Group Stage Fan Preview: Liverpool
The 2017-18 Champions League season was a memorable one for Liverpool, though it ended in an all too familiar tone. The club came within three goals of lifting the coveted European Champion Clubs’ Cup for the first time since 2005, marking the club’s fourth consecutive cup final defeat. Despite the loss, we saw the rise of Mohamed Salah, the positive effects of Virgil van Dijk, and the tactical success of Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing system, which all greatly contributed to the solid foundation that has made Liverpool Football Club a team to fear both domestically and abroad. This summer, the club continued to bolster the squad as the fight for a trophy begins again.
Three vulnerabilities in the Merseyside club last season were the midfield, squad depth, and the keeper position. Resolutions for all three have been found. The midfield gained a trio of talented players: Naby Keïta, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Fabinho. Keïta has a near-unparalleled ability to carry the ball from the defenders to the front three, Shaqiri can play in any of the forward attacking positions, and Fabinho provides excellent passing vision and defensive aid in front of the back four. Even with this influx of flair, very few players were sold, allowing Klopp to pick from a comfortably large roster. Lastly, while Loris Karius had a respectable 2017-18 between the posts, an upgrade was brought in via Rome. Alisson’s dazzling saves and outstanding performances in Italy resulted in a move to Anfield, giving Liverpool their most skilled keeper since perhaps Pepe Reina. A number of these additions have already made an impact just a handful of matches into the season and should continue to do so as they build chemistry with their new teammates.
In last season’s Champions League campaign, after advancing out of the group stage in rather dominant fashion, Liverpool trounced Porto, Manchester City, and Roma before meeting Spanish giants Real Madrid, who ended up hoisting their third consecutive Champions League trophy and 13th overall; the unprecedented Tredécima. This season’s European crusade will yet again put the team to the test. In one of the tougher group stage groups, Liverpool will have to contend with heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain, Serie A third place side Napoli, and Serbian SuperLiga champions Crvena Zvezda.
The biggest threat in the first round of the Champions League is undoubtedly PSG. Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappé combined for a remarkable 17 goals in eight Champions League matches last season. The intelligence of new manager Thomas Tuchel paired with debatably the best attacking trio in all football is a frightening thought for any opposition. Gianluigi Buffon is one of the newest acquisitions of the Parisian club and has focused primarily on one major objective before his legendary career comes to an end: winning a Champions League title. The first of the two meetings between Liverpool and PSG is in Round One, and there is no doubt the winner of this initial matchup will have a major advantage through the rest of the group stage.
Napoli are also under new management. Renowned tactician Carlo Ancelotti has returned to his home country of Italy to coach a squad chock-full of talent. Even after the departure of Jorginho, the likes of Dries Mertens, Marek Hamšík, Allan, and Kalidou Koulibaly among others are not to be underestimated. Klopp and co. must take these matches a game at a time in order to make sure the players have the right mindset and focus.
While Crvena Zvezda is the least prominent of the three opponents (despite being the only one to win a Champions League title), the Serbian club is a formidable fourth group member largely due to its fiercely intimidating supporters. They have won the first division Serbian league a record 28 times, including three in the last five years. A mistake against this Eastern European side would almost definitely spell doom for any club in what is an extremely difficult group.
This is expected to be one of the most promising seasons in recent memory. As a club famous for its history, the prospects of Liverpool finishing as Premier League Champions for the first time or being crowned Champions of Europe are within sight. We Go Again.
By: William Sinsky
Photo: Liverpool FC via Getty