John Aldridge: 'Liverpool have a huge mental advantage against most teams but things will be different against Napoli'
NAPOLI will not show any fear when they take on Liverpool tonight – and that will add a fresh dynamic in what will be a tough away game for Jurgen Klopp’s European champions.
A lot of teams have been quaking in the boots before the whistle sounds when taking on the Reds recently and that gives Klopp and his players a huge mental advantage, but that won’t be in the mix this evening.
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Last season’s two clashes against Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the Champions League group stages confirmed that Napoli will have a go at Liverpool, with their 1-0 win against the Reds in Naples backed up by another battling performance in the return match at Anfield.
On a night when Liverpool needed to win to make it through to the knock-out stages, Arkadiusz Milik was denied by a wonderful save from Alisson Becker that could have changed the course of football history.
Had Milik scored from point-blank range, Liverpool would have been out of the Champions League before Christmas and none of the celebrations for the sixth European title would have taken place last June.
Those two matches will fill Napoli’s players with hope that they can halt Liverpool’s perfect start to the season, with their thumping 3-0 win in a pre-season friendly against Klopp’s side a few weeks ago another confidence boost for them.
You might say a warm-up game with players who are not at full fitness levels might not have any relevance tonight, but they may draw strength from it against a Liverpool side that has started the season better than I imagined it would.
Many pundits were predicting Liverpool may have a few slip-ups in the opening few weeks of the campaign after what we saw in their pre-season games.
Whether it was a brief Champions League hangover or a Liverpool side adapting to a higher defensive line, they looked well off the pace heading into the start of the season amid doubts over the fitness of their star names.
Yet five straight Premier League wins and a penalty shoot-out victory in the UEFA Super Cup match against Chelsea has steadied the Liverpool ship and I suspect they will be the team the rest of Europe will want to avoid this season.
When you see the front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino firing on all cylinders as they did against Newcastle on Saturday, it reminds you of the ability they have to unsettle any defence.
Those three are deadly when they click into gear as the speed they operate at is too much for most rivals to deal with, so I would fancy their chances of going very close to winning another Champions League title this season.
The away game against Napoli will be the toughest in a Group E line-up that also includes Belgian side Genk and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg and I’d expect Liverpool to finish top of the table with plenty to spare.
Klopp’s men lost all three matches away from home in the group stages last season, but they were up against better quality sides and the confidence they now have from being champions of Europe should give them a different perspective this time.
Klopp’s team selection for the Newcastle game suggested he had one eye on this trip to Naples. Jordan Henderson and James Milner were left on the bench last Saturday and I would expect them to return in a reinforced midfield that should also include Fabinho.
The unfortunate injury to Divock Origi means Klopp doesn’t have a choice to make in his forward line and the only concern would be that a Napoli side, who picked up a 2-0 win against Sampdoria on Saturday, can get in behind the Liverpool defence.
Ancelotti’s side has scored plenty of goals this season, but they have also been letting plenty in and I would be quite content to see Liverpool coming back from Italy with a draw.
Secure a point from this game and then get wins in the home game against Salzburg and the two matches against Genk that follow and Liverpool will be close to booking their place in the last-16 before they play Napoli again.
If Liverpool keep their front three fit and with Istanbul staging the final again this season, there may be another party in a city that has holds such good memories for the club.