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Champions League group stage recap: Napoli exceed all expectations

A last-day loss to Liverpool did not take much gloss off what was an extraordinary campaign for Luciano Spalletti's Napoli.

Watch all of Napoli's Champions League group stage goals

A 4-1 opening-night win against Liverpool set a dizzying pace for Luciano Spalletti's Napoli, and they rarely let up, cruising into the UEFA Champions League round of 16 and ending the year top of Serie A.

They lost only once in 21 games in the autumn, away against Liverpool on Matchday 6, and won 13 in a row in all competitions in September and October.

Round of 16: Frankfurt vs Napoli

Campaign so far

Group A winners: W5 D0 L1 F20 A6
Top scorer: Giovanni Simeone, Giacomo Raspadori (4)

Highlights: Ajax 1-6 Napoli

07/09: Napoli 4-1 Liverpool (Zieliński 4pen 47, Zambo Anguissa 31, Simeone 44; Luis Díaz 49)
14/09: Rangers 0-3 Napoli (Politano 68pen, Raspadori 85, Ndombélé 90+1)
04/10: Ajax 1-6 Napoli (Kudus 9; Raspadori 18 47, Di Lorenzo 33, Zieliński 45, Kvaratskhelia 63, Simeone 81)
: Napoli 4-2 Ajax (Lozano 4, Raspadori 16, Kvaratskhelia 62pen, Osimhen 90; Klaassen 49, Bergwijn 83pen)
26/10: Napoli 3-0 Rangers (Simeone 11 16, Østigård 80)
01/11: Liverpool 2-0 Napoli (Salah 85, Núñez 90+8)

Campaign in ten words: Best side in Italy and impressing in the Champions League.

UEFA.com Napoli reporter

Where to begin? Napoli have been insanely good, almost perfect so far. They thrashed Liverpool, Rangers and Ajax and had the best ever start to a Champions League campaign by an Italian side, playing phenomenal football throughout. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Giacomo Raspadori, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Piotr Zieliński, to name but a few, have been sensational and coach Spalletti has moulded the team into a brilliant unit that is solid at the back and free-flowing, attacking, spectacular and efficient up front.

How do Napoli play?

The basic system is a 4-3-3 but, depending on what Zieliński does on the pitch, it can become a 4-2-3-1. Defensively the two wingers drop deep to help at the back in a 4-5-1 system. But, in the words of Spalletti himself, "Football is not about systems anymore, but about using the spaces that are left by opponents". Napoli use the wingers to quickly hit on the break, can go centrally straight to Victor Osimhen or link up play through Raspadori and the midfielders. A team that can score in any possible way.

Fantasy star performers

Zieliński: 'We have to be proud'

Giovanni Di Lorenzo – 42 points
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – 34 points
Piotr Zieliński – 33 points

Squad changes

In: Bartosz Bereszyński, Pierluigi Gollini
Out: Salvatore Sirigu, Alessandro Zanoli, Alessio Zerbin

Clubs had until 24:00 CET on Thursday 2 February to register a maximum of three new eligible players prior to the knockout stage. Since 2018/19, it no longer matters whether those players have already played in the competition for another club, even for another club still in the competition.

Key stats

• Napoli were the top scorers in the group stage with 20 goals and became the first Italian team to score 20 times in a Champions League group.

• Napoli have lost only two of their last 18 UEFA Champions League group stage matches; both of those defeats came at Liverpool (0-1 in December 2018 and 0-2 in November 2022).

• Napoli are without a win in five Champions League round of 16 games since a 3-1 home win against Chelsea in February 2012; they lost the return fixture 4-1.