Disciplined Liverpool hold Napoli
An inexperienced Liverpool line-up gave under-fire manager Roy Hodgson a boost by holding Napoli to a 0-0 UEFA Europa League draw at the San Paolo stadium on Thursday.
Liverpool remained in control of Group K with five points from their three games and two home matches still to come. For Napoli it was their third straight draw and they will have their work cut out if they are to make the knock-out stages.
But in a lacklustre affair, Liverpool impressed with their organisation and discipline, especially given that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were not even brought to Italy, Joe Cole started on the bench and Jamie Carragher lasted only the first half. Prospect Jonjo Shelvey made his full debut while there were also starts for youngsters Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly.
Hodgson said this result proved there was life yet in the dog. "We're going through a very bad passage in the league, things haven't gone our way for a variety of reasons and that's why we find ourselves down the bottom and desperate to get away," he said.
"The new owners have already done a little for the club, they've given us a lift. Even before the Everton game there was a new buoyancy and good feeling that we can get a lift," he went on. "On Sunday we have an opportunity but Blackburn will have something to say about that, but we've shown tonight that we're far from dead as a club and I know all the players who play on Sunday will be chomping at the bit to run and work and fight.
Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri felt his team deserved a bit more. "We did well in the second half, we were balanced, we did what we've done many times at home," he said. "We were unlucky, we deserved a goal. You have to appreciate the performance of this team which is improving. I'm satisfied with the performance."
The first 45 minutes were thoroughly forgettable. The most notable action until the final minute of the first period were a pair of speculative shots from the halfway line. Edinson Cavani's for Napoli flew over Pepe Reina's bar while Shelvey's at the other end didn't even have the legs to reach the goal.
But right at the end of the half, Napoli came a whisker away from scoring. Cavani got to the byline and pulled the ball back for Marek Hamsik but Paul Konchesky was perfectly placed to clear his close-range effort off the line.
The second half could not have been worse than the first and it proved not to be as Napoli played with a little more ambition. Walter Gargano ran at the heart of the Liverpool defence on 54 minutes and slipped in Cavani but his rushed effort was easy pickings for Reina. Christian Maggio then got down the right and crossed for Cavani but he put his header wide of the near post.
Up the other end Milan Jovanovic picked up a mistake by Salvator Aronica, drove at the Napoli defence and played Ryan Babel in one-on-one with Morgan De Sanctis but the Dutchman's lack of confidence showed and his finish on 69 minutes was weak. On 81 minutes David Ngog brilliantly took down Jovanovic's chip into the box and turned his marker but his shot was blocked.