Champions League Preview: Group C
Last year Liverpool cruised through their group, and went on a memorable run to the Champions League final. Now, they face stiff opposition in Napoli and Paris-Saint Germain. Kris Gourlay previews.
Group C is possibly the most entertaining of all in the Champions League this season. Last year’s finalists, Liverpool, rejuvenated after a decade of disappointment, join one of Europe’s big boys, PSG, as well as free-scoring Napoli and a rather over-shadowed Red Star Belgrade.
Jurgen Klopp’s men will undoubtedly be seeking revenge for last seasons calamity of a final, losing 3-1 to Real Madrid, courtesy of two goalkeeping howlers from Loris Karius, who has since left to seek solitude in Turkey with Besiktas.
They are joined by PSG, a team owned by some of the richest owners in world football, and have, because of that, constructed a formidable team with arguably the two most talked about players in the world last year, Neymar and Killian Mbappe at the helm.
Napoli are also not to be dismissed straight away. They had the chance to take the Serie A title from Juventus for the first time in 7 years with their fierce and direct attack that would make any defence in Europe dizzy.
The last team making up the quartet is Red Star Belgrade, who recently wrapped up their 28th title in Serbia, so confidence will not be missing from their team.
Obviously, all eyes will be pinned on Liverpool, and how they react to last seasons disappointing finale to what could have been one of Europe’s greatest tales. Klopp’s men really hit the round running in the competition last season, their free-scoring attack of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamad Salah took apart the likes of Porto, Man City and Roma to reach the final for the first time since defeat to Milan in 2006.
Liverpool come into this year’s competition, full of confidence, desire and with a perfect record in the Premier League this season, winning all 5 games, including a 2-1 away win at Spurs on Saturday.
As for team news, there are no notable injury concerns for Tuesday’s opening game against PSG at Anfield, with captain Jordan Henderson coming in for James Milner the only rumoured change from Saturday’s game.
PSG will, despite Liverpool’s resurgence, still be favourites for this group with the two most expensive players in history as part of a formidable attack, as well as a mix of experience and solidarity in defence and midfield.
They will, however, be without some key names in UCL veteran Dani Alves, midfielder Adrien Rabiot, Gianluigi Buffon and Layvin Kurzawa will all be absent on Tuesday due to injuries and suspensions.
After single-handedly changing the transfer market with their statement of spending two years ago, PSG were nailed on to be finalists, if not winners of the Champions League after adding Neymar and teenage sensation and now world cup winner, Kylian Mbappe to their team.
Two round of 16 exits in a row though have rather put into perspective how far money can get you when it comes to success, but with Mbappe arguably being one of the deadliest finishers in the world right now with more goals in European than Messi and Ronaldo had at their age, they certainly have the fire power to win the competition.
Napoli head into this year’s competition with a lot less confidence compared to last season. The Italian giants lost coach Maurizio Sarri to Chelsea during the summer, and although he has been replaced with a more experienced boss in Carlo Ancelotti, the special aura around Napoli has thinned.
Napoli also lost their midfield cog in Jorginho, who was the best in the business at turning defence into attack and was key to their historic title charge last season. They are, however, 2nd in Serie A so far with 4 games played.
Ancelotti’s experience in the Champions League will prove priceless if Napoli are to make it out of the group, having not endured a thrilling run of years in the competition after failing to make it out of the group stages last year and losing in the round of 16 two years ago.
Red Star Belgrade
Red Star Belgrade head into the group as certified underdogs. They will be lucky to get a single win from their time in the group but with no disrespect to the Serbian outfit, the difference in quality money is off the scale for their team compared to the other three teams.
One thing they do have at their disposal however, are some the most passionate and die-hard football fans in world football who themselves can help decide a game.