Analysis: Liverpool may have defeated Napoli 3-1, but, in truth, Napoli was responsible for all four goals. The differences in the game were Napoli’s second half ineptitude and Gerrard’s energy, scrappy play and penchant for being in the right place at the right time.
In the second half, Napoli offered next to nothing on the attack. When they went forward, they did so haphazardly, and they seemed content to waste time after just 70 minutes. Even though Liverpool continued to build slowly and not play with much greater urgency (after Gerrard’s first 10 minutes), Napoli’s lack of killer instinct let the Reds play much of the second half in their side, and though Liverpool never once created a great goal opportunity, three nervous defensive plays from Napoli resulted in scores.
While Gerrard’s hat trick was not the best ever seen, he was a game changer. Liverpool played with much greater energy when he was on the pitch, and his presence transformed Shelvey from poor to greatly influential. Gerrard should also deserve credit for his cool finishes, neither of which were sure things.
Defensively, Konchesky had the strongest game among the back four. He was involved on the attack, and Hamsik barely touched the ball down his side for Napoli. Kyrgiakos had a solid performance as well. Napoli’s goal was the result of Carragher’s lack of pace and Johnson’s mental error — likely the result of his injury layoff. Still, Johnson lived up to his reputation as a dangerous forward threat, taking one of Liverpool’s better on-goal efforts and also forcing the match-winning penalty.
Spearing and Poulsen both offered very little to the game, being beaten in the midfield throughout the first half and doing little thereafter. Meireles looked far more dangerous than he usually does — playing much much higher on the pitch and showing real creativity.
Up top, Jovanovic actually had a strong first half — making his substitution after 45 rather surprising. He was better down the left side than Joe Cole has been all season. Ngog had an average game. He was relatively involved and creative, but never scored, was close to scoring, or put another in a position to score.
Still, having won three in a row must give the squad much needed confidence with Chelsea coming to Anfield on Sunday.
Full Time, Liverpool 3-1: Gerrard’s second half performance has single-handedly put Liverpool through at Anfield. He has scored three goals — two off mistakes, and one from the spot. It may have been a relatively win, but they now have eight points, putting them in a nearly unassailable position in Group K.
89′, Liverpool 3-1: Gerrard has won the game totally by himself. A Napoli defensive mistake after a Lucas challenge results in the ball falling right to Gerrard. He flips it over De Sanctis who has to run out to challenge, and Gerrard gets a hat trick. GOAL. GERRARD HAT TRICK. 3-1 REDS.
88′, Liverpool 2-1: Johnson’s penalty win was fair. He beats Aronica to the ball, and the defender clips him well in the area. Gerrard’s penalty goes left, and De Sanctis guesses well, but Gerrard’s shot is too good. GOAL. 2-1.
87′, 1-1: Reina builds from the back, but Gerrard eventually is called for a foul in midfield. Liverpool get the ball right back, as Napoli appears content for the single point. Liverpool, though, still has impetus, and their forward pressure wins them a throw on the left in Napoli’s side. The switch to Johnson, who wins a PENALTY.
84′, 1-1: Liverpool again come forward down the left. Shelvey, Eccleston and Konchesky combine well, but nothing comes of it. Lucas now comes on for Ngog, who previously had taken a rough challenge from behind. Johnson is blatantly fouled up the right side in the final third. Gerrard’s ball is good, but finds nobody. Throw on the left for Napoli. Hamsik, who has barely had the ball, comes off for Yebda.
81′, 1-1: Gerrard’s goal has completely changed the game as both teams must now look for a winner. Eccleston makes a great run and lays it to Spearing, but Spearing cannot find Shelvey. De Sanctis kicks, and Liverpool again build. They look far more dangerous than Napoli still, but the game has opened. Spearing finds Shelvey at the top of the box this time, but Shelvey misses left of the frame. Napoli finally have a spell of forward possession, but give it up to Eccleston for a counter. Shelvey gets it on the left and crosses. It falls beyond the box to Gerrard, but nothing comes. Cavani brings it forward and tries to score on his own. Reina makes an easy save.
