Liverpool 3-1 Napoli: Captain Fantastic to the rescue (again)

Match Report from This Is Anfield

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates after scoring his third goal during their Europa League soccer match against Napoli at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England, November 4, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Steven Gerrard came off the bench at half-time to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 victory as Liverpool cemented their place at the top of Group K in the Europa League against Napoli at Anfield on Thursday night.

It was overall a performance to forget with many questions ready to be asked of Roy Hodgson, his selection, and his substitutions.

But it worked out okay in the end with a second half hat-trick from Gerrard in an exciting finish to the game to wake up Anfield.

With Joe Cole, Dirk Kuyt, Fabio Aurelio and Daniel Agger all out injured, and a big Premier League encounter with Chelsea on Sunday in mind, Hodgson picked a less than inspiring team.

David N’gog started up front for the Reds, with a midfield consisting of Milan Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen, Jay Spearing, Raul Meireles and Jonjo Shelvey.

Glen Johnson returned after four games out injured at right-back, but his lazy and daydreaming defending let in Ezequiel Lavezzi for Napoli’s opener just before the half an hour mark.

It was a cool finish from the Argentine past Pepe Reina, but dire defending from the Reds to let him slip through one-on-one.

But half-time saw change and captain Gerrard take to the field.

It took a while to get going, but chances fell to N’gog and Meireles.

It was a stroke of enthusiasm and luck that broke Liverpool’s deadlock just 15 minutes from time. Former Red Andrea Dossena’s backpass to Napoli goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis saw Gerrard slide in quickly to slot past the keeper.

Gerrard ran towards the Main Stand, past the Napoli fans to celebrate – but more was to come.

Two minutes from time Johnson made a good run forward and into the visitors area. He was tripped by Salvartore Aronica and Gerrard clinically dispatched the resulting penalty.

To seal the victory, 82nd minute substitute Lucas did well to tackle deep into the Napoli area, play in Gerrard with confidently chipped the ball onto the oncoming de Sanctis.

It was a fine second half hat-trick from the Reds skipper and one that will surely inspire confidence – Liverpool’s third victory in a row – ahead of Sunday’s game against Chelsea. And Fernando Torres didn’t play a minute.

Some small dampeners on the result would be a horrific challenge on N’gog from Aronica with 8 minutes to go that could have broken the young French striker’s leg.

Poulsen, who was finally brought off for Nathan Eccleston on 65 minutes, had a shocker of a game. Should Hodgson really have played both Spearing and Poulsen?! Add to that, at one point Liverpool were playing with 5 central midfielders.

And it wasn’t a great performance again, but hey, we’re winning.

Team Line-ups & Substitutions

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Konchesky, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Raul Meireles, Spearing, C Poulsen (Eccleston 65), Shelvey, Jovanovic (Gerrard 46), Ngog (Lucas 82).

Substitutes: Hansen, Wilson, Kelly, Skrtel, Gerrard, Lucas, Eccleston.

Napoli: De Sanctis, Aronica, Dossena, Campagna, Cannavaro, Pazienza, Maggio, Hamsik (Yebda 84), Gargano, Cavani, Lavezzi.

Substitutes: Gianello, Grava, Santacroce, Zuniga, Yebda, Sosa, Dumitru.

Ref: Fautrel
Att: 33,895

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