Former Premier League player and Italy international Gianfranco Zola has warned Liverpool about the quality of opposition they will face in the Champions League at Anfield tonight.
The Reds will hope to exact revenge on Napoli for the 2-0 defeat the Serie A side administered at the start of the group phase, although the 53-year-old thinks that Carlo Ancelotti’s team have the creativity in attack to trouble Liverpool’s defence.
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Speaking to Il Mattino [via Football Italia], Zola has backed the visitors to come out on top tonight, despite winning only one of their last seven league matches, and thinks that the Reds are suspect defensively.
He said: “It’s not a good moment for Napoli right now, but nights like this can spark a rebirth. Losing Lorenzo Insigne is a real blow, but the Azzurri already proved they know how to beat Liverpool. It’s true that the Reds have a very strong attack, but their defence is hardly a blockade.
“With the creativity of their players, Napoli can cause real problems. Anfield is a unique stadium in the world, one that gives its team an extra boost. It’s difficult to explain the atmosphere, both inside and outside the arena. It’ll be important to face them with a calm mentality.”
He concluded: “[Tonight’s] game can be seen as an opportunity for Napoli. My heart says they’ll win 2-1.”
Zola has a fair point when he talks about Liverpool’s defensive troubles this season. The Reds have played 21 matches in all competitions this term and kept only three clean sheets, one of which was against third-tier MK Dons in the Carabao Cup and none in the last two months (as per TransferMarkt).
In four Champions League games, the Reds have been beaten seven times, with Napoli putting two past them in Italy back in September. Jurgen Klopp’s team let in the same number of goals in the entire group phase last season.
Zola is also right to speak of the attacking threat that Napoli can pose when at their strongest, with Ancelotti’s side having 10 shots against the Reds in the reverse fixture at the Stadio San Paolo, although their tally of 22 goals in Serie A is only the seventh highest, which equates to their league position (as per TransferMarkt).
Also, they travel to Anfield without two of their three top scorers in injury victims Arkadiusz Milik and Insigne, although leading marksman Dries Mertens (seven goals this season) is available and he scored against Liverpool in September, as did Fernando Llorente (as per UEFA.com).
While Napoli visit the Champions League holders without two of their main front men and on a poor run of form domestically, they have shown they can trouble Liverpool by beating them twice in the last 14 months.
Also, as Zola has pointed out, the Reds’ defence has looked vulnerable throughout the season, so Klopp would be wise to heed the ex-Chelsea attacker‘s words of warning.
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