By Padraig O’Callaghan- @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome Paris Saint Germain to Anfield to open their account in the 2018/2019 Champions League season hoping to go one better than last time out.
The final this year is hosted in Wanda Metropolitano, what better way to seek revenge then to take the trophy away from last season’s victors in their own city.
With Liverpool having the Anfield roar that has inspired so many unlikely victories as well as a newly added back-bone to the side, this season could well be the time we bring “big ears” back for the 6th time.
Form going into the game
As expected PSG are top of Ligue 1 having played five and won five, scoring 13 and conceding four in the process. Liverpool of course are a different proposition to the teams they have comprehensively beaten. They beat St. Etienne by four goals to nil, though the Greens should have got a couple of goals in the first half. They pressed the champions for the first 40 minutes before tiring for the remainder of the game, allowing Thomas Tuchel’s side to put some gloss on the score line.
Liverpool, despite having gained maximum points from their opening fixtures, haven’t got out of first gear in the attacking side of the game, with Bobby Firmino the only player to show signs of last season’s form. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have both played well in patches but not throughout a full game. The defence is the only part of the team that has shown real consistency given the fact that three of the four had a full season together with Trent Alexander-Arnold at the World Cup.
Jurgen Klopp named a very strong line-up in their weekend win against Tottenham Hotspur. The result on Saturday will bring great confidence to the squad after a commanding victory in which the score-line flattered the Lilywhites. Liverpool could have had four or five if everyone was at the races.
Bobby Firmino was back to his best at Wembley harassing the usually composed Belgian duo of Vertonghen and Alderweireld into mistakes. He went off mid-way through the second half with an eye injury but should be available to line-up alongside his attacking partners on Tuesday evening.
Gini Wijnaldum, who was my MOTM at Spurs, covered every blade of grass. He put his body on the line, moving the ball very effectively. As well as a moment to savour, his first away Premier League goal. He should keep his place although Klopp suggested before the game on Saturday that Henderson will be in the line-up.
This would have been the perfect game for Fabinho to start, but after Wijnaldum’s monster performance at Wembley, he will likely have to settle for a place on the bench again. Gini will move forward next to Naby Keita, with the Dutchman better suited to European football, some of his best performances at Liverpool have come in the Champions League. The defence once again will remain unchanged, I doubt it will change in the foreseeable future.
PSG have the luxury of resting Neymar and bringing in the likes of Julian Draxler, who had a very good game in their victory on Friday night, with a goal and a couple of key passes as well as some solid defensive work. The German international has edged ahead of former Manchester United flop Angel Di Maria in the fight to be selected. Juan Bernat, signed from Bayern Munich over the summer made his debut for his new club and had a very shaky game, Salah will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing the Spanish international.
Thomas Tuchel has somewhat of a crisis in midfield with Liverpool-linked Adrien Rabiot their only fit central midfielder who plays regularly.
The ex-Borussia Dortmund boss had to resort to partnering the French international with Brazilian defender Marquinhos. This will unlikely change as pass maestro Marco Verrati suspended for the tie at Anfield.
Alphonse Areola, who has played at Anfield before in Villarreal’s 3-0 defeat in the Europa League will start in goal with the ageing Gianluigi Buffon suspended also.
With Marquinhos starting in midfield, young defender Presnel Kimpembe will partner Thiago Silva in defence with Thomas Meunier and Bernat flanking the wings. With the lack of options in midfield, Edinson Cavani will start up front as a lone striker supported by the tacking trio of Draxler, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Danger man: Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe has carved out quite a career since his breakthrough season at Monaco, going from a relatively unknown 17-year-old to moving to PSG for 160 million and helping France on the way to becoming World Champions, scoring in the final. A player of his calibre at such a young age hasn’t been seen since the days of Brazilian Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Mbappe possesses blistering pace similar to that of an Olympic sprinter, and a finish better than players 10 years his senior, scoring 56 goals in 119 competitive appearances. Deployed on the right wing by Thomas Tuchel, Andy Robertson at left back will have a massive job on his hands to contain the most coveted youngster in the world.
