By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome Italian giants Napoli to Anfield in what is a do-or-die game for the Reds.
In order to progress to the latter stages of the Champions League, we must either win by a single goal whilst keeping a clean sheet or beat the Serie A outfit by two clear goals if they manage to score.
Napoli who finished second to Juventus last season have been quite impressive since the two-side met back in October. Napoli who lost out on the Serie A title last season, have impress since the two sides met last October.
Winning six games from eight, drawing the other two. Have seen Napoli surge up the table to cement second place, eight points behind leaders Juventus and six points ahead of third place Inter.
Liverpool and Napoli both recorded 4-0 wins in the League on Saturday, Liverpool were exceptionally impressive at the Vitality Stadium. It was arguably our most complete performance of the season. Every player in the starting 11 put in a great performance, while the substitutes also made a noticeable impact.
Mo Salah scored a fantastic hat-trick and Bobby Firmino he contributed his best performance of the season. Five wins on the bounce have placed Liverpool at the top of the League, the last three results being a main factor.
A late, late win against Everton, coming back from behind against Burnley and winning 4-0 against Bournemouth have seen Liverpool put in three title-winning performances in seven days
Napoli have won four of their last five, scoring 13 goals and conceding three. They have shown that they can score a couple of goals a game but are also fragile at the back. In those five games the only clean sheets they kept were against last place and second to last.
Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz have all been standout performers this season. Both Insigne and Mertens – who have 14 goals between them thus far, have shown how dangerous Napoli can be on the counter in our 1-0 loss on the second match day.
They both failed to score in Napoli’s last two games so hopefully their drought continues for another 90 minutes.
With Liverpool needing to win this game or else be dropped into the Europa League, Jurgen Klopp will have to field an extremely strong starting 11 even with the Reds’ facing arch rivals Manchester United on Sunday.
Alisson Becker should remain in goals and hopefully keep up his fine form which has saw him keep a league high 10 clean sheets. Dejan Lovren and VIrgil van Dijk are predicted to start in central defence. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are expected to provide attacking width.
Jordan Henderson and Fabinho will keep things ticking in midfield and provide cover for our marauding full-backs. A front four of Naby Keita, Mo Salah, Bobby Firmino and Sadio Mané all of whom have impressed in recent outings, should cause chaos for the Italian defence with their quick link-up play and constant movement throughout the final third.
Young Italian goalkeeper Alex Meret could start between the sticks, though David Ospina, on-loan from Arsenal, is also in contention. Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol will likely be joined in defence by Albanian Elseid Hysaj and Mario Rui. This game is expected to be too soon and too important to play Faouzi Ghoulam after the Algerian missed the last six months of action through injury.
Slovakian International and club captain Marek Hamsik will sit deep and be Napoli’s cog for the game. Spaniard Fábian Ruiz, who has been mightily important to Carlo Ancelotti’s side, the ex-Real Betis player is excellent on the ball and will be a key player for the Italian side as they will try and avoid the high-press from Liverpool.
Brazilian midfielder Allan will complete the midfield. Insigne, Mertens and Callejon who all have an abundance of pace and excellent finishing abilities will be dangerous on the counter attack
Anfield atmosphere – Over the past three years, in European competition Liverpool have had many a special night at Anfield. Their famous win over Borussia Dortmund and their remarkable wins over Man City and Roma last year. For Liverpool to progress a 1-0 win or victory by two clear goals will see them leap-frog Napoli into second place.
The famous Anfield Atmosphere will play a large part, as it has done before. A war-like bus greeting with red pyro shouting and singing could unsettle the Napoli team and emotionally drive the Liverpool team. Many managers and players have disregarded the Anfield Atmosphere, each time they have left Anfield on the losing side by quite a comfortable margin.
Carlo Ancelotti is the latest to play-down the affect the atmosphere has on the players, stating that Atlanta away is a more hostile atmosphere. Let’s hope like his previous counter-parts Napoli leave Anfield on the end of a hiding.
Koulibaly vs Liverpool’s attack – Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the finest centre-backs in the world. Recently linked to a world record 90m to Manchester United. 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 criticised 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 United on Sunday.
As mentioned earlier, Napoli aren’t as defensively sound against stronger sides, despite keeping a clean sheet against us. With Liverpool’s attacking players finally finding goal scoring form, both on the front line and in reserve Jurgen Klopp could put Liverpool into the knock-out stages with victory over the Serie A outfit.
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 seven (six goals and one 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. Hamsik will be a real danger to Liverpool on Tuesday and stopping him will vitally important if Liverpool want to progress.
I’m usually quite confident in the outcome of a game when predicating a result for an upcoming game, but this one has me stuck in two minds. One being a nervy but largely comfortable night for Liverpool, the other being a disaster with Napoli catching us on the break once or twice.
If we play like we have in recent weeks and if our main players are up for it. Then a Liverpool win shouldn’t be a problem, but a victory by two goals might be. A win by two goals is what we need as I don’t see us settling for a win by a single goal to nil.
Virgil and Alisson will be majorly important as we try and keep a clean sheet against Napoli, do so and we are already half way to our target. Our midfield must be compact and disciplined whilst given their midfield no time to get their head up and find a likely attacking run in behind from Mertens or Insigne.
Mo Salah always turns up on the big occasion and scores when Liverpool most need it. Given Firmino’s style of play, he is tailor made for the Champions League and will try and link up our midfield and attack when possible.
Liverpool are top of the league domestically and have performed well over the last couple of weeks, so I’m going for 2-0 win to the Reds’. It wouldn’t surprise me to see us knocked out of the competition but that may be a blessing in disguise our hunt for a league title.
Liverpool 2 (Salah, Firmino) – 0 Napoli