“Without being the most confident person in the world, I think I am the right person for Liverpool.”
- Jurgen Klopp
The German vindicated the above statement by finally laying hands on the coveted trophy after having come so close with Borussia Dortmund. More importantly, for all the hard work that has been cultivated to make this Liverpool team finally bore success last season as the Reds ran out winners against Tottenham Hotspur.
Having been seeded as among the top teams, Liverpool have been allotted Group E, along with last year’s group opponents Napoli, the runners up of Serie A last season, along with the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and Genk, winners of their respective leagues i.e. Austrian Bundesliga and Belgian Pro League.
A preliminary analysis of the Group E reflects that Liverpool and Napoli are the clear favourites to qualify for the knockout stages, but only time will tell whether the overwhelming favourites live up to their billing. The opening matchday will be interesting to watch as the Serie A and the Premier League runners-up from last season will be pitted against each other.
The other hopefuls such as Genk and Red Bull Salzburg will look to make a mark in Europe and hopefully cause an upset among the established order. Although the chances of that occurring are unlikely, one can always hope as was proved by the upset suffered by Liverpool when they travelled to Crvena Zvezda last season.
Like last season, Liverpool will be travelling to the San Paolo stadium for the first round before welcoming their opponents at Anfield on matchday 5. Although, there is a chance that the qualifiers for the knock-out stages may be decided by then.
However, in line with the tone of this article, let’s have a look at the group components individually:
Making their return to the group stages of the Champions League after a hiatus of 8 seasons, the Belgian club will look to improve its dismal record in this competition. With a win percentage of 22.73 and a goal difference of -21, the club can only hope for things to get better.
Also known as the Smurfs, the club won the Belgian league only for the fourth time in its history. Despite changing their manager over the summer, the club seems to have built on last season’s success and are currently two points behind the league leaders Standard Liege.
Felice Mazzu has been tasked with the job to make an impression on the European stages and will hope to at least challenge convincingly for the third position in the group.
#2 Red Bull Salzburg
The Champions League has been an Achilles heel for Red Bull Salzburg, as they've failed to get into the Group stages for 11 consecutive seasons.
However, they have been impressive in the Europa League, where they have managed to reach the Round of 16 consecutively for the past two seasons. All eyes will be on American coach Jesse Marsch who was appointed over the summer.
The Austrian club currently are atop their league with a perfect record of six wins out of six. The Champions league though will be a different perspective for a club which is still in its infancy. However, the club will be expected to finish ahead of Genk and look to cause an upset to the favourites.
#3 Liverpool F.C
Although the league title still eludes Liverpool, the Merseysiders won the Champions League last season and continue to be one of the favourites for the competition. Jurgen Klopp's men will hope to make it to the knock-out stages comfortably, unlike last season, where Liverpool left themselves with a lot to do till the last matchday,
Familiar opponents in the form of Napoli may take the edge out of the games, but European nights at Anfield are always memorable. With probably the best attacking trio across Europe, Liverpool will hope to finish ahead of Napoli and pip them to the first spot.
#4 Napoli FC
Having been pitted against the Reds for the second successive group stage, the club open their campaign against the visitors in Naples in what might be considered as one of the must-watch clashes of matchday one. There is already an element of controversy ahead of the fixture with the supporters of Liverpool being outraged at the increase of the ticket price beyond the ceiling price.
Whether UEFA intervenes to resolve the above issue is a moot point. However, on the pitch, Carlo Ancelloti’s side has made major improvements by adding the likes of Kostas Manolas, Hirving Lozano and Fernando Llorente to the squad. In total, there has been a net expenditure of around $128 million on new signings.
Given the expenditure, the Gli Azzurri are expected to put up a challenge on the domestic and the European font. Ancelloti will hope they will be able to address the shortcomings of the last season and will get the opportunity to prove their mettle against the heavyweights of Europe.
1. Liverpool, 2. Napoli 3. Red Salzburg 4. Genk
Top scorers prediction in Group E
With both Napoli and Liverpool possessing a host of attacking players, there will be fierce competition amongst themselves to score the maximum goals. And in a group which consists of lesser opponents, goal difference may be the result which defines who takes the top spot and second spot respectively.
1. Sadio Mane 2. Dries Mertens 3. Mohamed Salah