77′, 1-1: Liverpool clear after the free kick, but the ball goes all the way to De Sanctis. He clears, and Liverpool begin to build. They again take their time going forward, but the teams just exchange the ball a few times before it is again cleared to Kyrgiakos. Shelvey gets the ball and makes a nice run forward and right. He has nobody to pass to and his run is cut out, but Dossena’s back pass is far too light and Gerrard finds it. He beats the keeper and is challenged late. Yellow for De Sanctis. GOAL for Gerrard. 1-1.
73′, Napoli 1-0: Liverpool again go forward, but Shelvey is offside. Shelvey appears to be pushing higher than he previously had been. Konchesky and Eccleston go well up the left, but Konchesky’s cross is cleared. Liverpool thereafter wins a free kick dead center a litle beyond the area — perfect for Gerrard. He beats the wall and the keeper, but is about a foot beyond the right post. Napoli wins a free kick in midfield, and they are surely taking their time now.
69′, Napoli 1-0: Eccleston immediately has a chance. Meireles puts a ball into the area that goes to Ngog. He touches to Eccleston, but his effort goes just wide. Liverpool thereafter build from the back, but Napoli is now pressuring forward relatively well, and they win the ball. Campagnaro, however, is called for a yellow from earlier. Liverpool again go forward and hold possession in the final third. Meireles takes a long effort on target, but it is right at De Sanctis.
65′, Napoli 1-0: Liverpool holds in Napoli’s third down the right until the ball finds its way to De Sanctis, who clears all the way to a Liverpool throw deep. They rebuild up the right and win a deep throw down that side. Napoli eventually wins a throw, but gives it right back before Napoli controls in midfield. The game has somewhat settled in at this point. Neither side is as dangerous as early in the half. Eccleston comes on for Liverpool. Poulsen off.
61′, Napoli 1-0: Liverpool again finds themselves on the attack, but Napoli win and counter until Kyrgiakos makes a strong challenge. Liverpool build slowly until a poor pass gives it back to Napoli. Napoli has all sorts of space to operate when they do get the ball. Gerrard builds and toes it to Ngog, who crosses it to an open Shelvey on the opposite side of the area, but Shelvey can’t keep the header down.
57′, Napoli 1-0: Gerrard takes a great free kick, but the ball again ends up in De Sanctis’ hands. Liverpool are surely generating chances now. Napoli, however, are also being given space in their attacking third, and now are enjoying the front foot. Liverpool wins it back and builds from the back — very slowly. They thereafter longball, which results in a scrum for the ball, but it eventually leads to a Lavezzi run. His cross is poor and Liverpool build again. Gerrard finds Ngog well, but he was off.
53′, Napoli 1-0: Napoli control in the final third for a spell. They win another corner — this time up the right side. The corner is a good one, but the ball ends up fortunately in Reina’s hands. Gerrard brings it forward, and now Liverpool enjoys some time on the ascent. The Ngog cross is cleared, but Spearing wins it back. Liverpool then pelts Napoli’s net. Ngog has a great chance from center, and the ball carroms around to Shelvey and Gerrard. Nervy moments for Napoli.
49′, Napoli 1-0: Gerrard is on for Liverpool. Jovanovic off — odd considering Jovanovic was far better than Spearing or Shelvey in the first half. The captain takes a free kick from the right, but it eventually goes for a goal kick after Cavani clears with his head. Thereafter, each team holds in their own third under pressure, and the play becomes rather choppy. Napoli win a corner on a Johnson clearance, but the ball misses everybody (but it was a good ball).
