The Warm Down: Anfield claims another victim on special night as Alisson and Salah drag Reds to Champions League knockout stages
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The Warm Down: Anfield claims another victim on special night as Alisson and Salah drag Reds to Champions League knockout stages

Liverpool did it the hard way to progress to the last-16 of the Champions League after their 1-0 triumph over Napoli.

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Joshua Kerr

Liverpool confirmed their Champions League status on another unforgettable European night to continue their never-ending love affair with the continents biggest prize.

A jubilant Anfield sang in numbers to ensure the Reds were in the mix with Europe's elite when the knockout stages of the competition commence in February.

However, despite a night of collective triumph for Jürgen Klopp and his team the night certainly belonged to two certain individuals whose heroics were fundamental in Liverpool confirming their Champions League destiny. 

Virgil van Dijk made a beeline for his goalkeeper Alisson Becker at the final whistle and to be honest, who can blame him?

Mohamed Salah was, of course, the match winner on yet another extraordinary night that will live long in the memory of Anfield folklore, but, the Kop's gratitude certainly belonged to Liverpool's impenetrable No.1.

Another defining moment for Liverpool's No.1

The Brazilian international almost felt like a bystander watching on from afar in freezing conditions as his team controlled proceedings for the majority of the affair. 

However, Liverpool's £65 million goalkeeper would have the definitive moment on the night as the Reds wastefulness left this Champions League decider agonisingly in the balance.

The maths was simple, concede a late equaliser and Klopp's side were dumped into the Europa League. All the momentum gained from recent months would be tarnished and the heartbreak of Kiev would remain unavenged.

With minutes to play, Anfield had their hearts in their mouths. Leading 1-0 a long ball was launched into the Liverpool box bundling off the head of substitute Fabinho and into the path of Arkadiusz Milik.

The Polish striker's effort was met with complete silence as an upset suddenly appeared to be on the cards. Over 3000 Napoli supporters looked destined to erupt into chaos as Milik had the goal gaping with minutes on the clock.

However, much to the delight of the home support, Alisson was at hand to save his new team with his most defining moment in a Liverpool shirt yet. The 25-year-old shot stopper spread himself perfectly to deny Milik with a stunning save as the home support all rose to their feet in beaming appreciation.

It proved to be enough for the Reds on the night who remain on course for the final in Madrid. Liverpool are going nowhere just yet.

It was the Reds goalkeeping issues that cost the club their sixth European crown back in May after Loris Karius endured a horror show to gift wrap the trophy for 13-time winners Real Madrid back in May. 

Liverpool have lacked a world-class figure between the sticks for many years and already Klopp looks to be getting his value for money following Alisson's lucrative £65 million price tag.

"If I knew was this good - I would have paid double!", remarked Klopp following his goalkeeper's latest heroics.

His presence is undeniable and he is the commanding figure the Reds have been crying out for many years. He is lightning quick and instils authority and confidence to all those around him. 

Not only are Liverpool top of Premier League proceedings following Alisson's key contributions against Everton and Burnley - but, the Reds now have their new No.1 to thank for them being in the hat for the last 16 come next year.

Liverpool prevail

Klopp's troops have endured nothing shy of a turbulent Champions League campaign and had they slipped up tonight they would have been eliminated from the competition they were in the final of only seven months ago.

Liverpool's German manager challenged his players to right the wrongs after suffering three consecutive European away defeats and the team repaid their boss's faith and some.

Joel Matip was outstanding alongside his imperious centre-back partner Van Dijk and the Cameroon international demonstrated why Klopp opted to deploy him in defence ahead of Dejan Lovren.

That wasn't the only gamble from Klopp as he once again showed his faith in his trusted midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum who were all catalysts in driving the Reds to victory.

Liverpool displayed grit and guts from start to finish. Their destiny was in their own hands and yet they played without fear. 

Salah made more history as the only goal on the night and his 14th Champions League goal for the Reds made him the club's second top scorer in the competition behind only none other than Steven Gerrard.

His match-winner was a thing of beauty and deserving of winning any contest. 

Despite Salah settling the affair, what can't be ignored is Liverpool's wastefulness in front of goal that could have cost them dearly had it not been for Alisson's latest heroics.

Sadio Mane arguably could have left with the match ball considering the chances that were presented to him and yet, the Senegalese ace had nothing to show for his efforts on the night pondering numerous opportunities. 

Klopp knew his team couldn't afford to waste chances and that's why he opted for experience over creativity. Any dynamism that had been installed in recent weeks by the likes of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri were quickly halted as the Liverpool boss chose solidity as the blueprints for success switching back to a 4-3-3.

Anfield once again engulfed the atmosphere of previous magical European nights as the manager urged the Kopites to sing in their numbers and that they did to perfection. 

'Allez, Allez, Allez' ringed around the stadium and Napoli players would be lying if they didn't find this unsettling hearing the Kopite roar in full numbers. 

Carlo Ancelotti mentioned how special the home crowd can be on nights like this and he was true to his word as Merseysiders created yet another electrifying wave of noise.

The game was there for the taking and Andy Robertson smelt early blood when he put one on a plate for an unmarked Salah whose touch let him down as the ball rolled into the hands of David Ospina

Liverpool were then presented an early scare of their own when Dries Mertens pulled a cut back for Marek Hamsik who just overhit his effort onto the roof of the net.

Van Dijk picked up a booking for a challenge on Mertens after the Belgian hit the deck after a follow through on the Napoli forward confirmed the Dutch captain would be absent from the last 16 - should the Reds had progressed.

His defensive rival Kalidou Koulibaly was a colossus for the visitors sniffing out danger and leading his defensive unit with an iron fist.

The Senegal international looked impenetrable early on but a moment of pure brilliance left the 27-year-old defensive unit bemused to just how somebody could get the better of him. 

Salah's awe-inspiring solo effort came from nowhere. Milner rolled a soft pass to his teammate on the edge of the box before shrugging off Mario Rui and dazzling past Koulibaly leaving the defender for dead and thundering the ball home past Ospina from the tightest of angles. 

Anfield engulfed into chaos and Salah was brought to his knees kissing the surface before being mobbed by his Liverpool teammates.

The goal itself was enough to take Liverpool to the promised lands of the last-16 - albeit to the expense of Napoli who go crashing out of the competition despite leading Group C at the start of the night.

It could have been a massacre for Liverpool had their attacking mojo been at it's peak. The intensity on display after the first interval was inspiring and the Reds maintained a cut-throat tempo that kept the visitors pinned in their own half for the majority of the contest.

Roberto Firmino and Salah were enjoying numerous sets of interplay that allowed the duo to exploit gaps and penetrate space that the Napoli defence just couldn't handle.

It was an inspiring performance from the Brazilian international who demonstrated signs that the Reds No.9 could be returning to his best after leading the line to deadly effect. 

Ancelotti knew something had to give before the end and introduced former Reds target Piotr Zielinski to proceedings as well as Milik and Faiuzi Ghoulam.

The visitor's were there for the taken and yet Liverpool allowed them to grow in stature as the clock counted down at an agonisingly slow pace.

Van Dijk had a glorious opportunity squandered before Mane missed an open goal from six-yards before later slicing his one-on-one effort wide much to the outrage of manager Klopp who couldn't believe this match was still in contention.

Despite late theatrics, Liverpool got the job done and can now look forward to mixing it up with the best in just three months time. Group C has proved to be the most competitive of them all and Klopp and his troops prevailed.

Tougher tests undoubtedly lie ahead but tonight the Reds prevailed on yet another special European night at Anfield.

Allez, Allez, Allez.

 

 

 

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