Champions League Group C
Mathematically, three teams in group C still has the possibility of advancement. This makes it the only group so situated, which is crazy at this point. Furthermore, all four teams are still in contention for a possible place in the Europa League. Liverpool’s consecutive defeats to PSG and our our (two time) Small Club of the Week, Red Star Belgrade have taken them to the wrong side of the line. This match is between the 1st-place Napoli and 3rd-place Liverpool.
Napoli enter this match as the 1st-place team in Group C and have a very high likelihood of making it through. They would have to lose to Liverpool by 2 goals for Liverpool to even draw even with them in the table. Considering Napoli are conceding less than a goal per game that seems somewhat unlikely. According to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis, they have a 68% chance of advancing to the knockout stage.
Napoli has further consolidated second place in the Serie A table since I last wrote about them in the Napoli v. Red Star preview. They’ve continued their fantastic form and expanded their lead over rival Inter to 6 points, while simultaneously inching towards Juventus (though they still have an 8 point gap). Since they last made one of our previews, they’ve won 6 more points of a possible 6 points (and obviously, beat Red Star). They come into this match in brilliant form, though their away form (for goal scoring, at least) is somewhat tempered. They are averaging 1.86 goals scored per match and 1.43 goals conceded in away matches in Serie A.
Napoli will need to exploit Liverpool’s (relative) weakness at the ends of either half, where they have conceded both goals allowed at home. They will also need to guard against letting their foot off the gas after the 60′ minute where they have conceded both of their away goals. The don’t need to play to win this game, they just need to be careful that they don’t concede the boatload of goals that Liverpool need.
When Liverpool was setting up to play in Matchday 5, we talked about their likelihood of advancement in terms of their game against PSG. Obviously, if you read the header (or follow what is presumably your team [or their opponent]) you’ve figured out that they failed to win at Princes Park against PSG. When PSG last palyed Red Star Belgrade, it was a 6-1 demolition at Princes Park. Liverpool are mathematically eliminated with a draw. I have to believe that Liverpool is going to go all out for this one.
Livepool has been playing fantastic in the Premier League. They have a one point advantage over Manchester City who fell to Chelsea in last weekend’s league play. Liverpool were heavy spenders (as detailed in our Liverpool Transfer Review) in the offseason with a goal of bringing some trophies to Anfield. This would not be an ideal way to start that campaign. At home in the domestic league, Liverpool have played 7 matches, scored 15 goals, and conceded just one. With that said, they are averaging 2.14 goals scored per match and 0.14 goals allowed per home match. Anfield has been a veritable fortress for the Reds and they will hope that holds true today.
While Liverpool’s Champions League form has been good enough to keep them alive in the final matchday of group play, It’s only been good enough to keep them in it, if they win today. It’s been a far cry from the absolute domination they’ve had over most of the Premier League teams so far this season. Perhaps the one saving grace is that they have been much, much better at Anfield than they have been away. At Anfield in Champions League play, they are averaging 3.5 goals scored per outing and merely 1 goal conceded per game. This is in blatant contrast to their abysmal away form, which has seen them score 0.33 goals per game, and concede 1.66 goals per game.
What to expect
This is a must-win game for Liverpool. They need to stop playing poor soccer and bring themselves up to their Premier League standard unless they are okay dropping out of the Champions League race and going to play with the rest of the Premier League sides. My guess is that neither Jurgen Klopp, nor Liverpool, nor their fans are okay dropping down to the Europa League. Substantial sums were spent to bring Liverpool to the top, not to be the “best of what’s left”. I expect a star studded line-up throwing everything they possibly can at Napoli.
Napoli on the other hand will want to do as much damage mitigation as possible. I’m not sure that absorbing Liverpool’s pressure is a recipe for success — especially if they can bring some Premier League form into the match. They will need to play their game and probably try to lock down some long spells of possession. As I noted above, Napoli needs to not lose — while perhaps boring soccer, they could play solely a possession game and not attack. Although, I doubt that will happen — both of these sides want to hit the back of the net.