Weblog: The football punter

Liverpool have a tough opening game in Italy

BT Sport 2, 8pm Tuesday

Liverpool lost all three of their away games in last season's Champions League group stage, including a 1-0 defeat to Napoli in October 2018, but they can show that they have learned from their mistakes by picking up a point at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday.

Jurgen Klopp's side head to Naples in high spirits after extending their Premier League winning streak to 14 games.

They have become used to dominating domestic matches, but may have to show different qualities to ensure a positive start to their Champions League defence.

Lorenzo Insigne's injury-time goal condemned the Reds to a defeat in Naples last term and it was a justifiable outcome to a contest largely dominated by the Italian side.

Liverpool were out-shot 14 to four and failed to muster a single effort on target as they struggled to come to terms with the quality and intensity of their opponents.

Klopp will be seeking an improved performance and his team arrive in better shape than 11 months ago because their midfield, anchored by Fabinho, looks a lot stronger.

Fabinho took a while to adjust after last summer's switch from Monaco to Merseyside and did not make his first Champions League start for the Reds until the 4-0 success at home to Red Star Belgrade on matchday three.

Since then he has developed into a hugely influential player who gives Liverpool power, control and composure in the big games.

While Liverpool should be stronger than they were 11 months ago, Napoli are likely to be weaker due to the absence of injured striker Arkadiusz Milik.

The Polish striker looked to have put his injury nightmares behind him by scoring 17 goals in 35 league appearances in 2018-19.

But he picked up a groin strain in pre-season and hasn't recovered in time for matchday one.

Concerns over Milik's fitness may explain why Napoli moved to sign free agent Fernando Llorente this summer.

The 34-year-old made his debut for the Partenopei on Saturday, coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 success at home to Sampdoria, but is unlikely to play anything more than a cameo role against Liverpool.

Exciting Mexican attacker Hirving Lozano has a better chance of playing although he still seems to be finding his feet after a summer switch from PSV Eindhoven.

The main threats will probably come from Dries Mertens (three goals in three appearances this season and Insigne (two from three), who have been key elements of the side who have done more than any other to challenge Juventus in recent seasons.

In domestic matches Napoli can rely on their talented attack to blow teams away, but they will need to adopt a more nuanced approach to cope with Liverpool, who are one of the best counter-attacking sides in Europe.

Carlo Ancelotti got the balance just right when Napoli triumphed over the Reds last season but Liverpool should be wiser for the experience and can pick up a point from their toughest test in the section.

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West Brom v Stoke

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Expert verdict
West Brom have lost just two games this season and they should be too strong for Stoke at the Hawthorns. The Baggies are top following Leeds’ defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and they can cement their place in pole position against a side who have won just one of their last five away league fixtures.