By Max Chaytor
The start of September signifies a big month for LFC; playing 4 away games and only 1 at home. But 1 of the away games is the start of Liverpool’s defence of the UEFA Champions League, starting with a tough away trip to Napoli. Not only this but the Reds also take trips to Salzburg and Genk, whilst also welcoming all 3 teams to Anfield as well. And with LFC considered as favourites not only for the group but for the competition, just how far can Liverpool go?
Starting off in the group stages, it is a relatively comfortable group to start. With no big European powerhouse to face at least until the Last 16, the team from Naples look like LFC’s strongest opponent, but as we saw last year with Red Star, RB Salzburg and Genk can’t be taken too lightly.
Having already played Napoli home and away last year, Klopp will have a good understanding of the way the team from Naples play. But Carlo Ancelotti has made some big new additions to his squad, with Kostas Manolas alongside Kalidou Koulibaly in what looks to be a formidable defence, and the €38 million signing of Hirving Lozano will bolster their already strong attack, alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik. Klopp will look to set up differently to when LFC last visited to San Paolo, where the hosts ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a 90 th minute Insigne goal. The defence and attack were arguably the strongest possible, but the midfield had been shaken up. Naby Keita, fresh from an early injury after joining the Reds, and it was clear the Guinean was rusty. Lack of attacking poise in finding the balls to Salah, Mane and Bobby, it was clear Keita wasn’t 100% match fit. Gini Wijnaldum also started, and that was the safe option from Klopp. He was in a really good run of form, and he had started several games already at the start of last season, and didn’t look rusty of tired at all. James Milner completed the trio, and that is also where Klopp went wrong. It probably should’ve been Fabinho in there, but, Klopp didn’t want to rush the Brazilian in too quickly, and he hadn’t really started many games up until that point. But we can often see the vision that Fabinho can bring to a game where opportunities are hard to come by. In that game, it was what LFC were missing; the lack of attacking poise in the final third – the final ball through. The front 3 could finish, but they had nothing to finish. This time around, Klopp will almost definitely play his tried and trusted midfield three of Henderson, Wijnaldum and Fabinho, and the strongest defence and attack possible, in order to make sure LFC start their campaign with a win.
The other two teams are on the same level; Genk and Red Bull Salzburg are the Champions of Belgium and Austria respectively, two leagues that aren’t particularly the best out of the Top 5 in Europe, but, nonetheless, are Champions so Klopp will no doubt take them as seriously as any other Champions League opponent. Salzburg have lost some key players over the summer and have not strengthened particularly well, so according to many, Genk will progress to Europa League with a 3 rd place finish. But LFC must play Salzburg before the Belgians, and after the upset against Red Star last year, Jurgen will not want a repeat. Klopp is likely to field a weakened side against Salzburg as LFC face Leicester at Anfield three days later, and it will be the same case when the Reds face Genk at home, due to with a clash against Spurs only four days after that. Names such as Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Adam Lallana, Joe Gomez and perhaps youngsters Rhian Brewster and Harvey Elliot may make substitute appearances if Liverpool are cruising. Liverpool will look to simply outscore Napoli against these two sides in order to try and claim top spot, but, these two teams cannot be taken lightly – it is, after all, the UEFA Champions League, where anyone can beat anyone.