Liverpool will kickstart their 2019/20 Champions League campaign when they travel to Stadio Olimpico to face Napoli on Tuesday. Both the sides are tipped as favourites to qualify from Group E, with Red Bull Salzburg playing Genk in the other fixture.
Liverpool are in sublime form this season, having been the only Premier League side to retain a hundred percent winning record so far. However, things could be tricky against a Napoli side, who are coming on the back of a 2-0 triumph over Sampdoria on the weekend.
What could we expect from Liverpool?
The visitors are expected to play their natural attacking game. Roberto Firmino was supposed to be given a breather against Newcastle United. But, Divock Origi’s knock saw the Brazilian being introduced in the 37th minute. He ended up starring in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over the Magpies.
The attacking trifecta of Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will look to suppress the Napoli backline. Kalidou Koulibaly, in particular, is still lacking confidence after scoring an unfortunate last-minute own goal that saw his team lose 4-3 to Juventus.
It is unlikely that both the fullbacks will look to attack given Napoli’s tendency to play from the wider areas of the pitch. Not to mention they rested both Faouzi Ghoulam and Elseid Hysaj in the win over Sampdoria. Hence, both of them will be fresh ahead of this encounter.
How can Liverpool stop the Napoli attack?
As iterated earlier, Napoli like to attack from wider positions, boasting the services of Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne. But, the main threat will be coming from Dries Mertens, who is the club’s top scorer this season with three league goals, two of which were scored against Sampdoria.
Mertens has the tendency to be at the right place at the right time, and Liverpool must isolate him as much as possible. Deploying someone like Fabinho to man-mark the ex-PSV star could be a logical decision.
Another player Liverpool need to keep an eye on is Piotr Zielinski. The Polish international is Napoli’s creator-in-chief. And given Carlo Ancelotti’s wing-oriented setup and Liverpool’s lack of stability in the fullback slot, he is likely to thrive. That means starting with Joe Gomez at right-back may not be a bad idea.
How can Napoli be exploited?
One of Napoli’s biggest weaknesses is set-pieces. Interestingly, it is one of Liverpool’s strongest assets, thanks to the towering presence of defenders like Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip. Both of them will look to breach through the relatively short Napoli side. Even their star defender Koulibaly stands at 1.86m compared to van Dijk’s 1.93m frame.
Another way Liverpool can exploit the Napoli defence is through counter-attacks. It has been one of Ancelotti’s glaring weaknesses – his team’s vulnerability from the counter-attacks. It was a problem at Bayern Munich, and the same issue has persisted at Napoli as well.
As for the Reds, they are arguably the best counter-attack sides in the league, thanks to their iconic offensive trio. Hence, breaking down the Partenopei defence shouldn’t be a much of a problem for the European champions this week.
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