The Champions League returns for the fourth game week of the group stage this week and many progressions to the round of last 16 are expected to be sealed on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. However, Group C is living up to its “Group of Death” tag and the progressions to the next stage from this Group will likely not be decided before the sixth game week rolls in. Liverpool are the leaders of the group at 6 points and on Tuesday they will visit Red Star Belgrade in Serbia to strengthen their position on the top, while PSG and Napoli struggle to decide the order of the chasing pack in Naples.
Red Star Belgrade are having a Jekyll and Hyde season. The few defeats they have faced this season have come in Europe, but domestically they are completely dominant. After losing 4-0 at Anfield, the Serbs have won three Super Liga games on the bounce, scoring seven goals and conceding a solitary goal in the process. They lead the Super Liga table by a lead of 10 points over the second ranked team – Radnicki NS. In Europe, they almost have no chance of reaching the last 16 stage, as they will need to beat Liverpool, PSG, and Napoli to even think of having a chance.
Liverpool on the other hand are a bit closer to sealing their qualification for the next stage. Currently they are leading the group with six points and a win on Tuesday, along with one draw against PSG or Napoli should suffice for them to qualify. Domestically, they are coming off a hard-fought draw against Arsenal on Saturday, which would have been a hard-fought win had the referee had a better game. That is unlikely to change Liverpool’s domestic position in the league however as they still are unbeaten and second behind Manchester City. Klopp will perhaps feel the need to rotate his side a bit given the effort his first team put up on Saturday. However, with the likes of Shaqiri, Sturridge, Lallana, Henderson and Keita making up the Liverpool bench, Klopp would also be fairly confident in his side’s ability to win, the ferocious atmosphere at Rajko Mitić Stadium notwithstanding.
- Red Star are winless in their last five European games, losing the last two in a row while conceding a combined 10 goals against PSG and Liverpool. On the other hand, Liverpool have lost only one of their last 11 group stage games in the Champions Leage (W5 D5), scoring 33 goals in that run.
- In fact, Liverpool have scored 48 goals in Champions League since the start of the last season (16 games), the most by any team in the competition. Red Star can however, take solace from the fact that they have conceded only five goals in their last 14 home games in the competition.
- Although this run goes back to Red Star’s glory days in early 1990s, they have suffered just one defeat in their last 14 home games in Europe (W7 D6). This season, they have had a sobering return to the European elite – as of now, they have conceded the most goals (10) and faced the most shots (75) and most shots on target (36) of any team in the Champions League this season.
- Although between Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool have two of the most prolific goal scorers in Champions League since the start of the last season – Mane has scored 11 in last 12 games and Firmino has contributed 19 European goals since the start of the last season – but they are unlikely to start on Tuesday night after their exhausting game against Arsenal on Saturday night.
Red Star Belgrade would not have reached the Champions League group stage had it not been for the Australian defender born in the former Yugoslavia. Milos Degenek has been a Red Star fan since childhood and his two assists in two minutes in Salzburg in the play-off round helped his team to the European elite stage. While those highlight his threat of set pieces, he is primarily a central defender for Red Star and puts in solid performances in that position. He wins more than 50% of his aerial duels, rarely loses the ball in his own half and has respectable numbers of clearances, blocks and interceptions per 90 minutes. If Red Star are to make it hard for Liverpool to score on Tuesday night, Degenek would be required to play a major role.
Shaqiri would have been my choice for a key man in this game but with reports emerging on Sunday evening that he may not be considered because of his controversial actions at the World Cup in the summer, I’ll go for Daniel Sturridge. Daniel Sturridge has been very unlucky not to play more minutes in a misfiring forward live at Liverpool FC this season. He’s got the best mins per goal at the club so far this season and has looked lively in terms of pressing when he’s been asked to play. There seems to be a change in mentality for the forward who said he realised in the summer that Liverpool was home for him. Sturridge is definitely proving that and deserves to start the game.
For Red Star Belgrade, there are no new injury concerns and the hosts should be able to field their best eleven, very similar to the side that took field at Anfield.
For Liverpool, Klopp will be tempted to rotate many of his players from the team that drew against Arsenal on Saturday night. Shaqiri and Sturridge could come in, as could Adam Lallana, Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, and possibly Joel Matip. Henderson and Naby Keita might still be doubtful to start on Tuesday night.
Rajko Mitić Stadium can be an extremely hostile place to travel to – as evidenced by the string of disciplinary actions Red Star fans have been subjected to. However, given the gulf in the two team’s capabilities, Liverpool will be confident of securing a win and progressing towards that coveted last 16 qualification.