December has been a joy for Liverpool fans so far, with three wins in the space of seven days seeing the Reds surge to the top of the Premier League as the season approaches the midway mark. However, their domestic delights are in contrast with their erratic European form and Kopites’ pre-Christmas cheer could dissipate quickly if they are eliminated from the Champions League tonight, and that is a very distinct possibility.
First and foremost, Liverpool must beat Napoli. After that, the final score will determine the Reds’ fate in the competition. A 1-0 win, or any win by two or more goals, guarantees Jurgen Klopp’s side a place in the knockout rounds. A one-goal victory without a clean sheet would see Napoli finish ahead of the Merseysiders and most likely knock them out of the tournament. We analyse the key statistics for both teams in previewing tonight’s crunch showdown.
Last 6 games in all competitions
Liverpool: W5, D0, L1, F14, A3
Napoli: W4, D2, L0, F12, A4
Liverpool go into tonight’s clash off the back of five consecutive Premier League victories, but defeats in their last two Champions League games leave them on the brink of elimination. Indeed, of the four losses suffered by the Reds this season, three have come in European action. Domestically, though, they have barely put a foot wrong. Two of the three goals conceded in their last six outings were against Paris Saint-Germain, the Reds’ slow start in the French capital costing them. Only Burnley’s Jack Cork has scored against Alisson in the last month of Premier League action.
Napoli are unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions dating back to a 3-1 loss at runaway Serie A leaders Juventus at the end of September. They have drawn three of their Champions League group games, including both away matches thus far, and the same outcome tonight would take them through. They have won four of their last five in Serie A, following Liverpool’s lead by winning 4-0 at the weekend against second from bottom Frosinone. Also, just like the Reds, they’re on a three-match winning streak in away league fixtures.
European head-to-head record
1 Liverpool win, 1 draw, 1 Napoli win, 3 Liverpool goals, 2 Napoli goals
This is the fourth meeting of the teams in European competition. The first of those came in October 2010 in the Europa League group stage, when the Stadio San Paolo witnessed a drab goalless draw in which the likes of Paul Konchesky, Jay Spearing, Milan Jovanovic, David Ngog and Christian Poulsen started for Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool.
Two weeks later in the return fixture at Anfield, the Reds came from behind to win 3-1 and take command of a group that also featured Steaua Bucharest and Utrecht. Ezequiel Lavezzi put the visitors ahead on 28 minutes and they held the lead until the final quarter-hour when Steven Gerrard, sprung from the bench at half-time, netted a late hat-trick that included two goals in the final two minutes of normal time.
Last time out
This is the teams’ third meeting in just over four months, including a pre-season friendly in Dublin which Liverpool won 5-0. The trip to Naples in the Champions League in October promised to be much tougher for the Reds and so it proved, with Klopp’s men turning in a very subdued and error-strewn performance.
Napoli were much the better team on the night, although it looked like they would be frustrated until, in the 90th minute, one final attack led to Lorenzo Insigne finding the net from inside the penalty area to give the home side a deserved victory. That was the first of Liverpool’s three defeats so far in the group stage.
Mohamed Salah’s hat-trick at Bournemouth on Saturday made him the Premier League’s joint top scorer with 10 goals and he is also Liverpool’s joint top marksman in this season’s Champions League, his two-goal tally matched by Roberto Firmino and James Milner. The Reds’ other two goals have come from Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge.
Six of Napoli’s seven Champions League goals have been scored by Insigne or Dries Mertens, both of whom have netted thrice in the group stage. Their only other scorer has been Marek Hamsik.
Doing the maths
Liverpool will definitely qualify with a 1-0 win or a victory by two or more goals, while Napoli will qualify if they avoid defeat or lose by one goal but score. In the likely event of PSG winning against Red Star Belgrade, who cannot qualify for the last 16, the French side will go through and the match at Anfield becomes a straight fight for the other place in the knockout stage.
Regardless of what happens in Belgrade, Liverpool will be eliminated if they fail to win tonight. If Red Star were to defeat PSG and Liverpool lose, the Reds would finish bottom of the group. A draw for Liverpool and a home win in Belgrade would see Liverpool finish third courtesy of their superior head-to-head record with the Serbian club.
If Red Star were to defeat PSG, Napoli would qualify regardless of what happens at Anfield and Liverpool would qualify with a win by any scoreline. If the Reds win 1-0 or by more than one goal in this scenario, they would qualify as group winners.
If the match in Belgrade is drawn and Liverpool beat Napoli, the Reds will be tied on nine points with Napoli and PSG. Effectively, those three teams would go into a mini-league that disregards results against Red Star, which would mean Liverpool top the group, as they would have six points from their games in this ‘mini-league’ and the other teams would have five.
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