Champions League triumph makes Liverpool formidable, but Napoli also improved says Carlo Ancelotti

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Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti believes Liverpool’s Champions League triumph makes them a more formidable opponent than the team the Azzurri toppled on home soil last season.

Jurgen Klopp’s side begin the defence of their European crown with a trip to the Stadio San Paolo, where Lorenzo Insigne’s last-gasp strike was all that separated the sides in the corresponding group-stage fixture last season.

The Reds prevailed in the reverse encounter at Anfield to secure their passage into the knockout rounds at Napoli’s expense, which Ancelotti thinks impacted his team’s domestic prospects.

Liverpool, meanwhile, went on to scoop the most prestigious trophy in European club competition, but glory does not appear to have blunted their ambition as they have started the Premier League campaign with five straight wins.

With the teams paired together in the Champions League for the second successive season, Ancelotti is aware of the visitors’ threat but claims Napoli have also improved ahead of their Group E meeting on Tuesday night.

Ancelotti said at a press conference: “We’re playing the best team in Europe and they haven’t dropped any points in the Premier League yet.

“The result is very important in matches like this but it’s even more important we have the confidence to match the best teams out there.

Klopp and Ancelotti also faced off in the group stage a year ago.

Klopp and Ancelotti also faced off in the group stage a year ago.

“Last year we were in a really tough group and we very nearly qualified. We’re determined to erase the disappointment of last season, which had a psychological effect on us in Serie A too.

“Normally it’s the European champions who are favourites but we hope it ends the same way as last year’s game at the San Paolo.

“Liverpool have improved because winning the Champions League gives you belief.

“Napoli have improved too and we’ve bolstered our squad with the addition of some quality players. I think it will be a great game – hard fought and intense.”

Liverpool pipped Napoli in qualifying for the last 16 last term by virtue of scoring more goals in the group stage after the teams could not be split on points and a number of other determining factors.

Ancelotti is looking forward, rather than back, and added: “We want to play a starring role, first by reaching the knockout stage and cementing our place as one of Europe’s top clubs.

“We know how good we are and we want to prove it on the international stage.”

Napoli summer signing Fernando Llorente is out for revenge against Liverpool, having been part of the Tottenham side that lost last season’s final in Madrid.

The former Spurs and Swansea striker said: “I’m still bitter about losing in the final against them last year and I really hope I can settle the score this time around as a Napoli player.

“Napoli can make an impact in the Champions League this season. At Tottenham last season, we certainly weren’t touted as one of the favourites, yet we reached the final.”

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Struggling team in transition await Chelsea as they face Valencia in Champions League opener

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Chelsea face Spanish side Valencia in their opening Champions League group match on Tuesday evening.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at what lies in wait for Frank Lampard and his players.

Manager

Former Real Madrid assistant Albert Celades was appointed last week after Marcelino was sacked following a slow start to the season, despite leading the club to fourth place and the Copa Del Rey trophy last season.

Celades, who played for both Barcelona and Real, is embarking on his first senior club managerial role. The club’s players are understood to be unhappy with the change and have since refused to speak to the media in protest.

Star man

Kevin Gameiro already has two goals to his name this season and Chelsea’s relatively inexperienced backline will be tested to the full by the bustling 32-year-old striker.

Pedigree

Valencia have won six La Liga titles, the last of which was in 2004 under Rafael Benitez, and eight Copa del Rey titles including last season. In their pomp they reached two Champions League finals in a row, losing to La Liga rivals Real Madrid in 2000 and Bayern Munich on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 2001.

Recent form

Not too clever. Four points from their opening three games spelled the end for Marcelino, and Celades’ first match in charge was a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Barcelona.

Head-to-head

The teams have met four times in the Champions League group stages, in 2007 and 2011. Chelsea won one and drew one each season. Earlier in 2007 they faced each other in the quarter-finals, with Michael Essien’s injury-time winner in the second leg sending the Blues through 3-2 on aggregate. Lampard played in four of those meetings and scored in a 1-1 draw in the Mestalla.

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Albert Celades a lonely figure as Valencia players refuse to attend Chelsea press conference

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Embattled new Valencia boss Albert Celades cut a lonely figure as he discussed his side’s Champions League clash with Chelsea.

The Spanish side arrived at Stamford Bridge in a certain amount of disarray ahead of Tuesday night’s Group H opener against the Blues.

The players refused to attend the pre-match press conference in the wake of last week’s sacking of popular manager Marcelino, who led them to Copa del Rey success and secured Champions League qualification last season.

A 5-2 defeat in Celades’ first match in charge, against Barcelona at the weekend, presumably did not improve morale.

Celades, 43, duly took press conference duties alone on Monday evening, yet he insisted that no matter what the feelings are inside the camp, the team will be motivated to beat Chelsea.

He said: “Obviously it’s not an ideal situation but it’s the players’ decision, really. I don’t have much more to say about that. There isn’t anything I can do about it.

“I speak to the players every day. They took this decision but there is always dialogue. The reaction I’ve had has been very good and I’m sure it will continue to improve.

‎Marcelino was a popular figure in the Los Che dressing room.

‎Marcelino was a popular figure in the Los Che dressing room.

“The spirit is very good. (Tuesday) is the start of the best club competition in Europe and that is ample motivation for the players to give their best.

“They want to play, taste the atmosphere, and be in the starting XI. No-one wants to miss out and that, for me, is the most important thing.”

Marcelino claimed he was axed because he concentrated on winning the cup last season, rather than the league.

But Celades added: “There may be a lot of speculation or theories but I’m the one who makes decisions here and that’s the way it will be until I leave.

“I don’t know about the conversations the owner had with previous coaches.”

As for the task facing his team, with the Blues fresh from Saturday’s 5-2 win at Wolves, Celades said: “They are a great side with some fantastic individual players.

“It will be a big challenge but a fascinating one too. We’re sure they can cause us a lot of problems.

“We’re going to prepare for the game in the best way possible and try to get a result.”

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