By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to the Parc des Princes in the French capital in the fifth matchday of the UEFA Champions League.
Group C has been sub-par for all teams involved bar Red Star – three points separate top from bottom. Liverpool must avoid defeat at all costs – a loss would mean they would have to beat Napoli at home by two clear goals if the Italians pick up three points at home against Red Star.
A draw would mean that a win against Napoli would see us through, whilst a win would see Liverpool get through with a game to spare.
PSG have been enormously impressive in Ligue 1, winning 14 games from a possible 14, scoring 46 in the process. A 1-0 over Toulouse at the weekend was surprisingly mediocre as the Parisians played without their star men Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
In the Champions League, PSG have only won, once out of a possible four. Liverpool were extremely fortunate as PSG drew both their games against Napoli as Jurgen Klopp and his men came away from the two ties against Red Star with three points leaving some fans wondering how we are still top of the group.
Liverpool go into this game on the back of an impressive 3-0 win over Watford in the league. A game which proved to be a very frustrating counter when viewed live, but after a second watch, Jurgen Klopp got his tactics spot on. Liverpool controlled the game extremely well, something fans have been crying out for, for years.
Once Salah opened Liverpool’s account, the Reds’ stepped it up a gear and scored a further two in the last 15 minutes. Captain Jordan Henderson got sent off for a very senseless foul, considering he will miss the weekend game vs Everton, he should play a full 90 in Paris, though some would think otherwise with the no.14 proving a very frustrating figure at Vicarage Road.
Jurgen Klopp named a very strong line-up in their weekend win against Watford. Joe Gomez picked up a slight knock in training which ruled him out. Dejan Lovren stepped in and did a mighty job as Liverpool nullified Troy Deeney after an early scare.
The front three linked up for the first time since Brighton with all tree playing a major role in the opener. Bobby Firmino was excellent after a number of poor performances – he played an intricate through ball to Mane who then crossed to Salah to score.
He also won the free-kick which led to Liverpool second and was on the end of the of one of the best counter attacks Jurgen Klopp has ever seen. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Senegalese has been declared fit to play after suffering with illness this week. Here’s hoping all three can link up again on Wednesday.
Joe Gomez coming in for Trent Alexander-Arnold should be the only change in the back four. Gomez allows Liverpool to be more conservative against dangerous opposition in a game where Liverpool must avoid defeat at all costs.
One could argue Fabinho should start this game, though I think it will be the same midfield which started the home game against PSG. Milner Henderson and Wijnaldum ran PSGs midfield empty and for the last 30 minutes it seemed the French side had nothing left in their tanks.
Juan Bernat, who had a nightmare performance at Anfield conceding the penalty which lead to Liverpool’s second, is expected to be be joined by veteran Thiago Silva, Presnel Kimpembe and Thomas Meunier in defence. Gianluigi Buffon is predicted to start in goal, the Italian may be 41 but he is still considered to be one of the best in the world.
Midfield Maestro Marco Verratti will play in the base of midfield along with alleged Liverpool target Adrian Rabiot. Verratti missed the Anfield counter due to suspension and was sorely missed as PSG failed to show any control and comfort in midfield.
Both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar missed PSGs’ league match as a precaution as the pair both picked up injuries during the International Break. Thomas Tuchel stated after the 1-0 win over Toulouse that he expects the pair to start on Wednesday along with strike partner Edison Cavani with Julian Draxler providing creativity from midfield.
L’equipe, the national sports newspaper in France, have predicted that Thomas Tuchel will use a
3-4-3 formation. Three centre backs so they can man mark our strike force and four players in midfield as opposed to our trio to allow them to control the midfield.
The last time a team played three against us in Europe was against Roma, the fluidity of our attack tore their defence to shreds. Thomas Tuchel must surely know about that game and I think it would be very unwise for him to set up against Liverpool in that manner.
Danger man: Kylian Mbappé
Kylian Mbappe has been through quite a career since his breakthrough season at Monaco going from a relatively unknown 17-year-old, moving to PSG for 160 million and helping France on the way to becoming world champions including scoring in the final, being the first teenager to do so since Pélé.
With blistering pace similar to that of an Olympic sprinter, a finish better than some players who are 10 years his senior. Having scored 56 goals in 119 competitive appearances. Deployed on the right wing by Thomas Tuchel.
Andy Robertson dealt with the exciting teenager quite well at Anfield, so I would hope he will be comfortable again, especially with Virgil van Dijk who has turned into an almighty defender this season starting next to the Scottish captain.
Lack of defensive support – 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 out fullbacks. PSG got exposed down the wings quite a few times already in the Champions League already. Andy Robertson and Trent have improved their final ball deliveries, with the Scotsman already having six 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 caught on the counter.
However, If Neymar and Mbappe were to thwart their defensive duties, and if PSG defended like they did at Anfield, Liverpool could come away from France with a much needed three points.
High Press vs PSG – Liverpool pressed high against PSG in the Anfield game and with great effect. Two of our three goals were scored following us winning the ball high up the pitch.
Playing away from home and in a very hostile atmosphere, I don’t think Liverpool will press as much but will do in an effective manner when required. PSGs’ ultras will want their star men to attack from the get go, something which could fall into Liverpool’s hands.
With Joe Gomez expected to start at right back and James Milner playing on the right side of midfield offering support, Mo Salah can sit very high up the pitch, offering Liverpool a very quick outlet.
Having the Egyptian so high up the pitch, Thomas Meunier will have to stay back leaving Neymar isolated on the wing. Leaving such a player isolated in a very lonely part of the pitch should increase Liverpool chances of getting three points massively.
Given that Napoli are likely to win against Red Star, it is important Liverpool do not lose in the Paris as having to beat the Italians while not impossible would be a very difficult task to see Liverpool through to the last 16.
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 start players. Liverpool have been excellent at controlling games this season, keeping hold of the ball for minutes at a time almost toying with the opposition.
PSG have the players to hurt us having a formidable front three of their own, but I think our defence is so much better than there’s and with a poor midfield, Mo Salah has found his goal scoring boots and Mane and Firmino were impressive in the last game.
Liverpool will sit back and hit PSG on the break, Liverpool have become very comfortable when defending a single goal lead. The Reds’ have only dropped points once this season from a winning position.
I don’t think it will be as easy as the return leg, though I think it will be a very resolute Liverpool performance and one that will go down as an away day to remember.
PSG 1 (Mbappe) – Liverpool 2 (Salahx2)