Who: Napoli vs Liverpool
When: Tuesday, September 17th @ 03:00 pm ET
Line: Napoli +205 | Draw +250 | Liverpool +132
UEFA schedule makers threw defending champs Liverpool right into the fire. The Reds play their toughest group stage opponent — Napoli — on the road on Tuesday at 3pm ET.
Liverpool sit atop the table in the Premier League, winning all five of their matches. They’re already five points clear of FFP violating Manchester City. Napoli sits fourth in Serie A with a strong plus 2 goal differential.
These two teams are the most likely to advance out of Group E. Liverpool are -215 as group winner and -2500 for a top 2. Napoli are +200 to win the group and odds-on at -500 to top 2 it and advance.
Along with Borussia Dortmund vs Barcelona, this is the highlight of Tuesday’s matches.
Napoli vs Liverpool Match Preview
Last year, Liverpool was shaky in group play. If not for a big save by Alisson at Anfield on the final group stage match against Napoli, the Reds would not have won their sixth European title.
But he did make it. And they did win it.
Since that match, Liverpool have been mentality monsters. They’ve won 14 straight domestic matches, the fourth longest streak in English top flight history. They of course went on to win the Champions League. And the UEFA Super Cup.
After coming thisclose to advancing to the UCL Round of 16, Napoli didn’t make it past the quarterfinals of the Europa League. They lost to an Arsenal squad that’s not as good then as they are today. It’s a squad that Liverpool spanked 3-1 already season.
But enough about how Napoli are inferior. Here’s where they’re solid.
Offensively, Napoli is lead by 32 year-old Dries Mertens. The Belgian is off to a fast start, with three goals in three games this season. If anything, Mertens has been improving with age. Last season he tallied 16 goals and 11 assists domestically. The season before that he found net 28 times. He’s doing this all past most player’s prime years. He’s going to be a threat.
Another 32 year-old, José Callejón, flanks Mertens. Callejón has a goal and two assists in Serie A so far. Loose-limbed, rangy and active, Callejón is an exceptional passer — often making the hockey assist that leads to the assist that leads to the goal. He’ll keep the Liverpool midfield busy.
Lorenzo Insigne is another handful in midfield. An adept passer, he’s strong penetrating and finding through balls to unlock Mertens. He’s an underrated finisher as well. He’s already got Trent Alexander-Arnold comparing him to Eden Harzard. It’s apt. Maybe a poor man’s Eden Hazard, but it fits.
Napoli’s backline is anchored by one-time (rumored) Liverpool target Kalidou Koulibaly. While sometimes careless both with the ball an in positioning, Koulibaly is another excellent passer who is tough to beat. Think of him as a poor man’s Virgil van Dijk.
Those are no knocks on either Insigne or Koulibaly. They’re both world class. They’re just a tick below the best of the best.
So Napoli is going to move the ball around well and create some big opportunities. How will Jurgen Klopp try to contain them?
Many pundits are predicting a play-it-safe strategy from Klopp and Liverpool. The thinking goes they’ll play for a draw and be happy to start this UCL campaign with a point.
I don’t think so.
As we’ve written many times, Klopp is among the best managers in the world at learning from his mistakes–both in game and over a season. Last year, Liverpool was held back by some ultra conservative game planning. It cost them the Premier League. It almost cost them the chance to advance out of UCL group play.
Mentally, this is a different Liverpool team than a year ago. They’re way more confident. Winning is now part of their DNA. They don’t hold back. They don’t play it safe.
Expect Liverpool to take it to Napoli.
It’ll be their regular XI, with Salah, Mane and Firmino up top, Robertson (if fit), Matip, VVD, and TAA in the back. Fabinho and Henderson are givens to start in midfield, but expect James Milner to find his name on the manager’s sheet. He’s rested. Klopp loves him on the road in European matches. And he could provide that pesky mule-like defending that wore out Lionel Messi and is needed to thrwart Insigne and Callejón.
Napoli is legit. They’re a team that has given Liverpool fits too.
They don’t have the same class top-to-bottom as Liverpool, but they know how to play Liverpool.
Ultimately, it won’t matter this UCL though. Expect the Reds to press early. Napoli’s weakest link in their XI is goalkeeper Alex Meret. Firmino, Salah, and Mane will challenge him early and often. Sucking the life out of the crowd with an early goal is a great way to quiet an attack.
Liverpool will get ahead early. Firmino will drop back and try to disrupt the Napoli midfield. He’ll tire out in the second half and get subbed at which point Napoli will break through for a goal or two. It’ll be an open, end-to-end game. Liverpool will prevail with a 3-1 or 3-2 road win.
Where to Bet Champions League in the US
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