Why Liverpool must isolate Marek Hamsik in crunch clash with Napoli

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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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Dele Alli thinks win over Barcelona would be among Tottenham’s best results

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Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli believes victory at Barcelona would be among their best results yet.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs go to the Nou Camp in the Champions League on Tuesday knowing victory would seal a spot in the knockout stages.

They are level on seven points with Inter Milan, who host PSV Eindhoven, in Group B.

Alli scored his 50th Tottenham goal in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Leicester and, after Spurs failed to win their opening three group games, the midfielder feels victory in Spain would be one of the squad’s greatest successes.

He said: “It would definitely be up there. They are one of the best teams in the world, they’ve got some great players and as a kid you dream about playing at the Nou Camp and we’re going to go there and give it our best shot.

“I’ve had a bit of a cold but it’s not too bad.

“A cold won’t keep me out. We’re ready. It’s going to be another difficult game but they’re the games you want to be a part of, playing one of the best teams in the world and some of the world’s greatest players.

“You want to be challenging yourself and we’re going there with the mentality that we can win and we have to believe.

“It’s going to be difficult but we have to go there and give it our best.”

Alli doubled Tottenham’s lead on Saturday after Son Heung-min’s classy first-half opener.

Victory lifted Spurs to third in the Premier League and boss Pochettino insisted they can win in Barcelona.

He said: “We have a chance. Yes, I believe. I think we believe, that’s the most important thing, and then what happens happens, we are going to enjoy the game.

“Of course (I thought we were still in it), then we won against PSV and Inter, two victories, and then the third is possible of course.

“It’s always an exciting place, they’re one of the best teams in Europe and I know it’s amazing, very exciting to play against them.

“But at the same time it’s going to be tough to play there, we’re going to play one of the best teams in Europe and the only way that we can be happy will be to win the game, and that will be tough.”

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Carlo Ancelotti says Napoli will try to ‘boss the game’ against Liverpool

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Napoli are trying to stay alive in the Serie A title race.

Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti insists his side will play on the front foot against Liverpool as they bid to secure a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The Italians sit top of Group C, one point clear of second-place Paris St Germain and need just a point at Anfield to secure their progression.

It is a game Liverpool need to win to be sure of going through. Victory by more than one goal will guarantee the Reds’ progress, while a 1-0 win or a victory by two goals or more will be needed if PSG beat Red Star Belgrade in the other game in the group.

Ancelotti insists that Napoli, who are second in Serie A and thrashed Frosinone 4-0 on Saturday, have no intention of heading to Anfield to play for a draw.

“I have lots of memories of Anfield,” Ancelotti told the Napoli website. “And my last one is a good one because I won the title there with Chelsea.

“It’s going to be a tough, exciting match. We’ll go there and play our usual game. It would be counter productive to try and park the bus. Besides anything else, that’s not how we play.

“We’ll try to boss the game and I’m sure the lads are ready and fired up to give their absolute all.

“We’ll go there with an attacking mindset.”

The 59-year-old Ancelotti, whose AC Milan side lost the 2005 Champions League final against Liverpool in Istanbul before beating the Reds in the final two years later, hopes Napoli will be fresh for the Anfield clash after making changes to his line-up.

“I rotated the squad not just to rest a few legs but also to give playing time to some of the other lads. I need everyone and this is the way forward,” Ancelotti added.

“The lads who came into the team performed well. They all did good things. This game was a potential banana skin and we cleared it well.”

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