Liverpool must tame "Georgian Lionel Messi" to avoid unwanted hat-tricks in the Champions League | soccer4u
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Liverpool must tame “Georgian Lionel Messi” to avoid unwanted hat-tricks in the Champions League



Liverpool must tame "Georgian Lionel Messi" to avoid unwanted hat-tricks in the Champions League

For Liverpool, the Champions League group draw no longer looks like one of the most important days of the season. Jurgen Klopp has guided his men through the group stages in his five Champions League seasons and reached the final on three occasions. Last year they became the first English club to win six out of six ‘Group of Death’ games alongside AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Porto.

Despite being in Group A with three other teams at Ajax, Napoli and Rangers all believing they can qualify and suspecting the others might have it easier, Thursday’s draw left Liverpool calm and confident that there could be another entry into the knockout round.

Fans will be delighted to travel to Amsterdam after Covid denied them the opportunity in 2020/21. The Battle of Britain-style headlines leading up to games with Rangers can be a distraction, but facing new, albeit familiar, opponents is part of the magic of the Champions League. Both will be tough opponents with experience in Europe, but they are challenges Liverpool must overcome. While those balls were drawn to the sound of applause, Napoli emerged with the sound of moans. Liverpool did not appreciate the trips to Naples.

In subsequent seasons, the Diego Armando Maradona stadium was their first European away game: in 2018, on the way to the trophy, and the first game of their defense a year later. Fans have suffered violent attacks on both occasions and the matches themselves have been equally hostile and brutal. Two humble defeats, no goals.


Off the pitch, the challenges will be similar to the previous ones. Liverpool hope the newly ratified Supporters Council can help ensure a smooth and safe passage for traveling fans. There is hope that UEFA’s efforts to rebuild its reputation after the Paris debacle will elicit a stronger response to such incidents. On the pitch, however, this Napoli is a different animal from Klopp and from him. This summer, Napoli boss Luciano Spaletti lost three of the biggest names in the club’s modern history: club captain Lorenzo Insigne, midfield general Kalidou Koulibaly and all-time top scorer Dries Mertens. Not only were these men the cornerstones of the team that came closest to Napoli’s first Scudetto since 1990 under Maurizio Sarri in 2018 and 2019, but they also accounted for a third of their goals last season.


Exits orchestrated by the player rather than the club – as was the case with Insigne and Koulibaly – can often lead to upheaval within the squad and tactical headaches for the manager. The New Era is just two games away, but early signs indicate Spaletti and his men are succeeding. Napoli lead Serie A with six points and nine goals. The substitutes did their duty, with all three on the scoresheet in the 4-0 demolition of Monza.

Liverpool must tame "Georgian Lionel Messi" to avoid unwanted hat-tricks in the Champions League

The man they call the Monster – South Korean international Min-Jae Kim – was put in the shoes of Koluibaly, while Mertens’ successor was already in the building. Victor Osimhen has the talent to be Serie A’s biggest star this season and, without AFCON and hopefully injury free, Nigerian Zorro looks ready to take on the burden of scoring. Yet Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is the most significant addition, the one that could make the difference between a first win in Naples for Liverpool and another cathartic defeat.

More traditional wing of the late Insignia, the 21-year-old has a catchy nickname – Georgian Lionel Messi. Like any player compared to Messi, Kvaratskhelia is direct and likes to dribble at high speed. What characterizes him is an intelligence and efficiency that has the potential to exploit the weaknesses of a currently dysfunctional Liverpool defense. Three goals from seven shots with an XG for 90 of 0.38, as analyst Sam McGuire points out, is not only an impressive start, but it is already more goals without a penalty than the Insignia, in over 2,100 minutes fewer and 74 shots in less.

Kvaratskhelia’s direct opponent will almost certainly be Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the young Scouser’s instinct and instructions to advance will be an invitation for the Georgian to wreak havoc. Headers from behind such as his first goal against Verona will also be an area to aim for, given Alexander-Arnold’s difficulties in that area so far this season. Kvaratskhelia’s direct runs will test Liverpool’s high line, extending play and creating space for Osimhen and late arriving midfielders like Piotr Zielinski and newly signed Tanguy Ndombele. If Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Fulham had time and space in midfield, Napoli’s new goal could be devastating.


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