Why Liverpool must isolate Marek Hamsik in crunch clash with Napoli

Sooraj Kamath - Writer 12:14 10/12/2018
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Jurgen Klopp.

The sheer importance of the tie and that fact that it will be played at Anfield – one of the most electrifying venues for European football – renders Liverpool’s Champions League fixture against Napoli their most important game of the season so far. 

Assuming that Paris Saint-Germain make short work of Red Star Belgrade, Liverpool will have to defeat Napoli 1-0 or by a two-goal margin to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League. 

We take a look at the tactics that Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti may be looking to employ in this all-important fixture. 

LIVERPOOL TACTICS: EXPLOIT THE SPACE LEFT BY MARIO RUI 

Mario Rui of SSC Napoli vies Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool

Napoli have abandoned the 4-3-3 formation that they had mastered under Maurizio Sarri and adopted a 4-4-2 under Ancelotti, which often loses symmetry with Mario Rui – whose place is under threat from fit-again Faouzi Ghoulam – pushing up high on the left and Piotr Zielinski moving into the half-space. 

Centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly is often tempted to advance forward with the ball and hence leave massive amounts of space behind him. This move, when coupled with Napoli’s asymmetric set-up, can make Napoli vulnerable to quick transitions and counter attacks from Liverpool. 

Mohamed Salah – who is riding on his confidence after a hat-trick against Bournemouth – will look to exploit the space by setting up Roberto Firmino or take a pop at goal himself. Despite Ancelotti suggesting that the hosts will be playing for a win, the backline must be cautious and avoid getting caught out. 

LIVERPOOL TACTICS: ISOLATE HAMSIK 

Marek Hamsik of SSC Napoli vies Georginio Wijnaldum of Liverpool during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool

Marek Hamsik of SSC Napoli vies Georginio Wijnaldum of Liverpool during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool

With Jorginho following Sarri to Chelsea, Marek Hamsik assumed the linchpin role in midfield for Napoli. The Slovakia international drops between Napoli’s midfield and defence lines to facilitate the build-up from the back and enhance passing options. This also allows Allan to play higher on the pitch and involve himself in attack. 

Liverpool’s likely midfield of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum will be looking to isolate Hamsik and hence prevent Napoli’s transitions by cutting it at source. Liverpool’s high-press approach also allows for such a strategy to materialise into results. 

NAPOLI TACTICS: UNSETTLE JOEL MATIP 

Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli (24) scores his team's first goal past Alisson of Liverpool during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool

Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli (24) scores his team’s first goal past Alisson of Liverpool during the Group C match of the UEFA Champions League between SSC Napoli and Liverpool

With Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren sidelined due to injury, Joel Matip is tipped to start alongside Virgil van Dijk in central midfield for Liverpool. Although the German enjoyed a promising display against Bournemouth after some initial shaky moments, he is clearly the weakest link in Liverpool’s defence and the visitors will be looking to target the 27-year-old. 

Lorenzo Insigne – the scorer of the late winner when the two sides met in Naples – will aim to unsettle Matip and capitalise on the slightest of errors. 

Should Arkadiusz Milik play a part in the fixture, he will be looking to operate as a number 10 and draw Matip towards him before setting Jose Callejon or Insigne on goal.

Should Dries Mertens start in place of Milik – who started the game in Napoli – the Belgian can function on both the wing and in the centre. With Callejon stretching wide, the Belgian would be confident of making the most of the freedom in front of goal.

Either way, the versatility and fluidity of Napoli’s forwards will be crucial. 

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