Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez both struck late but Napoli topped Champions League Group A despite losing 2-0 to Liverpool at Anfield.
The Merseysiders needed to win by four goals to leapfrog the Italians into first place, but it never looked likely in what proved to be a tight contest.
Thiago and Curtis Jones went close for the hosts in an opening period of few chances while Tanguy Ndombele saw a low shot well saved by Alisson at the other end.
Napoli thought they had broken the deadlock on 54 minutes but Leo Ostigard’s header was eventually ruled out for offside following a lengthy VAR check.
Liverpool then snatched it five minutes from time when Salah poked in from close range after substitute Nunez’s header was fumbled by Alex Meret. It saw the Egyptian equal Steven Gerrard’s European club record of 41 goals for the club.
In added time Nunez made sure of the points after Meret fumbled another header, this time from Virgil van Dijk.
The result sees Napoli top the pool with 15 points from six games played. Liverpool finish on the same points in second spot but with an inferior head-to-head record. Ajax finish third with six points and will drop into the Europa League. Rangers are bottom and end their campaign pointless.
Next up, Liverpool visit Tottenham on Sunday while Napoli travel to Atalanta on Saturday.
VAR CONTINUES TO FRUSTRATE. Napoli are no longer unbeaten this season while Liverpool showed a vast improvement from the weekend defeat to Leeds. However, the post-mortem of a high-class encounter will probably focus more on VAR than what it means in terms of the Last 16 draw and who the two sides could potentially face in the new year.
Indeed, this was another occasion for VAR to forget. On 54 minutes Ostigard thought he had put his side ahead with a diving header from a left-wing free kick. An initial replay showed he may have made his run a fraction early while the players made their way back to the centre circle. Cue an almost comedy four-minute period where the referee touched his hand to his earpiece in anticipation of the news.
It simply took too long. It’s not like it is new to football anymore and yet we continue to face this sort of situation. Salah almost spared it’s blushes with his late, headline-grabbing antics, but then Nunez’s goal took another age to be checked before it was given. To put it simply, it can’t be that hard to make these decisions faster.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Mo Salah (Liverpool) The Egyptian was peripheral at times but when he came to life Liverpool threatened. Once again he stole the headlines with a record-equalling opener and is now showing signs of his best form.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 7, Alexander-Arnold 7, Konate 7, Van Dijk 7, Tsimikas 7, Fabinho 7, Thiago 7, Milner 7, Jones 7, Salah 8, Firmino 7. Subs: Elliott 6, Nunez 7, Bajcetic n/a, Ramsay n/a,Carvalho n/a.
NAPOLI: Meret 6, Di Lorenzo 7, Ostigard 7, Kim 7, Olivera 7, Ndombélé 7, Lobotka 7, Anguissa 7, Politano 7, Osimhen 7, Kvaratskhelia 8. Subs: Lozano 6, Elmas n/a, Zielinski n/a, Raspadori n/a, Simeone n/a.
05’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Neat foot work from Salah sees the Egyptian spy a pass in-behind for Jones. The midfielder gets there ahead of the keeper but his clipped effort doesn’t drop enough and lands on the top of the netting.
30’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Alisson denies Ndombele with a smart stop and then sets the hosts off on a rapid break. Salah surges away, jinks inside from the right and lays it back for Thiago, who stings Meret’s palms with a side-footed effort.
31’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Firmino keeps a Reds attack alive with an improvised back-heel flick from the byline, but Jones can’t keep his header down after reacting first to meet the Brazilian’s cross.
54’ – NAPOLI GOAL RULED OUT BY VAR! Ostigard darts ahead of his man to dive in and head home a left-wing free-kick. VAR will check for offside… And four minutes later it is chalked off. That took WAY too long.
80’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Alexander-Arnold sees a 20-yard drive blocked. He follows up and blocks it through to Salah who sees a snapshot well saved by Meret.
85’ – GOAL! – Liverpool 1-0 Napoli. Salah pokes home from close range after the keeper appeared to fumble Nunez’s header over the line.
90+7’ – GOAL! – Liverpool 2-0 Napoli. Van Dijk sees a bullet header from a left-wing corner well saved and Nunez hammers it home from close range. He’s flagged offside and the goal is ruled out. but then VAR gets involved. After another lengthy check the goal is given!