By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool kick off their 2019/20 Champions League campaign with a trip to Italy where they will face Serie A giants Napoli.
The two clubs are certainly not strangers to each other – they faced off at this stage in last season’s competition, with Jürgen Klopp’s side getting the upper hand to progress along with Paris Saint-Germain and condemn Carlo Ancelotti’s men to the Europa League.
Liverpool continued their 100% start at the weekend, despite finding themselves 1-0 down early on. The Reds showed great patience and knew that their quality would shine through – and that is precisely what happened.
Two goals from Sadio Mané and a Mohamed Salah strike gave Klopp a vital important three points, especially considering the events at Carrow Road later on in the day.
Napoli find themselves fifth in Serie A after their opening three matches. Two wins and a loss have left them three points behind the pace-setters Inter Milan. Seven-goal thrillers in their opening two fixtures shows that they are clinical in attack, but in those games they conceded just as many, showing a defensive weakness which Klopp may look to expose.
On the south coast they defended well to keep the score level when Southampton were on top. Goals from Mané and Roberto Firmino were enough to bring the three points home despite the hosts scoring a late goal.
The 3-0 win away to Burnley was impressive. The Clarets are notorious for bullying their opponents at home but never got within an arm’s length of the Reds. Our use of the ball was crisp and efficient while the oppositions long balls were always won by our defenders.
Their winning start continued with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle United. The Magpies took the lead through a spectacular Jetro Willems strike but it was cancelled out by an equally-brilliant Mané effort. Once Firmino was brought on the game swung in Liverpool’s favour – the Brazilian had a hand in the second before a delighful flick set Salah up to give Liverpool breathing space.
Napoli have six points from three games. A 4-3 victory on the first matchday against Fiorentina was followed by a loss to title rivals Juventus by the same scoreline. This weekend they recorded a 2-0 win over strugglers Sampdoria as they recorded their first clean sheet of the season.
For a team of Napoli’s stature to concede seven goals in just two games is poor, especially when they seemingly improved their defence with the signing of Kostas Manolas from AS Roma. While the defenders don’t have one glaring weakness, they do seem to make many small mistakes, which have been punished.
Their attack, however, is as dangerous as it has ever been. The trio of Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón often goes under the radar when talking about the best attacks in the world, but all three have explosive pace which could hurt Liverpool’s high line. New man Hirving Lozano only gives them an extra option in a strong forward line.
Carlo Ancelotti has fresh injury concerns. Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik has missed the first three games through injury and will probably miss out on Tuesday night. Talisman Lorenzo Insigne is back to full fitness and got 15 minutes under his belt after coming off the bench on Saturday.
Alex Meret will likely start in goal protected by a defence consisting of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Nikola Maksimović, Kalidou Koulibaly and Mário Rui. Elseid Hysaj and Faouzi Ghoulam are also options at full-back, while Manolas could appear for them in the Champions League for the first time.
A midfield three will probably be anchored by Allan. The Brazilian will allow fellow midfielder Piotr Zieliński to support the attack while Fabián Ruiz often comes deep into space to influence play with his passing ability.
The dangerous front three of José Callejón, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have the quality to hurt our defence and we could have a hard time stopping them on the night. Hirving Lozano started for his new club for the first time at the weekend after scoring on his debut against Juventus. He could also play a part in this one.
Jürgen Klopp shouldn’t make too many changes. Many of his side are playing the best football of their career. That said, Joe Gomez should come in instead of Joël Matip to cope with Napoli’s pacey attack, although he could play in the place of Trent Alexander-Arnold to form a lop-sided defensive line. Andy Robertson didn’t train on Monday, but could still start. If not, James Milner could play at left-back.
Jordan Henderson will return to the line-up after being rested against Newcastle. Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho will likely join him.
The usual front three will start and look to continue their excellent form, with all of them having been involved in at least five goals each since the start of the season. Rhian Brewster could make the bench after injury to Divock Origi, and may make his senior debut at the San Paolo.
Liverpool shouldn’t worry if they don’t take any points from this game. It may put us three points behind our main competitor, but it will get the toughest game out of the way.
The same fixture last season proved to one of the worst performances under Klopp. His side were awful in every department and it was looking likely that we would come away with an undeserved point.
A late goal from Insigne proved to be the difference on the night, though judging by how we have started this season, our performance won’t be as bad as it was a year ago.
I think the points will be shared among the two teams. Naples is a hostile place to go. A draw would be an excellent result and would give Liverpool an advantage early on in the group stage.
Predicted final score: Napoli 2-2 Liverpool.