Dave Staff Writer
Liverpool kick off their defence of the Uefa Champions League against a team who came perilously close to ousting them from last season’s competition as they travel to Italy to take on Napoli.
The teams were paired together in last season’s group stage and both games featured late drama; indeed, only a vital late save from Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker on matchday six prevented Napoli progressing to the round of 16 at the expense of the English side.
While this is Napoli’s fourth successive UEFA Champions League campaign, Liverpool are in the competition for the third year in a row having reached the final in 2018 and lifted the trophy 12 months later.
Each side recorded a 1-0 home win in last season’s group stage, Lorenzo Insigne getting Napoli’s 90th-minute winner at the Stadio San Paolo on matchday two.
Mohamed Salah was the Liverpool match-winner at Anfield on matchday six, his 34th-minute strike proving enough to take Jürgen Klopp’s side into the knockout stages at the expense of their Italian opponents – although but for a last-gasp Alisson save to deny Arkadiusz Milik, Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli would have progressed instead.
The clubs also met in the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League group stage. With the game in Naples having ended scoreless, Ezequiel Lavezzi gave Napoli a first-half lead at Anfield before Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick in the final 15 minutes, including goals in the 88th and 89th minutes, secured a dramatic late win for Liverpool.
The Reds went on to finish top of their section, with Napoli second; the Italian club were eliminated in the round of 32, Liverpool losing in the last 16.
Serie A runners-up for the second season running in 2018/19, Napoli are in the group stage for the sixth time – all in the last nine seasons. They reached the round of 16 in 2011/12 and 2016/17 but have finished third in their section in the other three campaigns.
The Partenopei picked up seven of their nine points in last season’s group stage in Naples. Napoli have, however, won only four of their last nine home games in the UEFA Champions League, group stage to final; they have lost three in that sequence.
Napoli have won only four of their last 12 UEFA Champions League matches (D3 L5) – all those victories coming at the Stadio San Paolo.
Having finished third behind Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool in last season’s group stage, Napoli kicked off their UEFA Europa League campaign with a comfortable 5-1 aggregate win against Zürich before edging out Salzburg 4-3 over two legs in the round of 16. They were then eliminated from a second European competition of the season by an English club, however, losing 2-0 away to Arsenal and 1-0 at home in the quarter-finals.
Napoli have therefore lost their last three matches against Premier League clubs, home and away, and five of the last six. At home, they have been beaten in two of the last three games against English visitors, although their record in Naples overall is W5 D1 L2.
Premier League runners-up in 2018/19, finishing a single point behind Manchester City, Liverpool are in the UEFA Champions League group stage for the 12th time; they have only failed to progress to the last 16 or further three times.
Klopp’s team lost all three away games in last season’s group stage, but were rescued by three wins at Anfield as they edged out Napoli on goal difference. They then beat Bayern München 3-1 away in the second leg of their round of 16 tie, going through by the same aggregate score, before ousting Porto 6-1 over two legs in the quarter-finals (2-0 h, 4-1 a).
The journey looked to be over when the Reds went down 3-0 at Barcelona in the semi-final first leg, but two goals apiece from Georginio Wijnaldum and Divock Origi sealed a rousing second-leg turnaround, before Salah and Origi secured the club’s sixth European Cup with a 2-0 final defeat of Tottenham in Madrid.
Liverpool’s record in last season’s UEFA Champions League was W8 D1 L4 F24 A12. They have won five of their last seven European fixtures (D1 L1) but have lost six of their last ten UEFA competition matches outside England.
Klopp’s side have lost their last two matches in Italy but have been beaten in only three of their last nine away games against Italian clubs, winning three.
Liverpool have already claimed European silverware this term, beating Chelsea 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul.
