By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to the capital of Serbia to face Red Star Belgrade in the fourth round as they look to further cement their place in the knock-out stages of the competition.
Liverpool top the group with six points, ahead of Napoli and PSG who have five and four respectively. With PSG earning a late point against Napoli in Paris, Liverpool have been put in the driving seat with the Reds only needing four points from the final three games to secure progress.
Win in Serbia and a draw against the losers of the other tie will put Liverpool into the pot for the last 16.
The trip to Serbia will be a difficult one, despite Liverpool defeating their opponents 4-0 in the reverse fixture. Napoli only drew 0-0 at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.
With Jurgen Klopp reportedly resting many key-players after somewhat of a burnout in recent weeks, points dropped in this fixture would really put Liverpool on the back foot in the group.
Liverpool sit third in the Premier League, two points behind Manchester City and behind second-placed Chelsea on goal difference, having won eight and drawn three of their opening 11.
Liverpool still are in the hunt for that elusive 19th title – having played all of the top five while still being unbeaten and only two points off the leaders is a testament to how resolute this Liverpool side have become despite below-par performances.
Liverpool gained a hard-earned point against an inform Arsenal, despite the Londoners outplaying us for the majority of the game. The Reds travelled back to Liverpool disappointed with both van Dijk missing three gilt-edged chances, a goal wrongly ruled out for offside which should have seen the reds win by a comfortable margin.
The Serbs are still top of their respective league, unbeaten too. Only dropping points on one occasion as they lead 2nd place by nine points. Scoring 40 in 15 games, just under three a-game on average whilst conceding once every 180 minutes, like before they go into this fixture in great form.
Given the difference in quality between both clubs, it’s not hard to look far past a convincing Liverpool victory and a much needed one. Three points are vital with PSG and Napoli playing each other.
Midfielders Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita who both returned to full training on Friday were expected to travel with the squad. The game however has come too soon for Henderson who will continue to regain his fitness in Liverpool.
Nathaniel Clyne could have earned his second start of the season but he has not travelled through illness, so the out-of-form Trent Alexander-Arnold will likely retain his place, while one of van Dijk or Joe Gomez will earn a rest in place of Dejan Lovren.
Andy Robertson will likely keep his place as the Scotsman was rested against Cardiff 10 days ago.
Jurgen Klopp should utilize start Fabinho alongside Naby Keita in a midfield two, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and James Milner completing an attacking trio which will support Daniel Sturridge.
Red Star should line-up similarly to how they did in all three of their games in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Goalkeeper Borjan should be helped by a defensive four of Stojkovic and Rodic playing full back with Savic partnering Milos Degenek on central defence.
The deep lying duo of Krsticic and Jovicic both of whom are under 6ft should be no match for our technical midfield. Ex-Chelsea boy Marko Marin should be accompanied on the wing by Veljko Simic.
Striker Yiadom Boakye, who has 1.5 goals per game (44 in 29) since he re-joined after a brief spell in china, certainly knows where the back of the net is.
One to watch: Marko Marin
Much was thought of the German International after impressing in the Bundesliga. Progressing though the Borussia Monchengladbach youth system, he fought his way up to the first team.
A run of impressive performances including scoring a hat-trick in the DFB Polka got him a move to Werder Bremen for just over £8m. Forming a deadly partnership with Mesut Ozil and Aaron Hunt as they lit up the Bundesliga as they finished third. Marko achieved four goals and 11 assists in the league, earning him a place in the top 100 young players in world football.
Once Mesut Ozil left the club, Marin’s form followed. He failed to impress the following season and only registered one goal and five assists to cap off a disappointing campaign. To the surprise of many Chelsea took a risk on the left winger, a risk they now regret.
The German failed to impress and was loaned out a handful of times to various clubs across Europe. He now finds himself at Red Star and has shown glimpses of his form, having scored three goals in eight appearances for the club.
He still shows glimpses of class which made him so highly thought of. Red Star and Marko Marin will probably fail to show any sign of intent on Tuesday but with the little time on the ball they have the majority of it will go through the No.17.
Second-string doing the business – Many journalists suggested on the aftermath of the Arsenal game, that Jurgen Klopp will look to rest a string of first-team players for the match in Serbia. With a host of players looking jaded come the 70th minute on Saturday evening. Klopp must protect his players or risk his team running out of steam.
Luckily for him we have excellent squad depth across all positions barring the wings, the Reds’ will start with seven or eight different players from three days ago. Despite quite a lot of changes, Liverpool still have the quality to beat their Serbian opposition and should do so with ease.
Liverpool are battling across three major competitions this season and need every player from the squad to chip in when required and doing so without a drop-in quality. The likes of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge and, until he leaves the club, Divock Origi are all more than capable of stepping in and getting the job done.
With a couple of first-team players struggling for form at the moment, every fringe player that starts on Tuesday will need to put 100% effort in the hope of getting promoted to the first XI.
Naby Keita’s welcome return – Naby Keita had an excellent game in the season’s opening match. Runs from midfield as well as drifting into space caused absolute chaos for West Ham’s midfield.
Since then the Guinian has failed to show the form which made Klopp splash 52m pounds on him. He has had his moments of brilliance, but not enough worthy of cementing his place in the first XI.
Playing alongside fellow summer signing Fabinho in a midfield two could provide an ample boost with both being in the club’s top three midfielders alongside Gini Wijnaldum.
Xherdan Shaqiri didn’t travel with the squad for safety reasons so Keita is expected to fill the void. Red Star are the perfect opponent to capture his form, lack of footballing ability as well as poor positional sense should give our No. 8 freedom to roam and really assert himself into the match.
Nothing less than a victory should be expected of Liverpool, regardless of the 11 they play it should have enough quality to beat a team of Red Star’s class.
Being the stronger team on paper means nothing, Liverpool need to win to gain a strong advantage on their Group C counterparts. Red Star Belgrade will not make it easy for this Liverpool team as they did against Napoli.
Playing at home in front of a hostile crowd won’t be easy for Liverpool. Especially as they must walk through the notorious “Tunnel of Dome”. Often called a “Welcome to Hell” by locals, the 90 second journey through an apocalyptic claustrophobic tunnel, which resonates with the crowd jumping. It will certainly test the nerve of the Liverpool players.
The best possible outcome is Liverpool score early and then go on to score a handful more. One thing we need to watch for is Red Star’s dangerous and clinical attack, give their forward a chance and more than likely he will find the back of the net as he has proven.
Ultimately, I think it will be a fairly standard game for Liverpool, despite large amount of changes to the line-up we should still be very comfortable, I’m going with a 3-0 win.
Final Score – Red Star Belgrade 0-3 Liverpool (Sturridgex2 Mane)