Liverpool will hope to clinch top spot in Group E of the UEFA Champions League when they welcome Napoli to Anfield on Wednesday.
The curtains will fall on Matchday 5 of the group stage of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, with eight games on show. Top spot in Group E will be on the line when Liverpool play hosts to Napoli at Anfield, with just one point separating the two sides.
Liverpool’s Champions League campaign started on a whimper, as two late goals condemned them to a 2-0 defeat at Napoli. That result remains the Reds’ solitary loss this term, with Jurgen Klopp’s men winning all but one of the other fixtures they have played, including three Group E games that have propelled them to the top of the standings.
Napoli, on the other hand, are one of the six remaining unbeaten teams in the Champions League. But, the Partenopei have managed just one win from their subsequent three games since beating Liverpool, which is the kind of inconsistency that has plagued Carlo Ancelotti & co. all through the season in all competitions.
Liverpool and Napoli also clashed in the Champions League group stage last season with the two sides vying for the final spot in the Round of 16 heading into Matchday 6. In the end, a 1-0 scoreline was enough to send the Merseyside club through before they went all the way. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Jurgen Klopp does not have any fresh injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Napoli. On Wednesday, the Liverpool boss will continue to remain without the services of three first-team players, namely Joel Matip (knee), Nathaniel Clyne (knee) and Xherdan Shaqiri (calf).
The positive bit of update heading into the game, though, surrounds the fitness of Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger was fit enough to make the matchday squad against Crystal Palace this past weekend, but was not involved in the game, as Klopp gave him some more time to let his ankle heal completely.
Salah is now expected to start against Napoli, meaning Liverpool will be nearly at full strength on Wednesday. Joining Salah in the final third, should be the usual suspects Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping out of the side.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is an option to start in midfield, but Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum should be the two men reprising the no. 8 roles, with Fabinho sitting at the base of the three-man midfield unit.
At the back, in Matip’s absence, Dejan Lovren is the natural choice to partner Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Out wide, there is no looking past Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson as the full-back pairing, while Alisson Becker is a certain starter in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Carlo Ancelotti has a couple of key first-team members missing from his squad ahead of the trip to face Liverpool. On Wednesday, the Napoli manager will be bereft of the services of Kevin Malcuit (knee), Arkadiusz Milik (stomach) and captain Lorenzo Insigne (elbow).
The absence of Milik and Insigne, in particular, is concerning, with the duo being two of the few players who have displayed decent form lately. In their stead, Dries Mertens and Hirving Lozano become automatic picks to form the strike partnership.
Fabian Ruiz is expected to come into the four-man midfield, lining up on the left flank. Jose Callejon is a certain starter on the right, with Eljif Elmas and Allan combining in the central areas. Allan will primarily provide cover to the defence, while Elmas will be charged with transitioning from defence to attack.
At the back, Kostas Manolas should be Kalidou Koulibaly’s central defensive partner. Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Elseid Hysaj will be the two full-backs for Napoli, with Alex Meret set to take his place between the sticks for the visitors.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Hysaj; Callejon, Allan, Elmas, Ruiz; Lozano, Mertens
- Liverpool have won both their European games at home against Napoli, winning 3-1 in the 2010-11 Europa League and 1-0 in the Champions League last season.
- Napoli beat Liverpool 2-0 on Matchday 1. Only two teams have ever won home and away against the reigning champions in the group stage – Ajax against AC Milan in 1994-95 and CSKA Moscow against Real Madrid last season.
- Liverpool have won six of their seven home European Cup/Champions League games against Italian opposition – the exception was a 2-1 loss to Fiorentina in December 2009 under Rafael Benitez.
- Carlo Ancelotti was the last manager to win an away Champions League match at Anfield against Liverpool, leading Real Madrid to a 3-0 win in October 2014. No manager has won more away Champions League games in England than the Napoli boss (three – level with Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri).
- Jurgen Klopp has lost three Champions League games against Carlo Ancelotti, his joint-most against an opposing manager along with Arsene Wenger. However, Klopp has won both home games against Ancelotti (Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Real Madrid in 2014 and Liverpool 1-0 Napoli in 2018).
Player to Watch
After a strong start to the season, Mertens has gone off the boil to some extent. Engulfed in the brewing controversy at Napoli, the Belgian forward needs to get his mind back to matters on the pitch, much like he did against Red Bull Salzburg last month.
Having scored in the reverse fixture against Liverpool, Mertens will be looked upon to be on target at Anfield as well. If he manages to find his scoring boots again, a shock win over the Reds might just be on the cards. If not, a difficult evening would be in the offing for Napoli.
Liverpool 3-1 Napoli
It has been a difficult season for Napoli, who are now six games without a win in all competitions. Their next task is hardly easy, as Liverpool host them at one of the most daunting settings in Europe at present. The Partenopei still remain a hard nut to crack, though, despite their struggles.
A strong start is, therefore, the need of the hour for both teams, with Liverpool expected to strike first. Winning has become a habit for the Reds, who ought to continue their stunning run of form. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Jurgen Klopp & co. in a result that not just confirms their place in the Round of 16, but also top spot in Group E.