One to watch: Adrien Rabiot
With Adrien Rabiot refusing to sign a new contract at PSG he will be available on a free transfer or a cut-price deal come the January transfer window. French reporters have suggested that Liverpool have registered their interest in the boyhood Liverpool fan with some even suggesting Jurgen Klopp has already contacted the player directly.
Given the player is only 23 years old, this move would be a very wise investment considering we lost Emre Can to the same fate in the summer. When rumours first appeared during the summer I was very sceptical of the move, watching PSG last season the French international seemed lost without an out and out defensive midfielder next to him in Thiago Motta.
Since then Liverpool have added Fabinho to their ranks, therefore I think Rabiot would be a great option for Jurgen Klopp, being comfortable on the ball, a varied range of passing as well as being aggressive off the ball this would mark another excellent piece of business by FSG.
Anfield atmosphere vs PSG: We have seen so regularly in the past how players and managers disregard the world-famous European nights at Anfield, and each time the Reds and fans stepped up almost as if they are insulted by the remarks and demolished their opponents. Thomas Tuchel is yet to comment on the Anfield tie (maybe he has learnt his lesson after visiting with Dortmund), but with this being the opening game it’s always important to get a strong start.
Liverpool fans know this and will give the French champions a hell of a time. Whistling, shouting and tormenting the opposition into making mistakes, mistakes we know Liverpool can take advantage of.
Last season the fans were so important, I was at the semi-final vs Roma at home and the atmosphere was electric, even in the main-stand where I was sat. Throughout the 90 minutes, the only time we had to rest was at half time. The fans are going to play a large part in how this match turns out and I expect it to be one of those European nights at Anfield again that will live long in the memory.
Lack of defensive support: The PSG front men are a bit lazy when it comes to the defensive side of their game. Neymar and Mbappe rarely get back to help their full-backs. Given the quality of the attacking aspect of our full-backs, each opportunity to counter will leave the French sides full-backs against two players.
They will be stuck in two minds- go with the winger or cover the overlap of our fullbacks. Against St-Etienne on Friday night, PSG were exposed down the wings quite a few times, with better quality players they would have got at least a couple of goals.
Andy Robertson and Trent have improved their final ball, with the Scotsman already notching two assists to his name. Of course, with the trio staying up front, PSG could really hurt Liverpool on the counter, so much so that it a necessity that whoever is playing defensive midfield must stay back while we are attacking so we won’t be out-numbered if we are caught on the counter.
However, If Neymar and Mbappe were to neglect their defensive duties, and if PSG defended like they did on Friday, Liverpool could come away with a result that will resound all over Europe.
High press vs PSG: As mentioned before St Etienne pressed high when the two teams met on Friday, they allowed the midfield players no time on the ball, hunting down in packs to recover the ball quickly when they lost possession. The PSG midfield was guilty of holding onto the ball for a second too long, which helped the press.
As a result of the press the Ligue 1 champions’ forward men were starved of the ball. Cavani made little impact in the first half before the opposition tired, but the Uruguayan made much more of an impact in the second half, including scoring from the penalty spot. If PSG’s midfielders were to dawdle on the ball at Anfield, it will play into Liverpool’s hands, much like it did in the same competition last year against Man City.
With the tough group Liverpool are in, it is very important to get off to a winning start, especially since Tuchel’s side are missing key players for the tie. Given that Napoli are likely to win against Red Star Belgrade, it is important not to be falling behind at an early stage. I fancy us beating PSG, due to the lack of competitiveness in the French league, as well as a few fragile mindsets of a couple of their star players.
Liverpool were very good in the second half vs Spurs, controlling the ball and almost toying with the opposition. The final ball was missing again, it was much better than previous fixture but that will come once the front three and Naby Keita play more together.
PSG have the players to hurt us with a formidable front three of their own, but I think our defence is so much better than theirs and with an under-strength midfield, and us finding form I can only see this going one way.
Liverpool will fly out of the trap as they always do in Europe, and get into a commanding 3-0 lead before half time, before taking the foot off the pedal in preparation for Southampton. Fabinho should get his long-awaited debut coming on as a substitute having played against the opposition during his time at Monaco.
Prediction: Liverpool 3 (Salah, Mané, Firmino) – PSG 1 (Cavani)