Liverpool kicks off their Champions League campaign with a tricky-looking trip to Napoli, where the Reds have failed to score on each of their previous two visits under Jürgen Klopp.
Arthur Melo starts
This is a tricky one for a variety of reasons. Liverpool does not have to win the game, but it would benefit them down the line if they did. In some areas, there are hard decisions to be made; in others, Klopp has no option.
Alisson Becker will be in goal and Trent Alexander-Arnold coming off after an hour against Everton says to me that the plan is for him to start here. I think Joël Matip comes in, and Joe Gomez needs a rest at some point, so this can be his game off. Virgil van Dijk will also need a rest sooner rather than later, but maybe that can come against Ajax at Anfield next week. Andy Robertson comes back in.
In midfield, I’m going for a technique-heavy trio. Fabinho is a must and then I’m going for Thiago Alcântaraand Arthur Melo. Harvey Elliott can’t play every single match and this feels like a good one to use him from the bench in. Arthur will only play an hour, so Elliott can replace him then.
Up top is where I think we will see a different line-up. Luis Díaz looked tired against Everton and so he can go on the bench. Diogo Jota is back and can play off the left-hand side, interchanging with Darwin Núñez, with Mohamed Salah on the right.
My starting XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Arthur, Thiago; Salah, Núñez, Jota
Predicted scoreline: 2-0 to Liverpool (and yes, I know I said 1-1 on Monday’s podcast, but I’ve woken up feeling optimistic!)
One thing to watch: Darwin Núñez to score.
Darwin Núñez gets another chance
While this match is not a must-win, Liverpool will certainly want to kick off their European campaign with a victory. Getting forced onto the back foot early on shapes the outlook on the entire group stage.
Unfortunately, an away trip to Napoli is probably the toughest fixture of the lot, and Klopp’s side is still in faltering form. What the defense probably needs right now is rhythm, which may see Gomez once again get the nod over Matip, but the biggest test might be for the full-backs. Trent Alexander-Arnold is likely to be the one getting most acquainted with breakout Georgian sensation Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
In midfield, rushing Thiago back in seems too risky, much as the temptation is there for all to see. Klopp has said that Arthur is not yet ready for a full match either, though, so perhaps the obvious move is to give them a half each. Between them, they should bring some of the control that has been lacking, and that will be crucial against a side who have lethal counter-attacking players. For the same reason, Fabinho is vital and must be on top of his game. As for the more attacking third midfield slot, that remains Elliott’s to lose now.
Núñez should thrive in the Champions League’s slightly increased space in behind, and can hopefully really kick-start his time at Liverpool in this competition. He should get started. Even if Klopp wanted to rest him, Salah has very few viable understudies. Díaz has been one of the season’s standouts, and he’ll have to go again in search of a significant opening result.