Napoli, Liverpool clash …in crunch Champions League tie tonight

liverpool will be hoping that their recent domestic misfortune does not carry over onto the European stage when Napoli play host to the Reds in their opening Champions’ League Group A match tonight.

The two sides renew hostilities at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona prior to also meeting Ajax and Rangers in Group A, and the Partenopei have enjoyed a far better opening to their league season.

• Mohamed Salah, Liverpool forward

Whispers of a Serie A title charge are still prevalent around Naples, as Luciano Spalletti’s side returned to winning ways in ideal fashion against Lazio after dropping four points against Fiorentina and Lecce at the end of August.

The effervescent Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scored his fourth Serie A goal of the season to steal all three points for Napoli, who initially went behind to Mattia Zaccagni’s fourth-minute opener before Kim Min-jae restored parity with a header before half time.

Georgia’s golden boy Kvaratskhelia sure has taken to the Serie A landscape with aplomb, and the expectation on the 21-year-old’s shoulders for the Champions League could hardly be greater as Napoli endeavour to continue their unbeaten start to the season.

A tally of 11 points from their opening 15 on offer sees Napoli sit at the summit in Serie A – ahead of Scudetto holders AC Milan on goal difference – and the Partenopei are now gearing up for their first appearance in the Champions’ League group stage since 2019-20.

Napoli have endured the pain of two consecutive Europa League last-32 exits in the last two seasons – falling to Spanish pair Granada and Barcelona – but an eight-game unbeaten run at home in the Champions League since November 2017 stands Spalletti’s side in good stead.

Jurgen Klopp could only stand and watch as Everton number one Jordan Pickford thwarted his side time and time again in the Merseyside derby, and the Reds boss had his own shot-stopper to thank for keeping the game goalless at Goodison Park.

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.

Of course, injuries have not helped the six-time European champions – particularly in the engine room – but picking up just two wins from a possible six leaves them seventh in the table and six points behind current leaders Arsenal at this early stage.

Having failed to win any of their three away games in the top flight so far, a trip to Naples may not fill the Anfield faithful with confidence at a first glance, but Klopp’s side remarkably won all six of their Champions League games on the road last term prior to a 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the final.

That showpiece event will be best remembered for the disgraceful scenes outside the Stade de France both prior and after kickoff, but on the pitch, the wily veteran Carlo Ancelotti and his Blancos side demonstrated their continental nous in a mirror image of the 2018 final.

Napoli and Liverpool are familiar foes having locked horns in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 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. – SportsMole

Today’s Champions

League fixtures

Ajax v Rangers

Frankurt v Sporting

Inter Milan v Bayern

Barca v Viktoria Plzen

Napoli v Liverpool

Atletico Madrid v Porto

Tottenham v Marseille

Club Brugge v Leverkusen

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