herald

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Expectations greater this time for Reds

Liverpool must deal with a new kind of pressure as Champions League kingpins

KEY MEN: Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah limber up ahead of tonight’s big match at Anfield. Photo: PA
KEY MEN: Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah limber up ahead of tonight’s big match at Anfield. Photo: PA

Liverpool are dealing with hugely enhanced expectations as they return to Champions League action tonight.

I believed Jurgen Klopp's men were capable of ruffling a few feathers as they returned to Europe's elite competition last season, but the idea that they would go all the way to the final was not on my radar.

Yet no-one could deny that they deserved to be in the Kiev final against Real Madrid last May and I firmly believe they have a great chance to challenge for the trophy again this season, as the competition appears to be more open than it has been for a long time.

Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid have won every Champions League title since Chelsea's victory in the 2012 final, but the landscape in European football has shifted in the last couple of years and English clubs have closed the gap on the 'big three' that have dominated the competition for so long.

Prize

Cristiano Ronaldo's move from Real Madrid to Juventus has weakened the side that have won the competition for the last three seasons and I believe the door is now open for a Premier League side to go all the way and lift the most prestigious prize in European club football.

That side could be Liverpool and while you need fortune as well as quality to go all the way in the Champions League, Klopp's players have shown that they have one of those boxes ticked as they are a side that have enough attacking flair to strike fear into opponents in cup competitions.

Liverpool v Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield is the most attractive game from the opening round of Champions League matches, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani offering up a potent attacking threat to give Klopp's side a real test.

We may see the two best attacking trios in European football going head-to-head tonight as PSG lock horns with Liverpool's front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, with goals a certainty for both sides in a game that could be crucial to the outcome of a Group C battle that also includes Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.

PSG have failed to make a breakthrough in the Champions League despite their Qatari owners spending millions upon millions to try and crack the European code in recent years.

They have a new manager in charge in Thomas Tuchel and will dare to believe this could be their season at last.

AMBITIOUS: Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to go one better in the Champions
League this season. Photo: PA
AMBITIOUS: Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to go one better in the Champions League this season. Photo: PA

Yet they will be rattled by the unique atmosphere created by a European night at Anfield, with the hairs on the back of the neck always standing up when the teams emerge from the tunnel and that wonderful Champions League anthem is played.

Experienced

Liverpool players have always thrived on the atmosphere on nights like this and I have seen even the most experienced of opposition crumble as the wave of noise hits them, but this game is tough to call.

While they have won their first five games of the Premier League season, Liverpool have not been at their very best yet and may be a little jaded after their exploits beating Tottenham at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Meanwhile, PSG had the luxury of resting Neymar and Mbappe as they hammered St Etienne 4-0 last Friday night, ensuring their star men will be fresh and ready for the challenge that lies ahead at Anfield. I'm interested to see Neymar in action in this game as I was highly critical of his shameful performances at the World Cup during the summer, when he spent more time diving and cheating than trying to win football matches.

This kid is a wonderful player, but his eagerness to fall to the floor every time a gust of wind from a passing opponent hit him was embarrassing and I just hope he realises those kinds of antics will destroy his reputation.

Liverpool fans will be screaming at Neymar every time he falls to the ground tonight and while I don't want to see him at his best against Liverpool, all football fans would welcome a change of attitude from the Brazilian after he became a figure of ridicule at the World Cup.

My verdict on the game? Liverpool should have enough to beat PSG so long as they keep defensive discipline and their front three start to fire like we know they can.

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