Half Analysis: In truth, Liverpool is somewhat unlucky to be a goal down after 45. Napoli’s goal came on their only real opportunity, and while Liverpool never had a clear chance, they have had more moderate chances. Liverpool has done well down the left, but they have not done so much down the right, and they have shown nothing down the center. Spearing and Shelvey have not lived up to their performances from the last Napoli tie. On defense, Johnson has had an up and down match, and the goal resulted from him not covering for the slower Carragher. Liverpool would do well to put Gerrard on to spark the midfield. Napoli look very comfortable with the lead — they were already content to counterattack early in the match, and Liverpool is still not pressuring the ball particularly intensely.
Half, Napoli 1-0: Liverpool builds forward, but Napoli win it back and build up through Dossena and Cavani. Eventually, the ball goes to Liverpool, and they build from the back. They seem content for the first 45 to end. Ngog wins a free kick in midfield off a goal kick. Shelvey’s kick is to no avail. Half.
43′, Napoli 1-0: Napoli again goes on the ascent but gives the ball away for a goal kick. Liverpool gives it up on their right for a throw, and the ball is traded in midfield on throws a few times. The Reds are, however, offering more forward pressure. Ngog is called for a foul on a longball, and he looks at the ref skeptically.
40′, Napoli 1-0: Liverpool build on a Konchesky run forward. Spearing takes a long shot/pass, but it finds no danger. Liverpool then build up the opposite side with Ngog. Ngog finds Johnson, who puts a hard low shot on target, but De Sanctis makes a good save. Napoli thereafter builds, but they miss on a longball to Cavani — goal kick. Liverpool again builds to the left and Jovanovic wins a free kick in the final third. Shelvey’s ball is good, but Napoli clears to the Reds defense. Eventually, the ball ends up in De Sanctis’ hands.
36′, Napoli 1-0: Crowd is chanting for Gerrard. Jovanovic makes another good run and just barely misses Ngog. Napoli clears off the throw, but Liverpool again build. Meireles, abnormally, is playing a high midfield role thus far. He attempts a longball forward to Ngog, but Napoli wins it. They finally take a spell of possession. Liverpool again isn’t closing down with much enthusiasm.
32′, Napoli 1-0: The Napoli faithful are making themselves heard. Clearly, Liverpool must respond. Ngog makes a great run down the center past Dossena, but he slots the ball just past the far post — very close. Liverpool look on the ascent in the wake of the goal, though.
28′, Napoli 1-0: Johnson leaves Lavezzi alone and tries to close on Cavani, leaving Carragher to trail Lavezzi. Cavani touches it forward to him, and Lavezzi slots it past Reina low to the far post. GOAL. 1-0 Napoli.
27′, 0-0: Lavezzi sneaks up on a counter and takes a bending shot from way out. He beats Reina, but misses bya few feet. Liverpool would do well to close down better going forward. Johnson tackles late and behind on Cavani, who sells the foul, and Johnson is awarded a yellow at midfield (pretty fair). Napoli’s attack is sustained for a decent amount of time — distributing the ball around the top of the final third. Most of their action has been up the left. Hamsik has barely been involved. Finally, they give it up for a Reina kick.
23′, 0-0: Cavani gets the ball in space at the top of the box on a Napoli counter, but his effort is well off target. Liverpool again send it up the right to Jovanovic who wins a throw, but sends it all the way back. Johnson thereafter makes a run up the right, and finds Ngog, who puts a shot on target, but does not trouble De Sanctis from the top of the box.
20′, 0-0: Liverpool wins the ball off a throw and builds from the back. Johnson sends a nice ball up the right for Shelvey, but he put slightly too much on it. Napoli go forward, but their long ball is also too long for a goal kick. After a spell in midfield, Ngog and Meireles go forward for a dangerous run, but the pass from Ngog to Meireles from right to center is deflected away. Liverpool again builds from the back after the clearance.
