This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Liverpool’s trip to Napoli is an enticing clash and one reason for that is the matchup between Roberto Firmino and Kalidou Koulibaly.
From those stats it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an improvement on the meetings between the pair last term, which both ended in 1-0 wins for the home team.
It is not yet clear if Jurgen Klopp has an eye on the trip to Chelsea on Saturday, and whether he will change his team accordingly, but after leaving Firmino out of the starting line-up last Saturday, he will know that it would be risky to do so again.
Within five minutes of coming on the Brazilian had played a key role in putting the Reds into the lead against Newcastle, and Koulibaly will likely be tasked with keeping a close watch on him for that reason.
The 2018/19 Serie A Defender of the Year could be up for the task, too, and the winner of the battle between them could be crucial to their side’s success.
As shown by Firmino’s and Koulibaly’s stats on WhoScored, both players are in fine form so far this season and it promises to be a great tussle in and around the Napoli box, providing Liverpool can get a foothold in a game in which Napoli will look to dominate the ball, having averaged 57% possession in Serie A so far.
Firmino has gained a lot of plaudits this season, including from teammate Virgil van Dijk. He was recognised by the Premier League with a nomination for August Player of the Month and he backed that up with a brilliant display of trickery against Newcastle, adding to his tally of assists by wonderfully teeing up Mo Salah.
Koulibaly will look to make life difficult for him as a result, and will have to keep tight to the forward in order to reduce his influence.
The Senegal international should have a good chance of handling him, as he has averaged 3.3 tackles so far this term, and has the physical attributes to make life difficult for the 27-year-old.
To minimize his involvement Napoli will have to reduce the service into him. Allan and Piotr Zielinski will be key in midfield, but Koulibaly reads the game very well and if he has done his homework he might be able to step in and stop Firmino before he receives the ball, with his impressive rate of interceptions this season suggesting that could be a viable method of defence.
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That could cause the Liverpool man to come short, and possibly look to exploit the pace of Napoli’s defenders by playing Sadio Mane or Salah in behind the defence, much as he did against Newcastle for the second goal, with his average of 1.4 key passes per game showing he is more than capable of pulling off such a trick.
The battle between the pair may, therefore, come down to the intelligence of the two rather than their playing ability, and if Firmino continues to display the skill and trickery he has shown so far, he could hand the Reds a victory.