What do Liverpool need to do against Napoli to finish first in their Champions League group?
Jürgen Klopp’s team are second in Group A and could still knock Napoli off top spot although doing so would require a minor miracle.
Eight teams will go into next Monday’s Champions League Round of 16 draw as the top seeds in Pot 1. Going into Matchday 6, with 11 clubs already safely through to the next round, only one team is currently guaranteed to finish as champions of their group. Bayern Munich are five points clear at the top of Group C and cannot be overtaken.
The German champions will be involved in one of just two fixtures between teams in the top two positions of their group as the stage reaches its conclusion. The other is tonight’s clash between Liverpool and Napoli. The Italians have had a brilliant group stage and have deservedly topped their section from Matchday 1 but mathematically, they are still not quite home and dry. With five wins from five, Napoli top Group A on 15 points - three points clear of second-placed Liverpool, who entertain them at Anfield this evening.
The only way Liverpool can nudge Napoli off top spot is by winning the final group game - and by enough margin to give them a superior goal difference. Considering the form of both teams since the tournament began as well as in their respective leagues, that is going to be quite a tall order for the Reds - even though they will be at home, playing at a stadium that has witnessed some of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of European competition. To pull off the feat, Klopp will need to call on all of the mystical qualities that Anfield possesses, and seems to embolden the team with - especially on big European nights.
As things stand, Napoli go into the game with a three-point advantage which means Liverpool need to win just to pull level with them on points. Luciano Spalletti’s side however, also have a superior goal difference - they have scored 20 and conceded four, which leaves them +16. Liverpool have scored less (15) and conceded more (6); their goal difference is +9 which means they not only need to beat Napoli to claim top spot, they need to beat them convincingly.
What result would suit Liverpool?
To finish as champions of Group A, Liverpool must beat Napoli by four clear goals. Any of the following results would be enough: 4-0, 5-1 or 6-2 - scorelines which we have occasionally seen in the Champions League; a 7-3 or 8-4 win would also serve the Reds although realistically, that’s a bit far fetched.
Looking at the figures in black and white, Spalletti’s team have been averaging 3+ goals per game in this competition and 2+ goals in Serie A, where they are also unbeaten, top the table and shipping an average of less than one goal per game. Only twice have they conceded four goals or more in a game this year - against Fiorentina, after extra-time in the Coppa Italia (2-5), and against Barcelona in the Europa League (2-4).
Curiously, the last team to score four or more goals past Napoli without reply was Liverpool, who beat them 5-0 back in August 2018 - in a pre-season friendly... You need to go even further back to find a similar result in official competition - in Europe, only three clubs have managed to beat the Italians by a margin of four goals or more - Hibs and Ajax, both in the Fairs Cup in the late 60s, and Werder Bremen in the 1989/90 UEFA Cup. That gives an indication as to the enormity of the task facing Liverpool tonight.
Liverpool versus Napoli: head-to-head
21 October 2010 Napoli 0-0 Liverpool (Europa League)
4 November 2010 Liverpool 3-1 Napoli (Europa League)
3 October 2018 Napoli 1-0 Liverpool (Champions League)
11 December 2018 Liverpool 1-0 Napoli (Champions League)
17 September 2019 Napoli 2-0 Liverpool (Champions League)
27 November 2019 Liverpool 1-1 Napoli (Champions League)
7 September 2022 Napoli 4-1 Liverpool (Champions League)