16′, 0-0: Nice ball in delivered for Lavezzi, but Reina gets there just in time. Napoli win a corner thereafter, and Reina punches the ball out for a throw. The throw is terrible, but Liverpool can’t clear. Finally, Liverpool gets the ball after a Glen Johnson challenge. Goal Kick. They build from the back, but quickly concede possession.
13′, 0-0: Liverpool definitely are the team that will hold the possession. Napoli has had two decent counters, but next to zero possession. Liverpool rushes forward down the left via Jovanovic, and he tries to pick out Meireles in the center, but Meireles fouls his defender. Napoli comes forward, but Johnson (getting his first touch in a long while) clears.
10′, 0-0: Ngog wins a corner which Kyrgiakos rises to at the far post, but his header doesn’t stay down. Raul Meireles takes out De Sanctis ridiculously late with a challenge, but he is granted yellow card clemency because of the rain. On another quick Napoli counter, Cavani shoots way wide.
7′, 0-0: Lavezzi and Napoli have a quick counter up the right, and Konchesky nervously breaks up the final pass for a corner. It is taken quickly and eventually cleared on a nice Shelvey tackle. Liverpool build from the back thereafter and try to longball to Ngog, but he is offside.
4′, 0-0: Liverpool begins the game with a spell of pressure — using a series of longballs to find some space and danger in the Napoli area. They do the same thing just a moment later up the left side (again) and win a corner. Shelvey takes it short and on the eventual ball in De Sanctis has to punch.
4 p.m.: National anthem time. Just minutes from kickoff at Anfield.
3:45 p.m.: Lineups for Thursday’s match are as follows. Glen Johnson is a somewhat surprising inclusion.
Pepe Reina (25), goalkeeper
Paul Konchesky (3), defender
Jamie Carragher (23), defender
Sotirios Kyrgiakos (16), defender
Glen Johnson (2), defender
Christian Poulsen (28), midfielder
Raul Meireles (4), midfielder
Jonjo Shelvey (33), midfielder
Jay Spearing (26), midfielder
David Ngog (24), forward
Milan Jovanovic (14), forward
Martin Hansen (41)
Martin Skrtel (37)
Martin Kelly (34)
Danny Wilson (22)
Steven Gerrard (8)
Nathan Eccleston (39)
Morgan De Sanctis (26), goalkeeper
Paolo Cannavaro (28), defender
Andrea Dossena (8), defender
Hugo Armando Campagnaro (14), defender
Salvatore Aronica (6), defender
Cristian Maggio (11), midfielder
Michele Pazienza (5), midfielder
Walter Gargano (23), midfielder
Marek Hamsik (17), midfielder
Edinson Roberto Gomez Cavani (7), forward
Ezequiel Ivan Lavezzi (22), forward
Matteo Gianello (33)
Gianluca Grava (2)
Fabiano Santacroce (13)
Camilo Zuniga (18)
Hassan Yebda (21)
Jose Ernesto Sosa (77)
Nicolao Dumitru (12)
8 a.m.: Liverpool may be playing host to what is arguably the world’s top football club on Sunday, but even so, Roy Hodgson has said that he will select a strong, experienced side for Thursday’s match at Anfield against Napoli so as to get close to locking up a spot in the knockout round of the Europa League.
”I think if we can get four more points we’ll be pretty much secure for a place in the next round as I can see the other games being tight,” Hodgson said. ”We got one of the tougher groups with Napoli, Steaua and Utrecht and on paper it looked even, but we’ve done what we’ve needed to do.”
With five points through three games, Liverpool is two points clear of Napoli, their closest competitors.
Hogson also commented that it is the travel, not the match itself, that fatigues players most and therefore using players needed Sunday against Chelsea is not a risky venture.
Even if Hodgson is going to go with as strong of a side as possible, he’ll still be without Joe Cole, Daniel Agger, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Dirk Kuyt and likely Glen Johnson and Ryan Babel as well.
Kuyt, however, is expected to be ready to feature against the Blues on Sunday.
Lineups will be posted prior to kickoff.