Liverpool were made to wait to secure qualification to the Champions League last 16 as a stubborn Napoli held them to a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
Dries Mertens put Napoli ahead (21) with a fine finish from an acute angle, with Liverpool struggling to break down a disciplined defence in the first half.
- Liverpool player ratings: Salah, Gomez struggle
- Champions League scores and results
- Champions League tables | Fixtures
They got going after the break, equalising through Dejan Lovren's fine header (65), and despite camping in Napoli's half for the remainder of the game, they could not find a way through.
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Gomez (5), Van Dijk (7), Lovren (7), Robertson (6), Henderson (6), Fabinho (6), Milner (7), Salah (5), Firmino (7), Mane (6)
Subs: Wijnaldum (6), Oxlade-Chamberlain (7), Alexander-Arnold (6)
Napoli: Meret (7), Maksimovic (7), Manolas (7), Koulibaly (7), Mario Rui (7), Di Lorenz (6), Allan (6), Zielinski (7), Fabian (7), Mertens (7), Lozano (6)
Subs: Llorente (5), Elmas (NA), Younes (NA)
Man of the match: Dejan Lovren
The result means Liverpool's destiny does remain in their own hands, knowing a draw at Red Bull Salzburg on December 10 will send them through, but Jurgen Klopp must field a strong side in Austria during a busy period for the European champions. Salzburg can eliminate Liverpool with just a 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 win at home.
Liverpool also again failed to keep a clean sheet for the 11th match in a row, their worst such run since 1998.
How Liverpool failed to finish the job
Liverpool were well under par in the first half, and suffered an early blow when Fabinho was forced off with a knee injury.
Their misery was compounded as a rare Napoli attack brought an opener in contentious circumstances. Virgil van Dijk was barged as he went up for a header with Mertens, but play continued as Giovanni Di Lorenzo fed Mertens just onside, and the Belgian cut across a fine half-volley from an acute angle past Alisson. VAR looked at the potential barge, but saw no foul.
Liverpool were blocked off thereon from a blue wall of Napoli, a solid, narrow two banks of four, but the hosts did move through the gears late in the first half as half-time was welcomed only by the away side.
Tempers were high - Klopp was booked for over-protesting before the break - but Liverpool eventually got going around the hour mark.
Roberto Firmino's turn and shot with his back to goal was cleared off the line by Kalidou Koulibaly after goalkeeper Alex Meret's mistake, but they were level moments later as Lovren brilliantly headed home James Milner's corner, despite a strong call for a shove on Mertens which VAR adjudged to be fair.
Liverpool made three changes following the win over Crystal Palace, including the return of Mo Salah. He came in for Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Alexander-Arnold came out for Joe Gomez. James Milner was in, replacing Gini Wijnaldum.
Liverpool brought Trent Alexander-Arnold on for his deliveries, but nothing worked for Klopp's side, as Napoli sat back, happy in the knowledge that a draw would mean they only need to avoid defeat against Genk in a fortnight.
That is how it ended, as a mix of fantastic Napoli defending and a lack of spark in Liverpool's front three meant Klopp was left with more intense fears about the December schedule.
Liverpool's packed end of 2019
- Nov 30: Brighton (h)
- Dec 4: Everton (h)
- Dec 7: Bournemouth (a)
- Dec 10: RB Salzburg (a)
- Dec 14: Watford (h)
- Dec 17: Aston Villa (a)
- Dec 18: CWC semi-final (n)
- Dec 21: CWC final or 3rd PO (n)
- Dec 26: Leicester (a)
- Dec 29: Wolves (h)
What the manager said...
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: "Come on, I am four years in, tell me when it was easy. Last year we had to win at home 1-0 against Napoli, I cannot remember a bigger pressure game than that. It was really difficult and we did it, so now we have to go to Salzburg.
"Napoli were anyway set up mainly for a proper fight; whoever sees Napoli playing usually, it was a different approach tonight. It was clear going for a result, scoring a goal and defending with all you have."
What the pundit said...
Phil Thompson on Soccer Special...
"I thought they were just poor, the decision-making, the pass was so slow, and they just didn't move the Napoli defence about.
"Once Napoli had that lead to cling onto, they were settled. This wasn't a good Napoli side, that's the disappointing thing. If they'd got into second gear, they should have beaten them.
"It just wasn't to be tonight, it just wasn't Liverpool. I was a little bit disappointed with the attitude, that they didn't go and nail it early on."
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their previous eight games in all competitions at Anfield when behind (W5 D3).
- In all European competition, Napoli have failed to win their last 10 away matches in England (W0 D2 L8), facing six different English teams in that time (Arsenal, Burnley, Chelsea, Leeds United, Liverpool and Man City).
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 16 Champions League games at Anfield (W11 D5), last tasting defeat in October 2014 against Real Madrid.
- Dejan Lovren has scored eight goals for Liverpool, with the Reds never losing when the Croatian centre-back has scored (W7 D1). Each of his last three goals have come at Anfield.
Liverpool now host Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday at 3pm, with their final group game at Red Bull Salzburg on December 10.
The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League takes place on Monday December 16 in Nyon, with proceedings set to start at 11am, UK time.
Soccer Saturday Super 6
FREE TO PLAY: Do not miss your chance to land the £250,000 jackpot for the fifth time this year.