When the Champions League groups are drawn, pundits rush to nominate the favourites to progress to last sixteen and also to identify the least likely teams to make it past the group stage. When Group E teams were drawn, the pundits would have nominated the current Champions Liverpool as the favourite to progress to the next stage, while they would have nominated KRC Genk as the weakest team in the group. On Matchday 3 of the Champions League group stages, Liverpool will travel to Belgium to play Genk on Wednesday night.
Genk came into the Group Stages thanks to their top finish in the Jupiler League First Division A in the previous season. But this season, they seem to be struggling slightly as they sit 7th in the league, with one-third of the season gone. They come into this game after losing their last league game 1-0 to Standard Liege. In Champions League, the Belgians were shell shocked by Salzburg’s attack in matchday 1. However, at home they managed to hold Napoli to a 0-0 draw in matchday 2. Currently they sit fourth in the group table with that one point from that draw. Felice Mazzu will hope that his side can add to that tally on Wednesday.
Liverpool come into this game having dropped points for the first time in the Premier League this season. On Sunday, the Reds drew 1-1 against Manchester United at Old Trafford. However, even before the game at Old Trafford, Liverpool’s form was showing signs of decline indicated by the narrow wins against Leicester City and Salzburg. Despite Sunday’s draw, the Reds sit six points clear at the top of the Premier League table. The aforementioned narrow win against Salzburg also puts Liverpool in the 2nd position in the Champions League Group E table. A win against Genk in both the legs would definitely put the Reds in strong position to progress to the next stage.
- This is the first ever meeting between KRC Genk and Liverpool in any competition. The Belgians’ only previous games with English opponents in European competition was in 2011-12 Champions League group stage, drawing 1-1 at home and losing 5-0 at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.
- Liverpool have played five European Cup/ Champions League matches against Belgian teams, keeping five clean sheets in those games – one of the wins being the 1978 European Cup final against Club Brugge.
- While English teams are unbeaten in their last 14 Champions League games against Belgian team (W12 D2 L0), Liverpool have won only one of their last 10 away Champions League group stage matches (W1 D3 L6), losing each of the last four in a row.
- Should Genk fail to defeat Liverpool, they will set a record for games played in the European Cup/ Champions League without winning, having played 14 (W0 D8 L6), level with Floriana FC and Shamrock Rovers.
- At 23 years and 148 days, KRC Genk named the youngest average starting XI age in a game in this season’s Champions League in their 0-0 draw against Napoli on matchday 2.
Ianis Hagi, the son of famous Romanian footballer Georghe Hagi joined KRC Genk earlier in the summer after establishing himself as an upcoming talent in Romania. So far in the Belgian First Division A, Hagi has made 9 appearances, playing 438 minutes and scoring 3 goals, while assisting 2. His xG + xA /90 is greater than 0.7, indicating more than 70% chance of him contributing a goal, provided he plays all 90 minutes. While there are more established goal scorers in the Genk lineup, the manager Felice Mazzu will have high hopes from Hagi as well.
Firmino is the only player since the start of the 2017-18 season to have both scored and assisted 10 Champions League goals (14 goals 10 assists), though he’s only sored or assisted in one of his last seven away games in the competition (one goal away at FC Porto). For someone with such a prolific contribution rate (3 goals, 5 assists for Liverpool), Firmino is due for a goal scoring or assisting performance as he last scored for Liverpool in September end against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and he last assisted a goal for Liverpool in early October against Salzburg on matchday 2 of Champions League. Jurgen Klopp will hope that his striker can deliver when Salah is likely to be unavailable due to injury.
For Genk, Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic is ruled out for Genk for Wednesday’s match. Mazzu might opt to go with the team that held Napoli to a 0-0 draw on matchday 2. The likely lineup for the Genk – Coucke; Maehle, Lucumi, Cuesta, Uronen; Hrosovsky, Berge, Ito, Hagi, Bongonda; Samatta.
For Liverpool, Mohamed Salah missed out against Manchester United on Sunday with an ankle injury sustained prior to the international break. Jurgen Klopp may not risk Salah in midweek with an eye on Sunday’s clash with Spurs. This means that Divock Origi can start the game at his boyhood club. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana played well as substitutes against United and will hope to be rewarded with starts here. Joe Gomez could also start allowing some rest to Trent Alexander Arnold or Joel Matip. The likely lineup for Liverpool could be – Alisson; Trent, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner; Mane, Firmino, Origi.
Liverpool have not won away from home in Champions League group stage for quite some time. Wednesday’s game provides them a great opportunity to break that pattern and also get in better form overall. As Napoli can vouch, it will not be very easy but Liverpool should be able to win comfortably eventually.
Genk 1 – 3 Liverpool