Champions League 2019-20, Napoli vs Liverpool: Absence of Alisson and Firmino vs Mertens battle highlight the high-octane match
Champions League football is back for a new season this mid-week and reigning champions Liverpool are all set to begin their title defense. On Tuesday night, the 2018-19 Champions League winners travel to a familiar destination - Napoli - to kick-start their European campaign of the season.
The Serie A giants, who had almost spoiled Liverpool’s run last season, welcome Liverpool to their San Paolo Stadium for the first game of the group stage in Group E. There are a lot of talking points ahead of the match, some of which are listed below:
Liverpool's victorious campaign last season
There was no better feeling for Jurgen Klopp’s men than to hold aloft the Champions League trophy a year after losing the cup against Real Madrid. It was redemption time for the Reds after the heartbreak in Kiev, as they cleared every obstacle in their path.
Last season saw them beating Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield for a perfect start, but they soon suffered setbacks with losses away to PSG, Napoli and Belgrade. They only managed to qualify with a narrow win over Napoli, their first opponents this season.
Eliminating Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena before pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history against Barcelona sent a message across the football world. Divock Origi’s early goal, a brace from Georginio Wijnaldum and that cheeky corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold made for a game that will not be forgotten any time soon.
In the end, all it took was two goals against Tottenham Hotspur in the all-English final for Liverpool to claim the much coveted trophy.
The Reds have been in fine domestic form lately, with five wins out of five to claim the league leader’s position. Liverpool had a bad start to their 2019-20 football campaign as they lost the Community Shield to Manchester City, but the road from there has been a successful one as they added the Super Cup 2019 to their bag too.
Napoli, on the other hand, have won two out of the three matches they have played. They were trailing against Fiorentina before adding four goals in less than half an hour to win the match 4-3. Against the Italian champions Juventus, the score line was the same except that Napoli ended on the losing side.
In their latest game against Sampdoria on Saturday, Dries Mertens scored a brace as Napoli climbed to fifth place in the Serie A table.
If the Napoli defence (which has conceded seven goals) has shown signs of fragility that Liverpool’s front three could exploit, then Liverpool’s single clean sheet in five matches played could be a boost for Napoli.
The last time the two teams met, Alisson Becker was the hero of the match. Liverpool’s qualification for the knockout stage seemed kind of tricky when Napoli traveled to Anfield; all that Napoli needed was to score a goal, and it would have sent Liverpool crashing out of the Champions League.
But in a nail-biting match with the score at 1-0, their £65m man stepped up with a huge save to deny Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time.
Liverpool travel to San Paolo Stadium this Tuesday without their hero Alisson, and all eyes will now turn to the Super Cup hero Adrian. The Spaniard, who has only one clean sheet to his name in the Premier League, is all set to start in goal for his first Champions League game for Liverpool.
Divock Origi, having limped out of the Newcastle game, will join Alisson in the list of absentees. Rhian Brewster, called up from the U23 team, will most probably find himself on the bench in Origi’s place.
For Napoli, Milik could miss out through injury while Lorenzo Insigne is set to return after recovering from injury.
The key battle
Dries Mertens is the player to watch for Napoli. The 32-year-old Belgian is enjoying a run of good form, with a goal and an assist against Fiorentina followed by a brace against Sampdoria.
With 10 goals in the Champions League for Napoli, Mertens has a fairly good record. He caused Liverpool enough troubles the two times they met in the group stage, and would be Virgil van Dijk’s number one problem on Tuesday night.
On the Liverpool side, the indispensable Roberto Firmino would be the key player. Jurgen Klopp wanted to rest Firmino for the game against Newcastle as he returned from the international break with Brazil, but things didn't go to plan. With Origi going down with injury in the first half itself, Firmino was called upon early and ended up being man of the match.
The Brazilian’s brilliance was at another level as he provided a sublime assist for teammate Mohamed Salah, playing a beautiful one-two with the Egyptian star.
The battle between Mertens and Firmino will be one to watch out for.
Napoli are familiar foes for Liverpool. Last season, the two of them were in the same group and Carlo Ancelotti’s men came out victorious with a 1-0 home win in the first leg of the group stage before Liverpool proceeded to knock Napoli out with a similar 1-0 win.
With 14 shots and 57% possession, Napoli had the upper hand the last time Liverpool traveled to their stadium. They enjoyed 52% of ball possession at Anfield in their 1-0 loss as well, but that wasn’t enough for them to qualify for the knockout stage.
Recently the two of them met for a club friendly where Napoli got the better of Liverpool with a 3-0 win. They’d look forward to channeling the same performance this week, but bear in mind this time it is not a friendly but a Champions League fixture against the reigning champions.