By 90Min
December 10, 2018

Having enjoyed an ascent to the top of the Premier League over the weekend, Liverpool's fans and players will now be forced to revert their gaze to the less appetising prospects facing them in Europe. 

Because, contrasting their domestic ascendancy are their hopes of Champions League progression, following that dispiriting loss to Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes. The 2-1 defeat earned the club the unwanted record of losing all three away games in the group stage, a feat never before mastered in the club's history.

But, more presciently damaging, it also leaves them with a tricky tie against Napoli remaining, where they'll need to either win with a 1-0 scoreline, or by two clear goals, to progress to the knockout stage. In essence, it's a testing situation. 

But, fear not Merseysiders, because the Reds can find solace in their final opponent's impressive capacity to bottle almost everything good that comes their way.

Avert your eyes, Neapolitans. 

I mean, where to start. The sky blue Italians are essentially the Spurs of Serie A. A team so talented at finding ways to bottle their biggest battles it's almost endearing. Even in this year's wondrous Champions League campaign, in which they sit as unlikely top dogs, they've displayed this dogged determination to fail.

On the face of it, the 2-2 draw in Paris was a stellar result, but their play merited far more than the solitary point they were consigned to following Angel Di Maria's 93rd minute leveller. It was an excellent, speculatively curled strike, but how he was able to get it through five light blue bodies with such ease is a tribute to their enduring naivety.

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In the days of Diego Maradona of course, it wasn't a different matter. The city's everlasting king hauled a fairly limited Gli Azzurri side to the ultimate crown. But, crucially, and in part thanks to the gargantuan personality and heart of the Argentine, they had backbone and composure. 

Now, it's not that this Napoli side don't have the former. Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the best centre backs in the world right now, and if he was to leave the south of Italy for pastures new (as rumours have been suggesting for some time), then he would probably do so as the most expensive defender in the history of the game. 

It's the second category which they seem to fall short in - even their vaunted Senegalese centre half. After all, it was the 27-year-old defender who, having dragged his side back into the title race with a last gasp winner against Juventus in Turin in April, got himself sent off inside the first eight minutes of the proceeding clash with Fiorentina. 

In a nightmarish demise, the remaining Napoli players lost both their heads - collecting five more yellow cards - and the game (3-0), and with it went their aspirations of a second ever Scudetto. Painfully, this contrasted starkly with Juventus' improbable win at Inter the day before, when they turned a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 victory with three minutes left of normal time. 

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Despite Juve's incredible strength and consistency, Maurizio Sarri's side should have won that title. On March 1st, after 26 league games, they had dropped just nine points in one loss and three draws, and were four points clear at the top.

In the proceeding 12 games that concluded the season they dropped 14 points, including a home loss to Roma and that aforementioned collapse in Florence. 

And, while that was the most dramatic instance, it effectively sums up all of Napoli's Serie A efforts since 1990. 

Their European exploits are less storied, but still follow the same arc, and this will especially console Liverpool fans. Though last season's endeavours must be taken with a pinch of salt, considering their patent domestic focus, it still maintained the club's record of never getting beyond the last 16 of the Champions League.

Indeed, they haven't gone further than that in European competition in general since - you guessed it - that man Diego led them to glory in the 1988/89 UEFA Cup.

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The last near-30 years have been littered with big occasion, crucial, continental crumblings. From the second leg of the third round (equated now to the last 16) tie with Werder Bremen in the 1990 UEFA Cup (where, even with that title winning side, they lost 5-1) to Chelsea in the 2011/12 Champions League (when, having won the home leg 3-1, they famously lost 4-1 at Stamford Bridge), history tells us all we need to know.

Sure, they may now be under the guise of the competition's most successful manager currently working, in Carlo Ancelotti, but it is the oldest habits that die the hardest. So don't be surprised to see some old traits on display come kick off at Anfield on Tuesday night.

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