This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
If history is anything to go by Liverpool are in for a stern test for their visit to Napoli, and their control of the ball will be key to their chances of taking something back to Anfield.
In their two trips the San Paolo the Reds are without a victory, with their most recent meeting ending in a 1-0 defeat in the Champions League group stage last season.
Since then Liverpool have been crowned European champions, but their away form in the competition still requires improvement, seeing as they lost four of their seven away matches last term against the Serie A outfit, Paris Saint-Germain, Red Star Belgrade and Barcelona.
Improving that record against Napoli is a daunting task, as Gli Azzurri make things difficult for any team due to their dominance of possession, and midfielder Allan is key to their system in both attack and defence.
He is in many ways their equivalent to Fabinho, and not because they’re both Brazilian.
The pair are assured on the ball, keeping composure whilst under pressure and able to break up play when out of possession. Limiting their infleunce will be the aim of both Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp and, judging by their impressive starts this season, whichever team is more effective in doing so will have a great advantage.
According to WhoScored, Fabinho has averaged the highest number of passes per game of any Liverpool midfielder in the Premier League with 54, whilst Allan’s 51 ranks behind only Piotr Zielinksi in the same metric.
Alongside his midfield partner, Allan has been significant in Napoli’s average of 549 passes in Serie A, and if they are able to repeat their dominance of the ball in the same fixture last season – when they had 57% possession – then they could take an early lead in the group.
This time around, however, Fabinho will likely start. He only played 14 minutes in the same fixture last year and his influence could be the difference.
Not only is he able to break up play effectively, but he can also control the tempo of matches, and if Liverpool endure spells under pressure, which is likely at some point, he will provide a platform to keep things simple, or perhaps spark a counter – he has, after all, averaged four successful long passes per game this season.
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His pass accuracy of 87% shows he rarely puts a foot wrong, whilst his tackling and interception stats show the defensive aspect of his game.
Unfortunately for the Reds, the same can also be said of Allan. In fact, he has bettered Fabinho’s pass success rate with 94%, albeit having played two games less, whilst his Serie A statistics prove how efficient he is in dealing with the opposition.
There is clearly little to separate them, and it could therefore come down to who performs better on the night. Both teams can mix up their game due to the pace of their forwards so controlling the midfield is vital to creating attacks, and if Fabinho can provide Liverpool with a platform to play as he often does, then they could be well placed to better their result in the last campaign.