Napoli kept their hopes of qualifying from the Group Stages of the Champions League alive with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday.
Dries Mertens’ first half goal, cancelled out by a Dejan Lovren header on the hour mark, put the Partenopei within touching distance of the knockout stages of the competition ahead of the final round of the Group Stage.
Indeed, Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked set to become the first team to beat Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League since October 2014 until Lovren’s second half equaliser.
Resolute defence guides Napoli home
Whilst Napoli struggled to make a serious impact on Liverpool’s goal, they took advantage of a gap at the back to snatch an early lead then relied on a superb defensive effort to see out the match.
Kostas Manolas and Kalidou Koulibaly in particular beat away anything that was thrown at them, with the former using his pace to keep Sadio Mane at bay, whilst the latter came up with two goalline clearances.
Ably supported by Nikola Maksimovic and Giovanni Di Lorenzo, the Azzurri’s defensive unit were imperious and unfortunate to finally buckle to a period of pressure in the second half, allowing Lovren to net.
Liverpool pressure finally tells
Napoli’s shape and structure worked perfectly for the best part of an hour, as their tight and narrow lines forced Liverpool to probe and push the ball out wide.
However, the Reds turned the heat up with half an hour remaining and enjoyed a sustained spell of dominance that had Napoli clinging on, as Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah squandered golden opportunities.
It culminated in Lovren equalising, but in truth Napoli were under the cosh and struggled to get out of their own half as waves of attacks came at them, particularly as they showed a reluctance to push forward themselves and had no outlet.
As the clock ticked, there looked to only be one potential winner and it certainly wasn’t the Serie A outfit, but Ancelotti’s men achieved what they set out to do by keeping their Champions League hopes well and truly alive.