Liverpool will be desperate to avoid the blushes of their lackluster start to the domestic season when they played their opening UEFA Champions League 2022/23 Group A encounter against Napoli away from home on Wednesday night. The two sides who are familiar with each other at the European stage renew hostilities at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples in order to get their noses ahead in Group A which also consists of Ajax and Rangers.
Napoli have enjoyed a far more successful start to their league season compared to their English opponents on Wednesday night. Speculation surrounding a Serie A 2022/23 title charge is making the rounds in and around Naples, as Luciano Spalletti’s side returned to their usual winning ways after in emphatic fashion against Lazio after dropping four points in draws with Lecce and Fiorentina towards the end of August.
The brilliant Khvicha Kvaratskhelia extended his wonderful personal form by scoring his fourth Serie A goal of the season to secure the victory and with it, all three points for Napoli. The Neapolitan side had actually fallen behind as Mattia Zaccagni converted his chance inside four minutes to give Lazio the lead before restoring parity through a header from Kim Min-jae just before half-time.
Georgia’s shining star Kvaratskhelia is the man of the moment in Serie A as he has taken to the Italian top flight like a fish to water. Plenty will depend on how the so far sensational 21-year-old fares over the course of the season and Liverpool could be in for a rude shock if they underestimate his talent and credentials.
The win over Lazio saw Naples climbing to the second spot in the league table. With three wins and two draws from their five games so far, they have 11 points and trail table-toppers Atalanta by just two points. Even though the undefeated Napoli are level on points with defending champions AC Milan, they are ahead on the basis of their superior goal difference of +8.
After a successful start to their league campaign, the Partenopei will now be switching their focus to their first appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage since 2019-20. Over the last two seasons, they have struggled to find any semblance of success at the continental level and have suffered consecutive Round of 32 exits in the Europa League – falling to Spanish sides Granada and Barcelona.
With that being said, however, they are unbeaten in their last eight Champions League matches at home, a record that stretches back to November 2017, and it should inspire plenty of confidence among Spalletti’s men.
Meanwhile, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is feeling the heat after having to witness his side struggle and crawl against Everton in the Merseyside derby as opposition keeper Jordan Pickford thwarted every opportunity on goal. Liverpool also have to thank their own keeper Alisson for keeping them in the game during the goalless draw at Goodison Park which saw the Reds getting just one point to show for their efforts.
While Roberto Firmino and Darwin Nunez could not beat the impenetrable wall that was Pickford, Neal Maupay will still be having nightmares about his gilt-edged chance that Alisson Becker kept out, but it was another alarming showing from Klopp’s men
With two wins, three draws, and a loss from their first six matches, Liverpool have failed to get out of their shells in the early stages of the season and are yet to discover their momentum. While it’s true that frequent injuries and problems to the squad have certainly not helped Klopp’s side especially in the midfielder department where they are considerably short on options, they have slumped to the seventh position in the table and are already trailing table-toppers Arsenal by six points after just six rounds of Premier League football.
Last season’s runners-up in both the Premier League as well as the Champions League, Liverpool have failed to win any of their three away matches in the English top flight so far this season. It goes without saying that the side is not exactly brimming with confidence as they make the trip to Naples, where a fervent and passionate Neapolitan crowd awaits them.
The only silver lining here is the fact that Klopp’s men remarkably secured victories in all six matches on the road in the UEFA Champions League last season before slumping to a 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid in the final in Paris.
That showpiece mega event will obviously be remembered for the horrific scenes that took place outside the Stade de France stadium prior to the match and during it which became a cause of chagrin for plenty of travelling supporters. On the pitch, however, Real Madrid’s temperament was too strong and Carlo Ancelotti’s men took home the trophy with a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Vinicius Jr.
Napoli and Liverpool have met each other at the continental stage quite recently. They squared off in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stages, but the Reds only came out on the correct end of the scoreline in one of those encounters and have failed to score in all three of their visits to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
NAP vs LIV, UEFA Champions League 2022/23
Date: 8th September, 2022
Time: 12:30 AM IST
Venue: Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples
Napoli form (all competitions):
Liverpool form (all competitions):
Napoli wins: 2
Liverpool wins: 2
Napoli Team News:
Despite the success over Lazio, the thrill of the win was somehow soured by the injury sustained by Hirving Lozano. The Mexican forward had to be stretchered off the pitch after a clash of heads with Adam Marusic towards the end of the first 45. However, further scans revealed that fortunately, he hadn’t suffered any facial fractures and Lozano should make it to the squad list against Liverpool here.
In any case, Matteo Politano should be ready if he’s asked to deputise in the final third for Lozano and will probably partner Kvaratskhelia. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming Giacomo Raspadori is on standby after star striker Victor Osimhen missed team training earlier this week due to a muscular problem.
Diego Demme hasn’t completely recovered from his foot injury and his participation in doubt for the clash with Liverpool. Besides the injuries to his players, Spalletti himself suffered a shoulder fracture but he should be in the dugout with his arm in a sling as the 63-year-old prepares for another Champions League campaign with a fourth team – he has previously commandeered Roma, Zenit St Petersburg and Inter Milan into battle in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
Liverpool Team News:
As far as Liverpool are concerned, their injury crisis doesn’t seem to get better any time soon. They have suffered yet another calamity, this time with Fabio Carvalho having to be taken off at half time with a dead leg. The 20-year-old has been left out of the travelling party to Naples alongside Curtis Jones who is suffering from a shin problem.
Jurgen Klopp will also be without several familiar faces in his lineup – Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson. However, midfield stalwart Thiago Alcantara is expected to return to the squad in a week but it may be too early to call him up to face Napoli in the Champions League.
While James Milner is more likely to start, Juventus loanee Arthur could also be asked to fill the void in midfield and make his Liverpool debut.
Elsewhere, Calvin Ramsay, Caoimhin Kelleher and Ibrahima Konate also occupy spots in Liverpool’s treatment room, and Klopp should immediately recall Andy Robertson to the side after giving Kostas Tsimikas the nod at Goodison.
Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Di Lorenzo, Kim, Rrahmani, Rui; Zielinski, Zambo Anguissa, Lobotka; Politano, Raspadori, Kvaratskhelia
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Elliott, Fabinho, Milner; Salah, Nunez, Diaz
Arthur’s introduction into the scheme of things could help Liverpool with ball progression and revitalize their underwhelming midfield performances lately, Klopp’s front men have struggled in front of goal. Multi-million pound signing Darwin Nunez is yet to show his true worth while uncharacteristically, Mohamed Salah has also struggled in front of goal. They will have a tough task on their hands, one which no previous Liverpool side has been able to accomplish – score an away goal against Napoli.
While the home side are far from secure at the back following their sensational sale of Kalidou Koulibaly to Chelsea, the Serie A outfit can feel confidence given their own personal form as well as the lack of one for their rivals on the night. The Neapolitans will be desperate to extend their unbeaten Champions League home run at the expense of Liverpool’s golden away streak.