Sports Mole looks ahead of Tuesday’s mouth-watering Champions League clash between last season’s runners-up Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield.
The 2018-19 Champions League proper gets underway on Tuesday, and matchday one sees one of the standout fixtures of the group stages take place at Anfield as Liverpool host Paris Saint-Germain in their Group C opener.
The Reds made it all the way to the final last season, whereas PSG are still chasing the one trophy their wealthy owners value above all others, and both sides have won every competitive game they have played so far this term.
There has been no hangover for Liverpool following their defeat in May’s Champions League final, with the Reds quickly bouncing back from that disappointing night in Kiev.
Some encouraging summer business and a perfect start to the new domestic season have ensured that the 3-1 loss at the hands of Real Madrid has already been largely forgotten, despite the memorable nature of Gareth Bale‘s bicycle kick and Loris Karius‘s costly errors.
There was also the feeling that Liverpool overachieved to a certain extent by even reaching the final, but there will be a lot more expectancy on them heading into the current campaign now that the whole of Europe knows exactly what they can do.
Reaching back-to-back finals for the first time since 1985 is the ultimate goal for this season’s competition, although even getting past the first hurdle of the group stages will be a difficult ask, with Liverpool having been drawn in a group of death alongside PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.
However, while each of those fixtures look challenging, the prospect of facing Liverpool will also be a daunting one for the other three teams in the group, particularly considering the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane established themselves as the most prolific trio in a single Champions League campaign last term. Indeed, as a team Liverpool averaged 3.15 goals per game in last season’s competition.
PSG were the only team to outscore Liverpool in the 2017-18 group stages, so goals can be expected at Anfield on Tuesday night, although it is the Reds’ improved defensive solidity which has been the foundation for their positive start to the new Premier League season.
Liverpool have made their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign, winning their opening five games of a top-flight season for only the third time in their illustrious history and conceding a league-low two goals in that time.
Both of those goals have been avoidable too, the latest of which saw Tottenham Hotspur give themselves some ultimately futile late hope at Wembley as Liverpool ran out 2-1 winners – a result which saw them pass their first major test of the season.
PSG will no doubt provide even sterner opposition than Spurs, and despite last season’s run to the final it is worth remembering that Liverpool are appearing in the Champions League in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009-10.
The Reds are unbeaten in their last 16 European home games, though, winning 11 of those since a 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid in October 2014.
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWW
It is not often that PSG come up against a team who can match them for firepower, and Tuesday night will be a chance for the star-studded trio of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe to prove that they are the premier strikeforce in European football.
It hasn’t taken them long to get back up to speed in the new season, with 11 goals between them already this term, and if the French champions are to finally extend their reach to the European stage then they will be relying on those three to fire them to glory.
In many ways, PSG could use Liverpool’s performances last term as a blueprint for success in the tournament they crave more than any other, with Thomas Tuchel the latest man to attempt to win a first Champions League crown for the French outfit.
Tuchel, like Klopp, has managed Mainz and Borussia Dortmund in the past and favours an attacking game like his predecessor at both clubs, but it remains to be seen whether he will try to beat his compatriot at his own game when they visit Anfield.
PSG also saw their Champions League campaign ended by Real Madrid last season as they crashed out in the last 16 for a second successive season, and despite being without the injured Neymar for that tie it was ultimately what cost Unai Emery his job despite winning another domestic treble.
The relatively early exit somewhat overshadowed their record-breaking displays during the group stages, when they scored an unprecedented 25 goals in their six outings – including seven in one match against Celtic.
PSG have now scored in each of their last 16 Champions League outings, and goals have certainly not been an issue so far this season either with 21 in their six matches across all competitions, finding the back of the net at least three times in each of those games.
Unsurprisingly, those six matches have also yielded six wins, including a 4-0 drubbing of Saint-Etienne on Friday night despite resting Neymar and Mbappe.
However, their defeats to Real Madrid in both legs of the last 16, coupled with losing to Bayern Munich in their final group game, means that they will record their worst-ever run in European competition should Liverpool emerge victorious on Tuesday.
The ultimate dream of being crowned kings of Europe has fallen down at the hands of Manchester City, Barcelona (twice) and Real Madrid in the past four seasons, and it is those tests against the very best in Europe – among whom Liverpool can be included following their run to the final last season – that they need to begin to pass if they are to finally get their hands on the trophy they covet the most.
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW
Liverpool will make a late decision over the fitness of Firmino, who was forced off during the win over Tottenham due to an eye injury.
The Brazilian has avoided any lasting damage and has not yet been ruled out of Tuesday’s match, although the club will continue to monitor the problem and Daniel Sturridge is waiting in the wings as a potential replacement.
Aside from that, Klopp has no new injury concerns to contend with and is able to name an unchanged side once again – although a certain degree of rotation is expected with Jordan Henderson and Fabinho among the players pushing for a recall.
James Milner has been one of Liverpool’s most impressive performers so far this season, and his tally of nine Champions League assists last term was a new record for the competition.
PSG, meanwhile, will welcome Mbappe and Neymar – who has scored in every game he has played for club and country this season – back into their side after both were rested at the weekend, with Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler likely to miss out.
Gianluigi Buffon is suspended following his red card in Juventus’s dramatic defeat to Real Madrid in last season’s competition, although he has seemingly fallen behind Alphonse Areola in the pecking order.
Rumoured Liverpool target Adrien Rabiot is also likely to start in midfield, while Moussa Diaby will be hoping that his goal off the bench against Saint-Etienne could be enough to earn him a starting role.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Milner, Henderson, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mane
PSG possible starting lineup:
Areola; Meunier, Silva, Marquinhos, Bernat; Verratti, Diarra, Rabiot; Mbappe, Cavani, Neymar
Head To Head
These two sides have only met on two previous occasions, both of which came in the 1996-97 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals.
PSG took complete control of that tie with a 3-0 first-leg win at the Parc des Princes, but their only previous visit to Anfield saw them lose 2-0 – although they still progressed into the final on aggregate.
The French outfit have only won on one of their previous nine visits to England, while Liverpool have won 11 and lost just two of 14 home games against Ligue 1 opposition.
We say: Liverpool 2-2 PSG
There may not be a more mouth-watering game for the neutral all season than this one. The two attacks promise goals and it is not inconceivable that this game could end with either side scoring four or five. A 2-2 draw may seem reserved, but it is difficult to call a match which really could go either way considering the attacking talent on show.