Champions League group stage has reached its penultimate game week and most groups are looking settled. In fact, in almost all the groups, the teams qualifying for the last 16 round are decided and perhaps only the order of first or second might change. But not so in Group C. Originally billed as the “Group of Death”, this group is more than living up to its tag. Liverpool had the chance to almost secure qualification in the last game against Red Star Belgrade but their shock loss in Serbia threw the group wide open. In this game week, the Reds in second place travel to Paris to try and improve their chances of qualification. But, PSG at home will be a much tougher opponent than they were at Anfield.
PSG, in its current avatar, harbours only one goal – that of winning the Champions League. They win everything else every year, but they have not been able to go past some tough opponents in the knockout stages in the past few seasons. This season, if they are not careful, they may not reach the knockout stages, not at least in the Champions League. Their only loss this season has come in the Champions League at the hands of Liverpool in the reverse fixture in September. They have not been able to beat Napoli in two games. These results have left them in third with five points. It is their good fortune that Liverpool and Napoli have not been able to take advantage of PSG’s form and are within reachable distance – both are at 6 points with Napoli leading the table. That leaves the Parisians with two must-win matches in the group stage and they possibly go into the first of those without two of their best players as both Neymar and Mbappe injured themselves in the international break.
By the standards they set last season, Liverpool too are in poor form, especially in the Champions League. While the two wins at Anfield have put them up in second with six points, the losses in Naples and Belgrade mean that Liverpool beat Napoli by at least two goals to ensure qualification to the next round. They could, of course, make it easier in the final game week against Napoli if they win or draw in Paris on Wednesday night. Like their hosts, Liverpool are also unbeaten on the domestic front as they stretched their unbeaten run to 13 games when they beat Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday. As if the loss in Belgrade shook them up, Liverpool have not conceded a goal in the two games they have played since, albeit against much lesser opponents than PSG. Jurgen Klopp also has a fitter squad at his disposal. These factors should give hope to Liverpool fans, who can still hope to qualify, even if their team loses in Paris on Wednesday.
- PSG have just five points from four games so fare (W1 D2 L1) in the Champions League group stage. Only once have they had fewer points from four group stage games in the current format of Champions League – 4 points in 2004-05.
- Liverpool have lost both their away games in the Champions League group stage so far. They have never lost all three away games. They have also never lost four consecutive away games in the tournament and currently, they have lost three consecutive away games in the Champions League.
- The two sides have met thrice previously, with the home side winning each of those games. PSG emerged 3-0 winners in 1996 Cup Winner’s Cup, which was the only time they have hosted Liverpool.
- Since the start of the last season, no team has scored as many Champions League goals as Liverpool – 48, with Salah, Firmino, and Mane accounting for 35 of those.
Unlike in the past, Edinson Cavani has not been the focal point of PSG’s attack since Neymar and Mbappe signed for them. However, with ten Ligue 1 goal contributions (9 scored 1 assisted) and two goal contributions in Champions League (1 scored 1 assisted), he will be the key point of attack should both Neymar and Mbappe be unavailable on Wednesday. He is averaging a goal scored or assisted every 83.5 minutes in all competitions and Tuchel will depend on him to give PSG the edge.
There was a period in September- October when Mohamed Salah’s form seemed to waver and it seemed that he might not be able to capture last season’s form. He might still not have captured his form from last season, but the goals have started to flow. His xG in the Champions League is 0.53, which is just slightly lesser than his Champions League xG for last season of 0.58. Overall, his numbers mirror Cavani’s – with 10 goals contributed in the Premier League (7 scored) and two in the Champions League (both scored). If Liverpool are to return with at least a point on Wednesday, Mohamed Salah will have to be in top form.
Thomas Tuchel is optimistic about involving both Neymar and Mbappe on Wednesday although both are doubtful of starting. Dani Alves made his first appearance of the season against Toulouse on Saturday but Tuchel might not persist with him in a game of this magnitude. Adrien Rabiot’s relationship with PSG is deteriorating and he might not be considered for selection on Wednesday.
For Liverpool, Joe Gomez, who missed the game at Watford on Saturday due to an injury is likely to be back. If Klopp persists with the recently successful 4-2-3-1 formation, then Xherdan Shaqiri will again start leaving only two midfield places to be sorted between Naby Keita, Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho. Jordan Henderson’s red card against Watford does not carry over to Champions League so he is available to Klopp on Wednesday.
PSG will have to treat this game as a knockout or at least as a must-win or must-draw match. That pressure, along with the possible absence of both Neymar and Mbappe could give Liverpool a chance to stop their string of away losses in the Champions League and return from Paris with at least a point.
Paris Saint-Germain 2 – 2 Liverpool