite having the lead, it was a fragile one for Liverpool. Any goal for Napoli would have required the Reds to score two more in order to advance. Liverpool couldn't sit back the entire second-half as one goal would have unraveled them, so they kept pushing forward in order to dictate the name in their favour.
The Reds had many opportunities to extend their lead but continuously squandered them, leaving the door open for Napoli. Salah had the ball on the right side with only Ospina in front of him, but he dragged his shot wide. With how clinical Salah typically is, it felt like a wasted opportunity to give Liverpool a buffer goal in case Napoli found the net.
The visitors had a nice spell of possession in the second half once they started running at Liverpool once again. Unlike previous Liverpool teams, the defence soaked the pressure up well and tested Napoli on the counter. Despite the Italian side working the ball into dangerous areas, Liverpool looked resolute and not at risk of conceding.
Ospina kept the door open for his side with a multitude of top class saves. He blocked a decent attempt by Salah, and then did well to get up and claw away the rebound following the save. He then saved a Mane attempt from close range after the forward struggled to make contact with a pass right behind him.
Napoli nearly stole the game late on through Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon. The former played an early cross into the box that evaded multiple Liverpool defenders. Andy Robertson barely missed the ball with a last-ditch tackle, but it may have been enough to disrupt Callejon, who was on the end of the cross but fired above the bar.
The frustration continued with Mane after he missed another one-on-one chance to score. It felt as if he could have scored three goals tonight. After another missed chance on one end, Napoli nearly snuck through with a chance for Arkadiusk Milik. A long ball over the top fell fortunately to the feet of the forward, and he twisted to get his shot off.
Despite being less than six yards out, Alisson spread out to block the ball off his thigh and hand to keep Liverpool on top. It was a save of the highest calibre by Liverpool's top dollar goalkeeper.
It may have taken until the final match in the group stage, but this narrow victory sends Liverpool through to the group stage ahead of Napoli.
The visitors were humbled by the 1-0 scoreline as Liverpool could have easily had five goals or more. Liverpool were cutting through the Napoli defence with little trouble and were deservedly the better side on the evening.
It's a cruel exit for Napoli who lost only one match during the group stage, but Liverpool did what was needed of them to advance into the knockout rounds for consecutive seasons.