Liverpool go into Wednesday’s Champions League tie against Napoli top of their group, having lost just once this season in the Carabao Cup, in contrast to their opponents, whose loss to on Saturday to Juventus was their second of their Serie A campaign.
The Partenopei, too, could only manage a draw against Red Star Belgrade on matchday one in Europe.
Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti knows his side need a win against Jurgen Klopp’s men, given that they have a double-header against Paris Saint-Germain to follow in the group. For Liverpool, Wednesday’s game is a chance to cement their hold on Group C, where they sit top of the table.
Here’s a look at the key tactical talking points that will determine the game.
LIVERPOOL’S PROBLEM OF PLENTY IN MIDFIELD
Jordan Henderson’s lengthy World Cup meant that he missed Liverpool’s first four games, but since then he’s started two straight league games as well as the Reds’ Champions League win over PSG. It seems clear that he’s jumped back ahead of summer signing Naby Keita to be first-choice in Klopp’s midfield.
Liverpool have a problem of plenty in that part of the pitch, as Keita is joined by fellow summer recruit Fabinho in missing out from the regular starting XI. Henderson and James Milner seem entrenched, but Georginio Wijnaldum’s spot may be vulnerable after a couple of below-par performances. Could either Keita or Fabinho get the nod on Wednesday?
RIGHT-BACK A CONCERN FOR NAPOLI AFTER HYSAJ’S RONALDO TERROR
Liverpool’s attack is always a fearsome prospect but Napoli have a particular cause for concern. Right-back Elseid Hysaj was given a torrid afternoon by Cristiano Ronaldo on Saturday – not that there’s any shame in that – and given the way Sadio Mane’s started the season, there’s a clear weakness on the pitch to exploit.
Whether he’s recovered from his weekend dressing-down will be fascinating to watch – unless he’s removed from the firing line completely. Any player can have one bad game, but the Partenopei can ill-afford a repeat on Wednesday, and they do have summer signing Kevin Malcuit waiting in the wings.
MILIK AND LONG-BALL MAY BE NAPOLI’S TRUMP CARD
Dries Mertens started against Juventus on Saturday, and scored, but Arkadiusz Milik has actually made more starts than the Belgian who was Napoli’s top scorer last season. Given that the long ball is one tried and tested way of dealing with Liverpool’s press, Milik might just get the nod on Wednesday.
The bolder call from Ancelotti would be to drop captain Marek Hamsik. Club legend though he may be, he’s been far off top form this season. Benching the Slovakian would allow Mertens and Milik to play together, with the duo having the potential to form a lethal partnership.
CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev does not think Real Madrid will be any weaker without their injured stars.
The two sides meet in the Champions League in Moscow on Tuesday night.
“Madrid are a great club and they have enough players for two squads,” he said.
“They have players capable of replacing those who stayed in Madrid. I don’t think that’ll make it any easier for CSKA.”
CSKA boss Viktor Goncharenko paid tribute to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, 32, who announced his retirement from international football on Monday after making 114 appearances for Russia.
“Speaking as a fan it’s a shame, but speaking as a coach he’ll be able to focus 100 per cent on CSKA,” Goncharenko told a press conference.
“I hope we can give him some more easy games. He’s in good shape and is at the right age to continue playing at the top.”
Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui has warned Champions League opponents CSKA Moscow his players are determined to return to winning ways.
Real followed up last week’s shock 3-0 La Liga defeat at Sevilla with a goalless draw against derby rivals Atletico on Saturday.
But Lopetegui insists Russian champions CSKA would be wrong to think his side are vulnerable when the two teams meet at the Luzhniki Stadium on Tuesday.
“If they’re thinking that this is the best time to play us, we’ll have to see about that,” the Real head coach told a press conference.
“The players’ mindset is excellent and we’re really raring to go and excited for the game to get under way.
“We face a strong side on their own patch and there’s no bigger motivation than that. When the Champions League hymn sounds, there’s no better motivator.”
Real, behind La Liga leaders Barcelona on goal difference, cruised to a 3-0 victory over Roma in their opening Group G game at the Bernabeu last month.
CSKA came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in their opening match in the Czech Republic against Viktoria Plzen thanks to Nikola Vlasic’s last-minute penalty and Lopetegui is expecting a stern challenge.
“We’re up against some fine players and it’ll be an extremely challenging game because this is the Champions League,” he added.
“It’ll be a really tough game against a side of real pedigree. They’ve got some top players, the likes of (Alan) Dzagoev, and they’re sure to put in a big performance.”
Lopetegui confirmed skipper Sergio Ramos would be rested, while Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco are all nursing injuries and unavailable.
But Lopetegui was coy about whether summer signings Alvaro Odriozola and Vinicius Junior, who made his debut as a late substitute at the weekend, will feature.