Liverpool 3-1 Napoli
Liverpool began this match by resting midfielder and captain Steven Gerrard and found themselves 1-0 down at the interval.
They replaced Milan Jovanovic with Gerrard at half-time and he netted a hat-trick in the last 15 minutes to save the Anfield side. The crowd had been calling for Gerrard’s introduction during the first half, and they were right. He certainly provided the spark that was clearly missing.
Why can’t managers see it? Fernando Torres was another face in the crowd, although he may have been carrying an injury. Resting key players can be a recipe for disaster as the fringe players and some of the younger players at Liverpool just aren’t up to the task yet.
It was a welcome home for another of former manager Rafael Benitez’s buys, too. Andrea Dossena now plays for Napoli and he had a miserable night, which makes it even more obvious that he should never have been purchased by the red side of Liverpool.
The club is still suffering from the Benitez era and, although Roy Hodgson is an excellent manager, he must remember he is not at Fulham now and the supporters as well as the new American owners - John W Henry was in attendance - demand continuing success.
Kenny Dalglish was also in the crowd and staring sadly into the night during the first half. Meanwhile, Bill Shankly must be turning in his grave at the goings on at Anfield, including the recent appointment of Frenchman Damien Comolli as, wait for it, the director of football strategy.
Napoli produced a slick performance from the start and took the lead in the 28th minute through Ezequiel Laverazzi, who was put through by Edinson Cavani’s header after an error by Christian Poulsen. With Jamie Carragher too far upfield and caught out of position, Laverazzi sprinted into the space between Glen Johnson and Carragher and calmly squeezed his shot past Pepe Reina.
Raul Meireles, Johnson and David Ngog missed good chances for the home side before the first 45 minutes were up, but Napoli were looking good on the field and far from intimidated, although the same cannot be said of some of their supporters. Judging from the activity in the stands, some of the Liverpool supporters appeared to be trying to settle some scores from Liverpool’s visit to Naples last month. Several Liverpool fans, including a whole family, ended up in hospital in Naples after being stabbed and beaten.
Liverpool were a side transformed in the second half with the inclusion of Gerrard and he grabbed the equaliser 15 minutes from the end when he beat keeper De Sanctis to a sloppy back-pass from who else but Dossena. Mind you, De Sanctis may have been hesitant at going for the ball because he was upended in the opening minutes of the match by a late and needless sliding tackle from Jonjo Shelvey. The sight of a determined Gerrard racing for a 50/50 ball may have been just too much for the custodian.
Gerrard then grabbed two more goals, the first of these from a penalty, in the final three minutes and the points were Liverpool’s.
Hodgson may have learned a lesson or two from this match. It will be interesting to see if he applies them against Chelsea on Sunday.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina - Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Konchesky - Spearing, Poulsen (Eccleston 65) - Shelvey, Meireles, Jovanovic (Gerrard 46) - Ngog (Lucas 82) [Substitutes not used: Hansen, Wilson, Kelly, Skrtel]
Booked: Johnson, Kyrgiakos
Goals: Gerrard 75, 88 pen, 89
Napoli (3-4-3): De Sanctis - Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica - Maggio, Pazienza, Gargano, Dossena - Hamsik (Yebda 84), Cavani, Lavezzi [Substitutes not used: Gianello, Grava, Santacroce, Zuniga, Sosa, Dumitru]
Booked: De Sanctis, Dossena, Campagnaro, Cavani
Goals: Lavezzi 28
Ref: F Fautrel (France)