Liverpool will have their final chance to book a place in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 when they welcome Napoli to Anfield on Tuesday night.
The curtains will fall on the UEFA Champions League group stage this week, with Matchday 6. Liverpool will play hosts to Napoli in the final Group C game for both sides, with three teams still in with a chance to make it out from the tightest group in the competition and into the Round of 16.
As iterated already, there is no group that has been as closely contested in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League as Group C, with the four teams separated by just four points. Liverpool are currently third, with six points and in need of a win to make it to the knockout stages, while Napoli are sitting atop the table, needing just a draw to qualify for the next round.
Liverpool’s bid for a place in the Round of 16 hasn’t been helped by the fact that they lost each of their three group games on the road. But, the Reds will surely be buoyed by their improving domestic form, and particularly by the fact that they jumped to the summit of the Premier League table this past weekend, with a helping hand from Chelsea.
Napoli, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their 2018-19 UEFA Champions League campaign, although they haven’t quite looked at their best so far. But, the Paretnopei are now 12 games without a loss in all competitions, and warmed up for the big game against Liverpool with a 4-0 win over Frosinone over the weekend.
The reverse fixture, played at San Paolo on Matchday 2, saw Napoli run out 1-0 winners, with Lorenzo Insigne scoring a 90th minute winner. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Champions League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Jurgen Klopp has only had good news coming his way over the weekend, including on the team news front. Against Napoli on Tuesday, the Liverpool boss will be without just one first-team player, with Joe Gomez out for several weeks after fracturing his leg against Burnley last week.
Dejan Lovren was set to return to training on Monday night after shrugging off his concussion-like symptoms. But, with just a couple of training session under his belt at most, it is unlikely that the Croat will be fully fit to face Napoli, meaning Joel Matip should partner Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to be the right-back after being rested this past weekend, while Andrew Robertson is irreplaceable on the left flank. The full-back pairing will once again be tasked with the responsibility of being diligent at the back while looking to bomb forward at every given opportunity.
Meanwhile, Klopp is likely to revert to the fluid 4-3-3, which should see Xherdan Shaqiri drop to the bench. In his stead, Sadio Mane should start on the left side of the attacking triumvirate, with Mohamed Salah lining up on the opposite flank and Roberto Firmino returning to the comforts of the false nine role.
In midfield, all three places are up for grabs, although Jordan Henderson should start after only being handed a cameo appearance against Bournemouth. Naby Keita has been in stunning form in the last two matches, and his early substitution on Saturday suggests he could be in for a start.
The final spot is likely to be taken up by James Milner, who usually shoulders the creative burden for Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Milner, Henderson, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Carlo Ancelotti does not have any pressing injury concerns ahead of the visit to Liverpool. On Tuesday, the Napoli manager will be without just two first-team players. Vlad Chiriches is a long-term absentee due to a knee injury, while Italian winger Simone Verdi is recovering from a sprained ankle.
Ancelotti though, has enough cover within his squad to cover for the duo’s absence. And, after resting a number of regulars for the game against Frosinone, the manager can approach the UEFA Champions League tie with the right frame of mind and a largely healthy squad.
The likes of David Ospina, Nikola Maksimovic, Mario Rui, Jose Callejon, Fabian Ruiz and Dries Mertens were rested this past weekend. Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne were substitutes in the second half, meaning Ancelotti should be able to bank on a playing eleven that has started each of the last three UEFA Champions League ties.
Ospina should return in goal, replacing Alex Meret, while Elseid Hysaj and Faouzi Ghoulam should make way for Maksimovic and Rui on either side of the Napoli defence. Rui should be the more adventurous of the two full-backs, with Maksimovic playing off Jose Callejon and supporting the midfield.
Raul Albiol is likely to return to the heart of the defence, with the ever-present Kalidou Koulibaly being his partner. In midfield, Allan and Marek Hamsik will be the key men, with the latter looking to combine with Fabian Ruiz to drive forward into the final third.
Upfront, Lorenzo Insigne’s recent goal drought is a concern. But, with Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik firing on all cylinders, Ancelotti can bank on others to deliver the goods as well.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Ospina; Maksimovic, Albiol, Koulibaly, Rui; Callejon, Allan, Hamsik, Ruiz; Mertens, Insigne
- Tuesday’s clash at Anfield will be the fourth meeting between Liverpool and Napoli. Neither side has managed to gain an upper hand in the head-to-head record, with one win apiece and a draw in the three previous ties.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in 18 successive European matches at Anfield (W13 D5), last losing at home in European competition back in October 2014 against Real Madrid (0-3).
- The Reds boast an average record at home against Italian opposition, having won seven times in 11 ties. Liverpool did win the last time they hosted a Serie A side, beating AS Roma 5-2.
- Napoli haven’t won any of their last six UEFA Champions League away matches (D2 L4), with their last victory on the road in the competition coming in Lisbon against Benfica way back in December 2016 (2-1).
- Napoli’s record in England does not inspire a lot of confidence, with the Partenopei yet to win in six attempts (D2 L4).
Player to Watch
It has been a strange season for Liverpool’s talisman, whose eye catching performances have often been followed with sub-par outings. A hat-trick against Bournemouth is the latest such instance when Salah has shown promising signs of regaining his blistering form from last season, and the Reds need their star man to step up on Tuesday.
The Egyptian superstar has only scored twice in the UEFA Champions League so far. But, his record at Anfield is fantastic, having managed to score 8 goals in as many home games for Liverpool. If he can extend that record against Napoli, Liverpool will stand a great chance of going through. Otherwise, it could be yet another night to forget for Jurgen Klopp & co.
Liverpool 2-1 Napoli
The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League group stage campaign has been laden with frustrations for Liverpool, who haven’t quite managed to perform at their best so far in Europe. But, with the possibility of dropping to the Europa League looming, the Reds could given just the push they need to spring to life.
Napoli, on the other hand, haven’t lost any game since September and arrive into Tuesday’s tie on the back of much lesser workload in recent weeks than Liverpool. And, with both Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez unavailable for the Reds, the visitors will fancy their chances of breaking the resolve of Joel Matip.
Expect the Matchday 6 tie to be a closely contested affair, but with Liverpool having just about enough quality to secure a close win, leaving Napoli dependent on PSG’s result against Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade.