Liverpool (AFP) – Liverpool were made to wait to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League as Napoli secured a vital point with a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Wednesday.
Dries Mertens threatened to inflict Liverpool’s first home defeat in the Champions or Premier League since April 2017 with a sweetly struck opener midway through the first half.
Dejan Lovren’s header protected that proud unbeaten run, but the holders still need to get at least a point away to Salzburg on December 10 to secure their passage into the last 16.
Napoli remain a point behind Liverpool, but are well-placed to reach the knockout stages as they host winless Genk in two weeks’ time.
The Italians had travelled to Merseyside in disarray with coach Carlo Ancelotti seemingly on the brink of being sacked after a slump in Serie A.
President Aurelio De Laurentiis has also threatened to sell the entire squad and take legal action against the players after they refused his orders to be confined to a week-long training camp earlier this month.
However, the Italians are the only side to have beaten the European champions this season and proved a thorn in Liverpool’s side again.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were unsettled by the early loss of Fabinho to injury and were unhappy when the visitors opened the scoring on 21 minutes.
Mertens leaned into Virgil van Dijk as the Dutchman headed clear and was left on the ground holding his side.
Napoli played on and when the ball was played forward again Mertens was unmarked to run through before beating Alisson Becker from a narrow angle.
After a VAR review for a potential foul and offside, the goal was allowed to stand and there were a few more nervy moments for the home fans before Van Dijk got back to his feet and was able to continue.
Klopp grew increasingly frustrated on the touchline as Liverpool failed to find their rhythm before the break.
However, a talking to from the German inspired a second half turnaround.
Kalidou Koulibaly bailed out his goalkeeper with a clearance off the line from Roberto Firmino after Alex Meret dropped a simple cross into the box.
Mohamed Salah was left out of Saturday’s late win at Crystal Palace due to an ongoing ankle problem and again looked far from his best.
The Egyptian snapped at his best chance from Andy Robertson’s cross before Firmino headed another good opportunity wide.
It seemed a matter of time before the equaliser arrived, but when it did it came from an unlikely source as Lovren rose above Mertens to power home James Milner’s corner.
Again a VAR check was needed as Mertens this time claimed to be the victim of a push, but the goal stood.
Liverpool have made a habit of scoring late to soar clear at the top of the Premier League, but there was no late drama this time round to leave the Reds with work to do in Austria.
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