7 September 2022
15:00 ET Canada-USA
Diego Armando Maradona
Carlos del Cerro (Spain)
Napoli and Liverpool have been placed together in the same Champions League group quite frequently in the last couple of seasons, and their clashes have always been interesting to watch.
Neither side can be said to have been the better one in those duels, even if Liverpool have done better overall in the competition, qualifying for three finals in the last four years and even winning the prestigious trophy on one of those occasions.
On Wednesday evening, the two familiar rivals are set to take each other again, in the opening round of the campaign, at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples, Italy.
Led by former AS Roma and Inter Milan head coach Luciano Spaletti, Napoli have been doing very well since the start of the season. They’ve been close to the top-end of the Serie A table frequently over the last couple of years, but close is never close enough, as they say. The dream of finally winning the Scudetto are very much alive this time.
At the moment, Spaletti’s team are second to Atalanta with a two-point deficit on the Bergamo side in the Italian top flight, after winning three and drawing two of the five matches played. They beat Hellas Verona away by 2-5, Monza at home by 4-0, drew 0-0 away to Fiorentina as well as 1-1 at home against Lecce, and eventually returned to winning ways away to Lazio a few days ago.
Even though Mattia Zaccagni put the hosts in front at the Stadio Olimpico, Kim Min-jae and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia made sure the three points went with their team back to Naples, setting the final score at 1-2.
Winger Hirving Lozano, linked with Liverpool at one point in the past, is expected to sit this match out or at least start on the bench, after suffering a head clash with Lazio’s Adam Marusic the other night which required him to be stretchered off. If that proves the case, Matteo Politano should come into the side, supporting striker Victor Osimhen together with Kvaratskhelia.
Midfielder Diego Demme is ruled out, needing more time to recover from a broken foot, but Spaletti shouldn’t have too many worries there. Stanislav Lobotka and Andre Zambo Anguissa are more than capable of playing behind Piotr Zielinski, who also had hopes of joining Liverpool in the past, in the middle of the park.
Meanwhile, last season’s Champions League (and Premier League) runners-up aren’t in a good moment right now. They’ve played six matches in the English top flight so far, but they only managed to win twice. Three times they drew, and suffered a very painful defeat at Old Trafford. First they drew 2-2 away to Fulham, then 1-1 at home against Crystal Palace in a game where newly signed striker Darwin Nunez picked up a straight red card, and then got beaten 2-1 away to their arch-rivals Manchester United. They recovered slightly after beating Newcastle at home by 2-1 in a thrilling game, but then they failed to win the Merseyside Derby as they drew 0-0 away to Everton.
England international goalkeeper Jordan Pickford denied them a goal time and again, and things could’ve been worse had it not been for the heroics of Alisson Becker at the other end.
The thing that’s troubling manager Jurgen Klopp the most at the moment is the injury crisis that has hit his midfield section, and that has led to the club moving to sign Arthur Melo on loan from Juventus for the season on Deadline Day of the summer transfer window last week.
Arthur could make his club debut in Naples having sat out the Derby on the bench, but Klopp will be delighted that Thiago Alcantara is back in full training again. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, however, remain out, and there are question marks over the ability of Curtis Jones and Fabio Carvalho. At the back, centre-back Ibrahima Konate will be missing for a while with a knee injury, which leaves the manager to choose between Joel Matip and Joe Gomez for the one to partner Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool are, on the other hand, at full strength upfront. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez are all available. It feels safe to say that Salah and Diaz will start on the flanks, but it’s hard to tell who starts through the middle. Firmino, Nunez and Jota are all formidable options.