Liverpool came within touching distance of European glory last season but were denied at the final hurdle by a Vinicius Junior-inspired Real Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp’s team have not quite hit their straps this season, with two wins, one defeat and three draws in the Premier League. They will be hoping for a better start to the Champions League season when they travel to Napoli on Wednesday.
But that will be easier said than done. Usually the group stage finishes in December, but the World Cup 2022 in Qatar – which starts on November 20 – has forced Uefa to fit all six Champions League matchdays into a period of nine weeks, starting earlier than usual.
“We will have to be ready not just for the quality of the opposition but also for the different demands and rhythms,” Klopp said.
For now, Liverpool must contend with a more tangible threat. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has made a stunning start to life in Napoli, earning the nickname “Kvaradona” after scoring four times and setting up another goal in the first five rounds of Serie A fixtures.
The Georgian will be leading Napoli’s bid for a big win in their Group A opener at the Stadio Maradona. Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti has been keen to avoid comparing him to Napoli’s and possibly football’s greatest ever player. Such has been his impact he has also been called the “new KK” after Kalidou Koulibaly, one of four big players to leave the club since their league title challenge collapsed by the end of last season.
“He’s a really sweet kid, a good kid, one of those who at times doesn’t want to be in certain situations because he’s so timid,” said Spalletti on Saturday after his latest match-winning display at Lazio.
“When you see him walk about he’s all floppy like he’s on springs, but when you give him the ball he knows how to move. He’s got a quality in how he strikes the ball and brings down anything you throw at him.”