Liverpool 1 Napoli 1: Dejan Lovren header saves champions but last-16 qualification now hinges on last game

CARLO ANCELOTTI appears to have the secret.

The rest of Europe’s managers – and particularly those in the Premier League – are still scratching their heads on how to tame Jurgen Klopp’s rampant team.

 Dejan Lovren climbs to head home the Liverpool equaliser against Napoli
Dejan Lovren climbs to head home the Liverpool equaliser against NapoliCredit: Rex Features
 Carlo Ancelotti showed again he is the one manager who knows how to play against Liverpool
Carlo Ancelotti showed again he is the one manager who knows how to play against LiverpoolCredit: Reuters

But Ancelotti clearly knows how to stop Liverpool, having masterminded their only defeat in all competitions back in September on Matchday One.

And his disciplined Napoli team, despite being involved in a bizarre civil war with their owner, held out for a draw which means that both teams are likely to find their way to the knockout stages.

Barring a complete disaster in Salzburg in two weeks, Liverpool should be okay although there were a few nerves until Dejan Lovren’s equaliser.

But credit to Napoli who not only beat Liverpool 15 months ago, but came agonisingly close to knocking out Klopp’s team at Anfield in the group stages last year.

Instead, Liverpool remain unbeaten at home in Europe for five years, a stunning run spanning 25 matches going back to a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid in 2014.

But for long periods, this was a low-tempo, lethargic performance from a team which is looking a bit tired.

It is not as though they played any better at Crystal Palace in their 2-1 win on Saturday when they got away with it.

So, this was Klopp’s 100th European game but it will not go down as one of his most memorable, not that he cares.

Because his team should now go through as group winners and in theory at least, have a slightly better draw in the knockout stages.

The match was never going to match the spine-tingling drama of a year ago, on Matchday Six.

Then, Liverpool needed a heroic save from Alisson to deny Arkadiusz Milik to remain in the competition and had he conceded, it would have been Napoli who had reached the last 16.

Yet despite spending over £115million on new players Napoli have still struggled this season with matters coming to a head after the 1-1 draw with Salzburg, when club chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis ordered the players to return to a training camp but the stars refused to board the team bus.

 Dries Mertens drills the ball into the far corner to give Napoli the lead
Dries Mertens drills the ball into the far corner to give Napoli the leadCredit: Getty – Contributor

The repercussions have rumbled on and club captain Lorenzo Insigne was seen as the ringleader of the mutiny.

As it emerged he had been fined £300,000 for his role, Insigne failed to travel to Merseyside due to a bruised elbow.

Yet early on in the game, it was Liverpool who suffered an injury which clearly disrupted their gameplan.

Before we had even reached the midway point of the first half, Fabinho, who has been outstanding in midfield this season, had been replaced by Gini Wijnaldum.

The injury came after Dejan Lovren challenged Hirving Lozano and he fell into Fabinho who attempted to continue for a few minutes before signalling to the bench that he needed to be substituted.

It then got worse for Liverpool as Virgil van Dijk hurt himself when challenging Mertens for a header and while the Dutchman hobbled around in the centre circle. Meanwhile, striker Mertens darted forward to chase a ball over the top from Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

Lovren appealed in vain for offside but was hopelessly caught out. Instead, Mertens was clear, took his time and then finished brilliantly with a first-time shot across Alisson and into the corner.

As Van Dijk received treatment, VAR checked the goal for offside but it was rightly given and a few fingers were being pointed firmly in the direction of Lovren.

 Lovren celebrates after his goal earned a draw which means Liverpool should qualify top of the group
Lovren celebrates after his goal earned a draw which means Liverpool should qualify top of the groupCredit: AFP or licensors

The only good news was that Van Dijk was able to carry on yet it was a shock for Liverpool who took some time to recover.

When they did attack, Liverpool found defender Kalidou Koulibaly in fine form.

It would be great to see this talent in the Premier League and he delivered a crucial block to prevent the ball reaching Gomez, who was making his first start since his ruck in the St George’s Park restaurant with Raheem Sterling and probably thought he was about to score his first Liverpool goal.

Generally, Liverpool still found themselves running into a blue wall and Klopp a change early in the second half.

When keeper Meret did make a mistake and flapped at a cross, Koulibaly was perfectly placed to clear Bobby Firmino’s effort off the line.

And in a bid to bring some more width to the team, poor old Gomez, not having the best of months, was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Only then, did Liverpool rediscover any sort of menace going forward and Lovren lifted the mood by heading the equaliser from Milner’s corner. He had a hand on Mertens and while VAR was checked, the Liverpool defender simply overpowered his opponent.

Yet while Liverpool pressed, Napoli’s defence held firm and maybe their crackpot owner should give his team a break.

Meanwhile, both in the Premier League and in Europe, Liverpool are in a more comfortable position compared to last year.

Because even when not at their best, Klopp’s team are getting the results they need. And that is a sign of a seriously good side.

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