In: Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Empoli), David Ospina (Arsenal), Kostas Manolas (Roma), Eljif Elmas (Fenerbahçe), Hirving Lozano (PSV), Fernando Llorente (free agent)
Out: Roberto Insigne (Benevento), Amadou Diawara (Roma), Raúl Albiol (Villarreal), Carlos Vinícius (Benfica), Marko Rog (Cagliari, loan), Gennaro Tutino (Hellas Verona, loan), Adam Ounas (Nice, loan), Vlad Chiriche? (Sassuolo, loan), Simone Verdi (Torino, loan)
Napoli’s first home game of the season ended in a 2-0 defeat of Sampdoria on Saturday evening, Dries Mertens scoring both goals – the Belgian’s first double since a 3-1 UEFA Champions League win against Crvena zvezda on 28 November 2018.
Mertens has scored in Napoli’s last six home games in Serie A.
Napoli started the Serie A season with two away games due to ongoing renovation at the Stadio San Paolo. Both matches finished 4-3, a victory at Fiorentina in which Lorenzo Insigne scored twice and defeat at Juventus, Kalidou Koulibaly with an added-time own goal after the Partenopei had managed to recover from 3-0 down in Turin.
All three of Napoli’s goals at Juve were scored by summer signings: Manolas, Lozano and Di Lorenzo.
Elseid Hysaj was on target in Albania’s 4-2 win against Iceland on 10 September.
Insigne missed Italy’s UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying games against Armenia and Finland due to a thigh injury; he returned as a late substitute against Sampdoria.
A thigh injury also kept Arkadiusz Milik out of Poland’s internationals, the striker having suffered the problem ahead of the game at Juventus. He also missed the Sampdoria match.
In: Harvey Elliott (Fulham), Sepp van den Berg (Zwolle), Adrián (West Ham)
Out: Daniel Sturridge (Trabzonspor), Alberto Moreno (Villarreal), Ádám Bogdán (released), Danny Ings (Southampton), Sheyi Ojo (Rangers, loan), Rafael Camacho (Sporting CP), Marko Grujic (Hertha Berlin, loan), Ben Woodburn (Oxford United, loan), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Harry Wilson (Bournemouth, loan), Taiwo Awoniyi (Mainz), Ovie Ejaria (Reading, loan), Bobby Duncan (Fiorentina), Ryan Kent (Rangers) Virgil van Dijk was named UEFA Men’s Player of the Year for 2018/19 in Monaco on 29 August; the Dutchman alsocollected the Defender of the Season award, with Alisson Becker taking the Goalkeeper’s prize.
James Milner’s next appearance in UEFA club competition will be his 100th.
Xherdan Shaqiri has played in 49 matches in UEFA club competition.
The Reds kicked off the season by losing 5-4 on penalties to English champions Manchester City after a 1-1 draw in the FA Community Shield at Wembley on 4 August.
Liverpool did come out on top on spot kicks against Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup on 14 August, prevailing 5-4 after a 2-2 draw in Istanbul.
The Merseyside club are the only team with maximum points after five games of the new Premier League season.
They came from behind to beat Newcastle 3-1 at Anfield on Saturday and are five points clear of Manchester City.
Liverpool have won their last 14 Premier League matches, and are unbeaten in 22 league fixtures (W18 D4), since a 2-1 loss at Manchester City on 3 January.
Liverpool are the first team in the history of the English top flight to win 14 successive matches and score more than once in each win.
The Reds also won their first five league matches in 2018/19, and are only the third team to do so in successive seasons in the Premier League era after Chelsea (2009/10, 2010/11) and Manchester City (2015/16, 2016/17).
Georginio Wijnaldum scored in both the Netherlands’ 4-2 UEFA EURO 2020 win in Germany on 6 September and the 4-0 success in Estonia three days later.
Dejan Lovren’s goal helped Croatia to a 4-0 defeat of Slovakia on 6 September.
Alisson has been out since suffering a calf injury in Liverpool’s 4-1 home win against Norwich on the first day of the Premier League season on 9 August.
Naby Keïta has been sidelined with a groin problem picked up in the Community Shield on 4 August.
Divock Origi was replaced in the 37th minute against Newcastle having suffered an ankle injury.