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Friday 13 December 2019

Vital for Reds to wrap up group with a win tonight

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane (right) and Fabinho celebrate victory over Crystal Palace last Saturday. Photo: Hannah McKay
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane (right) and Fabinho celebrate victory over Crystal Palace last Saturday. Photo: Hannah McKay

Liverpool will have a sniff of revenge in their nostrils w ith Napoli on the guest list at Anfield tonight and there is more on the line than just the three points that will secure qualification for the knock-out stages in the Champions League.

With the FIFA World Club Cup in Qatar on Liverpool's horizon next month, they need to get Champions League qualification done with a game to spare. Victory tonight will ensure they top Group E, allowing them to focus on other priorities.

Liverpool have four Premier League games before their trip to Qatar, with manager Jurgen Klopp needing to shuffle his pack as he prepares to cram in 10 matches between next Saturday and the end of 2020.

He will field a young team for the League Cup quarter-final at Aston Villa, as most of the first-team squad will be in Qatar that week. He will also be hoping the final Champions League group game against Salzburg on December 10 is a game for him to field a second-string team.

Strong

The back-up players in the Liverpool squad should form the basis of a strong team, with goalkeeper Adrian needing some game time, defender Joel Matip on his way back from injury, midfielders Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita eager to play and Divock Origi also needing minutes on the pitch.

They will all have a role to play in a manic December and as we saw with theLeague Cup teams Klopp has selected, Liverpool also have a fantastic crop of young players to call on, including Irish 'keeper Caoimhín Kelleher. So there is scope there for all these game to be squeezed into a crazy schedule.

Injuries are the big concern when you play this many matches in quick succession and Klopp needs to find a way to try to keep the momentum going in a team that has not played well all season.

Liverpool were much more convincing last season, as they blew teams away with brilliant attacking football and looked rock solid at the back.

The opposite is true this season. The recent away wins at Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace were far from convincing and you would have to say they had some luck to emerge from all three games with victories.

But they must be doing something right as the league table confirms they are in a great place.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have been a long way off their best this season and the defensive problems refuse to go away, with Liverpool failing to keep a clean sheet in their last 10 matches in all competitions.

What they have done is given themselves an incredible platform to build on and if Liverpool hit peak form in the second half of the season, they will take some stopping.

First of all, they need to sort out a Napoli side that has won three of their last four meetings against Liverpool and I'm including the pre-season game in Glasgow in that list, purely because it was a thumping win for Carlo Ancelotti's side.

It's easy to forget that there were huge doubts hovering over Klopp and his players after their 3-0 hammering against Napoli last summer, but all of those questions have been answered by Liverpool in the months since.

A slightly different test awaits this time because even though Napoli have had a few problems in Italy this season, their record against Liverpool will fill them with belief as they return to Anfield.

They played well on their trip to Merseyside last season and without a wonder save from Alisson, Liverpool could have been knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage, halting all the heroics that were to follow.

I would like to see a hungry and angry Liverpool side take to the field tonight because this Napoli team have a better record against them than anyone else and they need to put that right in front of what is always a raucous Anfield crowd.

You have to back Liverpool to get the win they need tonight, but this is a game that could easily go the other way if the front three are not at their brilliant best.

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