Jack Hallows looks ahead to Tuesday’s mouth-watering clash with PSG and analyses the potential key battles that will likely emerge.
Allez Allez Allez!
The Champions League is BACK baby!
Don’t get me wrong, I love Premier League football but there’s just something about the Champions League.
Games played against Europe’s elite sides, under the lights and to the soundtrack of a bouncing Anfield… You just can’t beat it.
Jürgen Klopp’s men were superb in Europe last season, losing just one game across the entirety of the campaign – unfortunately, it was the one that mattered most – and scoring an incredible 38 goals in the competition proper.
This time around, they’re going to face a sterner test right from the off with one of the continent’s premier sides Paris Saint Germain visiting Anfield to help kick off the Reds’ European campaign.
Fresh from the appointment of new manager Thomas Tuchel – formerly of Borussia Dortmund – the French side has, as would be expected, started the season on fire in Ligue 1, winning five from five and scoring 17 goals in the process.
It’s no surprise really, given their line-up boasts names such as Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and of course, Neymar.
With those names in mind, here are some of the key battles we can expect to see crop up when Liverpool and PSG take to the field on Tuesday night!
Out wide: Salah/Mané VS Neymar/Mbappé
I could break this down for you into their own sections but generally in these articles I like to keep it to three seperate battles!
Where both sides are most dangerous is going forwards, with Liverpool boasting a front four of Keïta, Salah, Firmino and Mané, while PSG also possesses stupendous firepower in Di Maria, Cavani, Neymar and Mbappé.
Both attacking line-ups combine great technical skill with pace, movement and deadly finishing but arguably, the most important pieces of the puzzle are found out wide.
For Liverpool, it will be Salah and Mané up against a likely pairing of Meunier and Bernat.
For Paris Saint Germain, it will be Neymar and Mbappé up against a likely pairing of Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
Both sides play incredibly fast-paced, attacking minded football, with the full-backs given license to play high and wide, allowing the wingers to operate in narrow positions almost as auxiliary strikers.
With the wide threats at both ends, however, it will be interesting to see whether either manager decides to sacrifice some of his full-backs’ attacking verve in an effort to tighten up.
Both full-back pairings are going to have to be on top of their respective games in order to nullify their opposition – especially given Mané and Salah have six league goals combined this season, while Mbappé and Neymar have eight.
Get the balance in the wide areas right and you might just win a game such as this, get it wrong and the floodgates could burst right open.
Naby Keïta VS Marquinhos
Despite plying his trade as a centre back for pretty much his entire career, Marquinhos has been moved into a central midfield berth for PSG this season and is likely once again to line up there with Adrian Rabiot on Tuesday.
The Brazilian brings solidity and some extra physicality to the middle of the park but this is still very much a new position for him.
If Liverpool can focus their press on Marquinhos, hurrying him on the ball and potentially forcing him into a mistake, then there is definitely going to be room to hit PSG where it hurts.
The French side are not likely to sacrifice their attacking verve even against a Liverpool side that is so potent in front of goal and if the likes of Naby Keïta, in particular, can win the ball off their midfielders, there will be plenty of space for the wide attackers to break into.
We saw on the weekend that Liverpool focussed their press specifically on Eric Dier who was fielded in a similar position to that I expect Marquinhos to take up and the Englishman time and again gave the ball away through loose touches and poor passes.
If the Reds can do the same to the French side’s midfield and this time around have their goalscoring boots on, then there could certainly be a lot of joy for Klopp’s men.
It’s likely the bulk of this task will fall to Naby Keïta, with whoever is fielded in the ‘6’ likely to be given the job of tracking Di Maria or Neymar (depending on who is played off Cavani), while Milner – who is set to take up his usual spot in the midfield – will be looking to help cover Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right.
If Keïta has a good game, it could be vital for Liverpool’s chances of taking all three points.
Jürgen Klopp VS Thomas Tuchel
The last time these two met, back in 2016, the fixture was dubbed as the ‘master’ VS the ‘apprentice.’
Tuchel was just months into his tenure at Dortmund, having replaced Klopp after the German had called time on his career at the Westfalenstadion while Klopp himself was an even fresher face at his new club.
There are similarities to that fixture this time around – it’s a European night in which Tuchel’s men are arguably favourites – but this is also a different playing field entirely.
Tuchel is at an entirely different club, while the Liverpool that fought back so valiantly against Borussia Dortmund back in 2016 to advance through the Europa League are all but gone, with James Milner and Roberto Firmino the only expected starters remaining from that XI.
Regardless of this, perhaps the biggest battle will be fought on the sidelines.
Tuchel is known as a manager who pays immaculate attention to detail, asking his sides to play a similar high-tempo, heavy metal game to that which Klopp employs, preferring to focus more on systems than shapes. However, he’s also known to be slightly one-dimensional and at times, arrogant in his approach to games.
The German failed to shut up shop back in 2016 when Dortmund visited Anfield, believing that at 3-1, the tie was over and the Anfield atmosphere would prove to be just a myth.
Instead of asking his side to tighten up, he decided to continue going for the jugular, allowing Liverpool a chance to get back in the game and by the time he decided to try and lock up shop, it was too late.
It’s this arrogance and overconfidence that could prove to be Tuchel’s downfall when his men take to the pitch on Tuesday.
We saw it time and again during last season’s Champions League, especially with Manchester City and Roma who both visited with a clear plan that they refused to stray from and both left with their tails between their legs.
Where Klopp has also been accused of being one-dimensional in the past, the last 12-18 months have proven him to be anything but and if the German can once again get his team to efficiently adapt to the opponent in front of them, they may just come out on top.