When Napoli thrashed Liverpool 4-1 in their opening Champions League fixture, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia almost single-handedly tore the Reds apart.
And with the team’s defensive woes persisting in the intervening seven-week period, it seemed as if he might be about to do the same at Anfield on Tuesday night.
Less than two minutes into the game, Kvaratskhelia nutmegged Trent Alexander-Arnold and switched play to the right-hand side, suggesting a long night lay ahead for the right-back.
Soon after, he skinned the Englishman once again before being muscled to the ground by Ibrahima Konaté inside the Reds’ penalty area. The referee ignored his appeals for a spot-kick, but it was yet another a warning sign.
By the 16th minute, Kvaratskhelia had beaten Alexander-Arnold three times, powering past him and firing in a cross that Virgil van Dijk headed away.
There was palpable unease among the home side’s defenders every time he picked up the ball down the Napoli left. Even when Reds shirts swarmed him, he was able to find a cut-back to Tanguy Ndombele, who fired a low shot straight at Alisson.
Kvaratskhelia, who set up Giovanni Simeone’s goal on the stroke of half-time on matchday one, thought he had another assist against Liverpool in the second period when he swung in a free-kick and Leo Østigård headed home. However, a VAR check determined that the Norwegian was a fraction offside, denying Kvaratskhelia and Napoli.
There was still time for him to frighten the home fans again before he came off, though, as he cut inside both Alexander-Arnold and Harvey Elliott and whipped a shot just over the bar from around 20 yards out. It was one of three shots he attempted from outside the penalty area as he showcased some Luis Díaz-esque audacity moving in off the left flank.
It was a relief when the fourth official held the number 77 aloft on 83 minutes, because everybody inside the stadium — the players, the benches and the supporters — knew that he was Napoli’s biggest threat. That’s why Luciano Spaletti’s side got the ball to him at every opportunity. Indeed, only Mohamed Salah (nine) received more progressive passes than Kvaratskhelia (seven).