This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Napoli’s start to the season is likely to cause some worry for Liverpool and that is mainly due to the attacking prowess they have displayed so far.
Not only do Carlo Ancelotti’s side keep hold of the ball, with an average of 57% possession in Serie A, but they use it to great effect, allowing the likes of Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne to wreak havoc in and around the final third.
From their three Serie A games, that duo have a combined total of five goals and three assists, so it is some task to keep them quiet, and it is almost certain to be a big test of Joel Matip.
The Cameroon international has performed well this season, and his displays appear to have earned him a permanent place alongside Virgil van Dijk, which looked in doubt after Joe Gomez started the first Premier League game against Norwich.
Matip will likely start once again on Tuesday, although there could be a temptation for Jurgen Klopp to rest some players with Chelsea coming up, and with Napoli operating a 4-3-3 formation it is likely Mertens will choose the 28-year-old to exploit, rather than van Dijk.
Mertens has made a name for himself in recent years as a prolific goalscorer, but the fact he has been dispossessed, on average, less than once a match, could also create problems for Matip, whose average of 4.8 aerial duels won per game suggest he’s better suited to a contest in the air.
According to WhoScored, the centre-back has averaged four clearances per game in the Premier League. That shows he is improving, as he achieved 3.5 per league match last year, and that makes him better suited to teams like Napoli and high calibre opponents such as Mertens.
The Belgian fits the poacher mould. He doesn’t offer too much in terms of building attacks – he has averaged 21 passes per game in the league – but comes alive in the final third.
Mertens has the ability to finish difficult chances whilst 1.7 key passes per game displays his ability to create for his teammates, and Matip can’t afford him the time to pick out Insigne or Jose Callejon, as he is often accurate.
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It won’t be plain sailing for the 32-year-old, either. In 26 starts last season Matip helped the Reds keep 12 clean sheets and he will look to hassle and harry Mertens at every opportunity, whether he is on the ball or before he gets a chance to receive a pass, as evidenced by his tackling and interception statistics.
Importantly, he uses his physical attributes to his advantage without penalising the opponent. He has only made, on average, 0.8 fouls per game, and such a record is invaluable against a team like Napoli, as players like Mertens and Fernando Llorente are capable of scoring from set-pieces, either directly or indirectly.
If Matip succeeds in keeping Mertens quiet it will go a long way in Liverpool keeping a clean sheet, and if they manage that they should be able to nick a win due to their attacking quality.