4:05pm ET, live in the US on GolTV
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Bolton (a); 2-1 Blackburn (h); 0-0 Napoli (a)
Napoli: 1-0 Brescia (a); 1-2 Milan (h); 0-0 Liverpool (h)
Group Stage so far:
Liverpool: 0-0 Napoli (a); 0-0 Utrecht (a); 4-1 Steaua (h)
Napoli: 0-0 Liverpool (h); 3-3 Steaua (a); 0-0 Utrecht (h)
Liverpool: Ngog 5; Babel, Cole, Gerrard, Kuyt, Lucas 1
Napoli: Cavani 3; Vitale 2; Denis, Hamsik, Lavezzi, Maggio 1
Referee: Fredy Fautrel (FRA)
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Konchesky
Maxi Shelvey Jovanovic
Hodgson may have promised us a 'strong' team, but I still expect it to be closer to the side that drew at Napoli than the one which beat Blackburn and Bolton. There is the small matter of Chelsea on Sunday.
Cole, Kuyt, and Agger are still injured, while Babel's struggling with a rib bruise incurred during a reserve game, but Johnson could – and ideally should, if possible – return from his layoff. Maybe we'll see Carragher at right back again, given that Kyrgiakos and Skrtel have been an impressive partnership in the last two matches, but I'm skeptical of the vice-captain's ability to recover in time for Sunday after playing at right back, especially in a home match where he's be expected to support the attack. I'd almost rather Carragher be rested, with either Kelly or Johnson on the right and Kyrgiakos-Skrtel at center-back, but I'm not sure his new contract allows for that.
The front six is harder to forecast. Torres, despite still needing to find form, looks most likely to be rested given his history with injuries and recent performances. Three games in a week is a lot to ask even if he's not carrying any knocks at the moment. At the same time, Gerrard, Lucas, and Meireles have played a lot of games – Lucas less so, but still the majority of late – which is why I'm guessing the Spearing-Poulsen-Shelvey axis again. There are fewer options on the flanks because of injuries to Babel, Cole, and Kuyt, which seemingly ensure Maxi and Jovanovic will start – possibly as inverted wingers as in the last leg – but it's worth noting that Pacheco didn't play in yesterday's reserve match, even if he's been frozen out seen since the Northampton fiasco.
Napoli are now sixth in Serie A, having lost to Milan and beaten Brescia since these two sides last met. No new injuries or suspensions mean they're likely to deploy the same XI. Napoli's 3-4-1-2/3-4-3 was ineffective in Italy against a side determined to defend; neither team registered many shots on goal, and the few taken rarely tested either keeper. The home side's three center-backs easily marshaled a lone Ngog, but meant that not enough players joined in attack when Napoli had the bulk of possession, and Liverpool arguably created the better opportunities playing counter-attacking football.
But in a home match, even if the XI is mostly similar, Liverpool will expect to see more of the ball and attack much more than they did in Italy. A win tomorrow would put Liverpool on eight points, which would almost ensure qualification with two games to spare. However, playing on the front foot, especially if the fullbacks get forward, will leave space for Napoli's wing-backs – the familiar Andrea Dossena and either Maggio or Zuniga – to lead the counter-attack, and with attackers like Lavezzi, Hamsik, and Cavani, Napoli have players who can conjure the clichéd something from nothing. Which is another reason why I expect two out-and-out holding midfielders – Spearing and Poulsen – to start.
As usual, we're looking for improvement from Liverpool – a continuation of what we've seen in the last two or three matches. But also as usual, Liverpool will have to be steady, resolute, and – most importantly – aware at the back to keep this momentum going.