Liverpool vs Napoli : UEFA Champions League - Preview and Prediction
Liverpool welcome Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli in a UEFA Champions League Group Stage fixture at Anfield.
A victory here will assure the Merseysiders of the top spot in Group E as well as qualification to the knockouts, with one game to spare.
The Reds have been in scintillating form in the English Premier League, and find themselves comfortably sitting atop the leaderboard.
They have been invincible in the domestic circuit, and have tasted defeat only once in normal time, this season. And that came against Napoli!
The Italians know very well that three points against Jurgen Klopp's men would take them through to the knockout rounds, too.
Wins have been hard to come by for the Italian outfit of late, with five draws and a defeat from their last six outings across all competitions; most recently a 1-1 stalemate against AC Milan on Saturday.
Such form has seen the Serie A runners-up for the past two seasons slip down to seventh place in the standings.
There will be belief and confidence to take from the fact that they have already beaten Liverpool this season, of course, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and Ancelotti's side will be significant underdogs for this trip to England.
Jurgen Klopp does not have any fresh injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Napoli.
Mohamed Salah is now expected to start against Napoli. Joining Salah in the final third, should be the usual suspects Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
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.
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, Arkadiusz Milik and captain, Lorenzo Insigne.
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. 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.
Mohamed Salah vs Kalidou Koulibaly
Liverpool have scored 10 goals in the Champions League group stages this season and surprise, surprise; Mohamed Salah has been involved in half of those, scoring three and recording two assists.
It is safe to say that the Egyptian forward has been on top form in Europe this time around. He sat out of Liverpool’s win over Crystal Palace at the weekend as he continued to recover from injury, but Jurgen Klopp has confirmed his fitness for the visit of Napoli.
Salah's pace and trickery will surely pose a worry for Ancelotti's defensive setup. But he will have his main man, Kalidou Koulibaly to rely upon.
At the back, the defensive stalwart will be a massive factor. He will not only have to watch Salah, but also his own international teammate Sadio Mane, giving him plenty to do.
Koulibaly is a strong no-nonsense defender, and is a commanding presence at the backline. The Senegalese footballer is adept at stopping a barrage of attacks, but Salah might be too hot to handle.
He boasts of 5 clearances and 2.8 tackles per game, in the Champions League this season.
Virgil van Dijk vs Dries Mertens
Virgil van Dijk has arguably been the best defender last year. The Dutch defender is a towering presence at the heart of Klopp's defensive structure.
van Dijk is tall, and is adept with playing long balls. He is surprisingly fast for his height, and he rarely gets dribbled past.
The man from Netherlands has registered 5 clearances and 1.3 interceptions per game, and is known to not put a foot wrong in the match, the picture of concentration that he is.
Late goals have been the ticket in the past for Napoli against Liverpool, and the last time they met it was one from Dries Mertens that broke the deadlock and led them to a 2-0 win. The Belgian was rested for an hour on Saturday against Milan, so he will be raring to go.
After a strong start to the season, Mertens has gone off the boil to some extent. 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.
Mertens has scored 3 goals and made 1 assist from just 3 Champions League appearances already.
Prediction: Liverpool 2 - 0 Napoli
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