There’s a certain amount of peril to Liverpool’s situation as they welcome Napoli to Anfield for their final group game in this season’s Champions League. Only a win will be enough to keep the Reds in the competition, after three losses in their last four European outings – and even winning may not be enough.
In the Reds’ way is a Napoli side managed by experienced, tough coach Carlo Ancelotti, a three-times winner of this competition. The only other manager ever to have managed that was Bob Paisley, who won three times with… Liverpool. There is, therefore, a certain amount of Champions League pedigree on show tonight, but for these ninety minutes, the only history that matters is the one the players write themselves.
Liverpool vs Napoli Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Napoli
Napoli have drawn three games in this competition so far, and their win over Liverpool in the reverse game came through a last-minute goal. They are a side who have been in their fair share of close games, and they won’t make it easy for anyone; against any Ancelotti side, you’ll be made to work for anything you can get. Nonetheless, we’re backing Liverpool to pick up the points they need, and by a margin that will get them through to the next round – this is an occasion that requires attacking endeavour, and the Reds have it in spades.
Our recommended tip: Goal within 15 minutes
We can expect a febrile atmosphere at Anfield for any European night, but particularly one in which the home team needs to win. The stadium will be noisy and raucous, and Liverpool won’t need much encouragement to set about their task. In the circumstances, we wouldn’t be shocked to see an early goal. With Betway offering odds of 15/8 on the opening goal coming before the 15-minute mark, that’s a bet we’d take on a night like this. Whether it’s Liverpool scoring it, or a counter-attacking Napoli doing what they’re so good at, an early goal feels likely.
Although these sides were among Europe’s elite in the late 80s and early 90s, their paths never crossed in competition until 2010, when they were drawn together in the Europa League. In the Anfield outing, Roy Hodgson’s side won 3-1, all of their goals scored by half-time substitute Steven Gerrard (including two in the last three minutes).
The teams’ prior meeting in this group stage saw Napoli dominate possession and chances, but they were held at bay until the 90th minute, when Jose Callejon found space to cross and Lorenzo Insigne fastened on to the opening to beat Alisson in the Liverpool goal. So, in summary, history suggests we can expect late drama at Anfield one way or the other.
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Players to watch: Mo Salah & Jose Callejon
It may seem simplistic to highlight Liverpool’s top scorer as their man to watch, but this is a match that will require them to score; possibly multiple times. Tonight, more than ever, they need the elegant Egyptian to be on form. We know what he can do – Salah was easily the Premier League’s top scorer last season – and if he can carry the form of last weekend’s hat-trick performance against Bournemouth into this game, Liverpool will be more than happy.
Callejon is so often the player in the background when people talk about Napoli’s attacking stars. Insigne is more prolific, while Dries Mertens is almost embarrassingly talented, but Callejon’s role is essential to the aforementioned players’ hopes of shining. Pushed back to a wide midfield role under Ancelotti, the tenacious Spanish winger has a knack of running into space and finding a team-mate with his pass. That skill will put Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson to the test tonight.