Even defeat had seemed to provide an omen for Liverpool when, a short drive from Vesuvius, they left Naples badly burnt by a 2-0 defeat at the start of this tournament. They’d lost there last year and gone on to lift the Champions League trophy.
After trailing for more than 40 minutes on Wednesday night, Dejan Lovren’s headed equaliser secured the draw which an improved second half performance warranted, though it was a struggle – demonstrating how complex and fragile a grip on a Champions League campaign can be.
The dropped points leave Liverpool requiring a draw from their last fixture against free-scoring Salzburg if they are to reach a third successive Champions League final: a level of tension they could certainly do without.
Dejan Lovren celebrates as he runs back to the centre circle after bringing Liverpool level in the 65th minute
The Croatian defender rises high to beat Dries Mertens to the ball and power a header beyond Alex Meret in goal
Napoli forward Dries Mertens celebrates after putting Napoli ahead in their Champions League clash away at Liverpool
Mertens found the bottom corner beyond the dive of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson to give the visitors the lead at Anfield
MATCH FACTS AND GROUP E TABLE
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3) : Alisson 6, Gomez 5.5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 57, 7.5), Lovren 6, van Dijk 7, Robertson 5.5, Henderson 6.5, Fabinho 5 (Wijnaldum 19, 6), Milner 7 (Alexander-Arnold 78), Salah 6, Firmino 5.5, Mane 7
Subs not used: Adrian, Lallana, Shaqiri, Origi
Goalscorers: Lovren 65
Booked: Klopp, Robertson
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 8
NAPOLI (4-4-2): Meret 6.5; Maksimovic 6, Manolas 6.5, Koulibaly 7.5, Mano Rui 7; Di Lorenzo 6, Allan 7, Zielinski 6 (Younes 85), Fabian Ruiz 6.5; Mertens 7.5 (Elmas 82), Lozano 7 (Llorente 71)
Subs not used: Callejon, Luperto, Ospina, Gaetano
Goalscorers: Mertens 21
Booked: Koulibaly, Allen
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti 7
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro 6
The Austrians’ Norwegian forward Erling Haaland became the first teenager in the history of the elite European competition to score in five consecutive appearances.
Their emphatic 4-1 win against Group E whipping boys Genk took their tally in Group E to 16 in five games.
Napoli, who retain qualification hopes of their own, illustrate the dangers which lurk behind the big beasts of the competition.
They arrived here beset by internal strife – players fined, a training camp spurned – yet displayed the same intransigence Liverpool always find when up against them.
It had been 17 days since an ambitious team in sky blue were put to the sword by Liverpool in this stadium but the team wearing those colours this time displayed qualities that Manchester City lacked.
Defensive qualities. A capacity to tackle, to block and form two disciplined banks of resistance,
There was the wonderfully balanced Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly rising to head away Jordan Henderson’s early dangerous cross and later repelling the singular exquisite Liverpool moment of the first half: a return ball from Roberto Firmino’s heel which sent Sadio Mane into the left hand side of the box.
There was the virtually prone Mario Rui taking the ball from Mohamed Salah – who struggled to make any impact – just as the Egyptian threatened to get past him.
The worst excesses of VAR – as much of a plague in Europe as in the Premier League – made a farce of the opening goal which illustrated that the Italians had brought a troubling counter-attacking dimension, too.
Mohamed Salah tussles for possession with Napoli defender Mario Rui during the Champions League group clash
Roberto Firmino applies pressure to Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly during the opening stages of the game at Anfield
Napoli defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo takes a heavy fall as he climbs above James Milner to reach the ball in the air
The referee checks on the state of Di Lorenzo as he lies on the turf with Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti watching on
Dejan Lovren sticks a boot out to block Dries Mertens’ effort on goal in front of the Kop end during the early stages
Two separate reviews were required after Dries Mertens accelerated past a statuesque Liverpool defence in pursuit of Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s 20-yard ball and allowed it to take one bounce before expertly drilling it past Alisson on the acute.
There was a suspicion – unjustified – that the Belgian had fouled Virgil van Dijk as he won the ball aerially in the first place. Van Dijk had simply landed awkwardly on his right foot after the two had leapt up together. Dejan Lovren had simply failed to cover Mertens’ run. The goal stood, the world moved on and then the game was stopped to examine if Mertens had been offside.
Hirving Lozano and Mertens were a constant threat in Carlo Ancelotti’s throwback 4-4-2, making Lovren look uncomfortable on several occasions. Fabinho’s early departure with a freak ankle injury, sustained when forward Lozano fell into him, depleted Liverpool’s midfield. Andy Robertson came second in the match-up with Di Lorenzo down Liverpool’s left.
Klopp’s mounting agitation over what he perceived as Mertens’ foul in the build-up to the goal and an infringement on Sadio Mane in the box saw him booked in the closing minutes of the first half. His sense of injustice did not really seem valid.
Liverpool were dealt an early blow when Brazilian midfielder Fabinho was forced off the pitch with an injury
Napoli’s players surround goalscorer Dries Mertens after he put the Italian side ahead away at Anfield on Wednesday night
Andy Robertson and Jordan Henderson remonstrate with referee Carlos del Cerro Grande over the awarding of Napoli’s goal
Virgil van Dijk lies injured on the ground after a collision with Dries Mertens in the build-up to Napoli’s opening goal
Van Dijk took a blow to his lower abdomen after a coming-together with Napoli’s Belgian forward before the goal
Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti is given a talking to by referee Carlos del Cerro Grande as he disputes a decision
Jurgen Klopp is shown a yellow card by the referee after disputing a decision made by the official in a fractious first-half
He took matters into his own hands, ripping up the system with the second half barely ten minutes old.
Joe Gomez, struggling to make any kind of attacking impact down the right in his first outing since the Raheem Sterling saga with England, departed and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced. Henderson became an advanced utility right back.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s impact in midfield was instantaneous.
He was a vital presence, driving forward to measure a cross which Kostas Manolas misjudged but Firmino, lurking behind him, headed wide: a desperate error in the circumstances.
Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret rises high to take the ball in the air ahead of Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino
James Milner fires a left-footed shot towards goal but sees his effort parried away by Napoli shot-stopper Alex Meret
Roberto Firmino hooks an attempt towards Napoli’s goal but sees his effort blocked on the line by Kalidou Koulibaly
Jordan Henderson receives instructions from Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool look for a way back into the game in the second half
Dejan Lovren and James Milner embrace after they combined for Liverpool’s 65th minute equaliser against Napoli
The game was five minutes past the hour mark when Lovren found the equaliser, rising above Mertens in the centre of the area to meet a Milner corner and deposit it into the top left hand corner of the net. The Italians claimed an infringement on Mertens. There was none.
The draw brings an end to a run of 17 consecutive wins at Anfield in all competitions, including penalty shootouts.
There had been hopes of eclipsing the club record of 19, set in 1972, though in football – and European cup competition in particular – you never know what lies ahead.
Those 100 games have taught Klopp that much. ‘In all my time here, can you ever tell me when it was easy?’ he said.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo clambers up form the advertising hoarding after being clattered by Andy Robertson in stoppage time
Robertson is booked by the referee as both sets of players argue over the incident in the dying minutes of the game