John Aldridge: 'All of Liverpool's good work this season could be undone in just 90 minutes at Anfield'
LIVERPOOL have created a wonderful wave of momentum so far this season – but they need to ensure it does not grind to a shuddering halt in tonight’s crunch Champions League clash against Napoli at Anfield.
Last Saturday’s 4-0 win at Bournemouth continued Liverpool’s best ever start to a domestic campaign and after Manchester City slipped to their first Premier League defeat of the season at Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp and his players were given real hope that the reigning champions are not invincible after all.
To have only conceded six goals in the league after 16 games is a record to be proud of and to be 16 points ahead of Manchester United going into next Sunday’s game against Jose Mourinho’s side at Anfield is a remarkable statistic.
Yet, despite the optimism Liverpool have fuelled in the last few months, Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli could put a huge dent into Klopp’s plans for the second half of the season if they get the result they need in a final Champions League group game that will end with elimination for one of the sides doing battle.
A draw will be enough to send Napoli through and they can even afford to lose 2-1, 3-2 or 4-3 so long as the deficit is just one and they score themselves.
Meanwhile, Liverpool know a 1-0 win will book their last-16 spot, but all these permutations need to be put on the back burner as Klopp’s side need to focus on getting a victory that will dig them out of the hole they have put themselves in.
Three poor away-day performances from Liverpool in Group C have resulted in defeats against Napoli, Red Star Belgrade and Paris Saint-Germain, with the end result being this last-match decider that will be loaded with tension.
I love Champions League nights like this at Anfield. The noise is always incredible and I have seen some of the biggest teams and highest profile players in the world wilt in that cauldron down the years.
As a kid, I watched Liverpool come from behind to beat St Etienne en-route to winning the European Cup in 1977 and there was a memorable win in 2004 as Steven Gerrard scored a late clincher against Olympiacos that paved the way for another win in the competition.
These Anfield occasions are part of the club’s folklore and Klopp’s side have a chance to add to that list this evening, with the need to keep a clean sheet vital to their hopes.
Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were impressive in the win at Bournemouth on Saturday and with a fresh Sadio Mane ready to come back into the team, I’m certain Liverpool will score against a Napoli side that have a decent goal threat of their own.
Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have been scoring goals for fun for Napoli this season and the nerves will really kick in if they score first in this game, but Klopp’s side have to be confident of making it through with another home win and then they will be a real threat in the knock-out stages.
I would expect PSG to win at Red Star Belgrade and that will mean Liverpool could only finish second in Group C, but that would not worry me.
They can’t get Manchester City until the quarter-finals at the earliest and, after hammering them 5-1 at the same stage of last season’s Champions League, I reckon Pep Guardiola’s side will not relish a European re-match with Liverpool.
Barcelona and Real Madrid could also be on the agenda if the Spanish giants win their respective groups and Bayern Munich could also be an option.
But I’m pretty sure none of those sides would fancy a match against this Liverpool team if they are among the second seeds when the draw that will take place on December 17.
That debate is for another day as all of Liverpool’s good work over the last few months will be undone if they are dumped into the Europa League and Klopp has to do all he can to guard against that nightmare scenario.
You have to hand it to Tottenham and their manager Mauricio Pochettino
Spurs have the sixth biggest wage bill in the Premier League and spend very little money in the transfer market compared to their rivals, yet they are sitting third in the table again despite a season of confusion as they wait to move to their new stadium.
Their 2-0 win at Leicester on Saturday was impressive when you consider Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen did not start. Now they face the ultimate test, needing to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp tonight to stay alive in the Champions League.
It might look like mission impossible against Lionel Messi and his team of champions, but Spurs continue to defy the odds and if they win in Spain this evening, it will be their best result yet under Pochettino.