“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. We’ve bolstered our squad with the addition of some quality players. I think it will be a great game – hard-fought and intense.”
These are the words of Napoli Coach Carlo Ancelotti at his Press conference ahead of the Champions League match between Napoli and Liverpool this evening. Last season, in Naples, the Serie A side won 1-0; defeating the eventual winners of the tournament in a tight result. The away leg for Ancelotti’s side, at Anfield, was also a 1-0 result but in favour of the English giants, who qualified for the next round along with Paris Saint-Germain.
Ancelotti’s words ring true. Although he admitted that winning the competition had given Liverpool new belief and confidence, Napoli have improved greatly in the last couple of months. They were one of the only big clubs in Italy not to have changes off the pitch, sticking with Carletto after giving him a year to really mould the team in his own image.
Not only this, but the club also reinforced the areas they needed to over the summer. To replace the outgoing Raul Albiol, the Partenopei upgraded with the signature of Roma’s star defender Kostas Manolas. Similarly, they made changes in attack, bringing in highly-rated Mexican forward Hirving Lozano from PSV to add an extra dimension to the attack.
So far this term, Napoli have had a high-scoring run but have also conceded more goals than they perhaps may have liked. With a 4-3 victory over Fiorentina in their Serie A opener, the team then fell to a 4-3 defeat to Juventus. This weekend, they kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win against Sampdoria; meaning Ancelotti’s team are currently fourth, with two wins and one loss from three games.
Liverpool, meanwhile, do not look as though they have particularly strengthened from the previous campaign. The Reds had a quiet summer and signed only Spanish goalkeeper Adrian San Miguel for their first team. The new boy has already come in handy, given the injury suffered by former Roma shot-stopper Alisson. The Brazilian will be missing this evening, so the buck will lie with Adrian to pull out all the stops against Napoli’s quality going forward.
As Ancelotti says, however, Liverpool have grown mentally. They no longer are powered by the belief that they ‘could’do it but instead the faith that they ‘can’ do it. Winning the Champions League has given Jurgen Klopp’s men a mental edge as they are now also gunning for the Premier League trophy, as well as having another shot at European glory.
So while the Neapolitans have bolstered their ranks and Liverpool less so, the Champions League holders have a new-found steel, which will need to be overcome on the night. Whatever happens, no dodgy dressing rooms will get in the way of another spectacle at the San Paolo.