By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel next to the Italian city of Naples to continue their Champions League campaign, still in its embryonic phase.
Having gained maximum points last time out against French champions PSG it puts the Reds’ in an extremely strong position, with Napoli only taking a point from Red Star Belgrade. Win this and dare I say Liverpool are all but qualified for the knockouts.
Napoli who lost out on the Serie A title last season, have failed to carry their convincing form to the new season. Having lost manager Maurizio Sarri and key player Jorginho to Chelsea they have both fallen short in expectations in attack as well as defence. Losing twice in seven games. Carlo Ancelotti is under early pressure to turn things around despite sitting second in the table.
Both Napoli and Liverpool played title rivals over the weekend, Napoli facing Juventus, while Liverpool travelled to London to face ex-Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri.
Despite taking the lead against the Old Lady through a 15th minute goal from Dries Mertens, Napoli eventually fell to a 3-1 loss, making it five wins from seven in the Serie A. Sitting 2nd, six points behind the leaders, new manager Carlo Ancelotti has had a stop-start life to Italy.
They’ve scored 13 and conceded 10, quite a substantial figure for a team who only conceded 29 lduring the entirety of last season. Chelsea linked Koulibaly partnered by ex-Real Madrid player Raul Albiol a defence which should be easily got at.
Liverpool kept their unbeaten form in the Premier League thanks to a late wonder goal by super-sub Daniel Sturridge, his second goal in 4 days against the London club. In what was a highly exciting match, Eden Hazard gave Chelsea the lead as Sarri’s technical midfield overpowered our own middle men.
Jurgen Klopp had Alisson Becker to thank after the Brazilian made two smart saves to allow Liverpool to steal a point off their London Rivals, after it looked like another one of those days as both Salah Shaqiri and Firmino missed opportunities to find the back of the net.
With Napoli needing to win this game or else being in fear of being left behind, the Italian side will need to put out a very strong side to have any chance of upsetting Liverpool. Former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina will keep guard of his goal. The aforementioned Koulibaly and Albiol will be joined in defence by Albanian Elseid Hysaj and Mario Rui, who got sent off against the Italian Champions.
Slovakian International and club captain Merek Hamsik will sit deep and be Napoli’s cog for the game, Piotr Zielinski who was widely linked to Liverpool in the summer of 2016, videos even surfacing of him wearing a Liverpool top on the training pitch appeared before Liverpool pulled out due to a disagreement over a transfer fee and opted for Gini Wijnaldum instead.
Brazilian midfielder Allan will complete the midfield. Insigne, Mertens and Callejon who all have an abundance of pace and will be trouble for any team who lacks pace in defence luckily, we have four defenders who can sprint at speed themselves, seen at the weekend when both Gomez and van Dijk kept up with Willian as he was through on goal.
Daniel Sturridge could may have well put himself in Jurgen Klopp’s plans, he is joint top Liverpool scorer with four this season despite being on the pitch for only 190 minutes. Mohamed Salah is totally out of form at the moment, regardless of the fact that he gets into the right positions his end product is all wrong, passing when he should shoot and shooting when he should pass. We all know the quality he has so a week’s rest before the biggest game of the season should do him the world of good.
Sadio Mané will get a well-earned rest after appearing in all nine games this season with Liverpool reverting to a 4-4-2 diamond formation Naby Keita must start. The Guinean played a large part in the draw at Chelsea on Saturday. With the International break only two games away, Gini Wijnaldum, who for me has been Liverpool’s player of the season thus far should partner Naby in midfield.
Fabinho also has a strong case to start at holding midfield with Henderson and Milner failing to impress in their two previous games. Once again, Jurgen Klopp shouldn’t have to change his defence as all five of them have performed at an exceptional level so far.
Lorenzo Insigne vs Trent Alexander-Arnold: Despite his size of 5ft 6in, Lorenzo Insigne is one of Napoli’s best players as well as one of the best in Serie A. Playing predominately on the left the Italian donned “Lorenzo il Magnifico” by the Napoli Ultras can also slip in behind Dries Mertens and play as a second striker.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has had quite an impressive 12 months, Sane, Ronaldo and Neymar all coming up against the English-man and all world class start leaving the pitch frustrated with the scouser not giving his opponents a moments rest. Facing one of the best left wingers in the game and with the prospect of a very intimidating atmosphere at the Stadio San Paulo.
The young right-back who has been nominated for European golden boy will have his work cut out to stop a player who likes to stretch the line as well as cut in and curl one in to the opposite corner, similar to Arjen Robben or ex-red Coutinho. Given the lack of height in the Italian teams forward line, showing him onto his weaker foot and making him cross the ball will be an ideal way to nullify their star man.
Koulibaly vs Liverpool’s attack: Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the finest centre-backs in the world. Standing at a giant 195cm, Sadio Mane’s international team-mate is rarely beaten in an aerial battle. The 27-year-old has quite the turn of pace as well, being able to keep up and even outpace most Serie A strikers.
He is often criticized for his ability to control the ball and find team-mates. He does look clumsy on the ball, but his passing is quite crisp and almost always finds a team-mate. He is also very aggressive and quite reckless going into a tackle, something our players would want to look out for with a mammoth game against Manchester City on Saturday.
As mentioned earlier, Napoli aren’t as defensively sound as they have been in recent season, despite the monstrous Senegalese in defence, it’s a defence that can be got at and punished. With the attacking players Liverpool have, both on the front line and in reserve Jurgen Klopp could put Liverpool out of the reach of Napoli with a convincing victory on Wednesday.
Danger Man: Marek Hamsik
Marek Hamsik is an incredible Footballer, not only is the Slovakian a club legend, he is also Napoli’s all-time leading goal scorer with 120 goals, putting him ahead of the likes of Diego Maradona, Edison Cavani and Gonzalo Higuaín. The midfielder, who has replaced Jorginho at the base of midfield completes a trio along with Allan and Piotr Zielinski.
The captain is a jack of all trades, being as good as finding the back of the net as he is at winning the ball back. Despite is involvement in goals dropping from 20 (10 goals and 10 assists) in 16/17 down to 7 (6 goals and 1 assist) the Slovakian is still a threat to be reckoned with.
As mentioned before he has dropped deep allowing him to dictate the game more with his range of passing which is second to none. Tactics in midfield should be similar to the game against Chelsea given his range of passing. Stop him and we stop Napoli playing.
I fancy Liverpool to be largely untroubled in Italy, The Napoli Ultras will expect nothing less than 3 points following their disappointing result on the first matchday and will expect their team to attack consistently and not sit back. Carlo Ancelotti knows this too, lose this and he may as well start preparing for the Europa League.
On our way to the Champions League final, Liverpool faced quite a similar team in Napoli, fans who expect their beloved team to give a team like Liverpool a real test, fans who would be disgusted and even turn on their team if they set up to defend deep. Napoli are a much stronger team then the Portuguese team which Liverpool dispatched by five goals to nil. I fancy us travelling back to England with a very similar result. Napoli’s attack relies a lot on quick breaks.
I don’t see our midfield and defence given them the time and space they need to truly hurt us; their defence are prone to mistakes. Hamsik will become very isolated with his two midfield partners looking to make late runs into the box, very similar to Porto. These types of games suit Liverpool perfectly, they are made for us.
I’m going for Liverpool to win 4-0. With both Salah and Mane rested, Firmino, joined by Sturridge and Shaqiri should do the business for us. Firmino (x2) and Sturridge both to score to make for a comfortable last half hour before Salah (hopefully) regains his form with a late fourth.
Napoli 0-4 Liverpool (Firmino x2, Sturridge, Salah)