Champions League Group E preview: Liverpool to win, Napoli to finish second

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The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest to be crowned kings, with the Champions League kicking off on Tuesday.

The group stage phase of the competition will produce the teams that will feature in the last-16 draw in December.

Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to leave an early mark right from the word go, there are legitimate excuses to be absolutely thrilled about the Champions League right from matchday one.

We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group E …

Liverpool (England)

Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk

Manager: Jurgen Klopp

The defending champions are favourites to finish on top of what seems like the most straightforward group. It will be interesting to see if the Reds can maintain the hunger, having been crowned champions less than four months ago. But ability-wise, Jurgen Klopp’s men should not have any problems .

The Reds were inactive in the transfer market and did not make any additions to their well-rounded squad. The quest for their first Premier League title has kicked-off exactly like they would have hoped for. They have won each of their five games in the league and all the players are in fine form heading to the Champions League.

Last season, Klopp’s men succumbed to defeat against the unlikeliest of opponents in Red Star Belgrade. They must hence be wary of underdogs Genk and Red Bull Salzburg, especially when they are on the road.

Key player: Virgil van Dijk

Napoli (Italy)

KalidouKoulibalyNapoli (2)

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

The best of the rest in Serie A behind Juventus, Napoli had never featured in the group stage of Europe’s top tier until earlier this decade. But since their debut in the 2011/12 season, the club from Naples has qualified for the group stages six times and have now established themselves as regulars in the competition.

Napoli’s best result in the competition arrived in their debut season when they made it to the last-16 and were knocked out by Chelsea after extra-time. They have a huge opportunity to match or eclipse this when they start their journey this season. Ancelotti’s men are favourites to qualify after Liverpool and could even surprise the Reds if they manage a massive win at home on Tuesday.

Last season, the two teams were grouped alongside Paris Saint-Germain in what was the Group of death. The Serie A side was one goal away from qualification and a terrific save from Alisson in the death prevented Arkadiusz Milik from helping his team make it through to the knockouts.

Centre-back Konstantinos Manolas and attacker Hirving Lozano make for ambitious arrivals at Napoli as they aim for a better show in the Champions League. It would come as a shocker if they do not finish in the top-two.

Key player: Kalidou Koulibaly

Genk (Belgium)

Genk

Manager: Felice Mazzu

The pursuit for a first win in the Champions League main event has brought Genk to the group stage of the 2019/20 edition. Having failed to win a single game in the group stage of each of their two campaigns (2002/03, 2011/12) in the Champions League, Genk will hope to be lucky in their third attempt.

Genk’s best result in a European competition arrived two years ago when they made it to the quarter-final of the Europa League before being edged by Celta Vigo. Last season Slavia Prague thumped them 4-1 in Salzburg before playing out a goal-less draw in Prague.

The Belgian champions must be happy to secure a third-place finish and transfer to the Europa League, given they are drawn alongside two of the best teams from the top-two pots. However, Red Bull Salzburg will prove worthy opponents for the third spot and it should not come as a surprise if Genk’s lengthy wait for their first win is extended by at least one more season.

Key player: Sander Berge

Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)

RB Salzburg

Manager: Jesse Marsch

The Austrian giants too are new faces in the competition that are still in search of their first appearance in the last-16 of the competition. Salzburg have made it to the Group stage just once in their history and this will be their first season in the competition after Red Bull’s takeover.

However, Salzburg made a name for themselves in the Europa League, having made it to the semi-final in the 2017/18 season before losing to Marseille in extra-time.

Salzburg possess the firepower in wonderkid Erling Braut Haaland, who has scored 14 goals this season already, but lack the European experience to trouble the big guns from the group. They are on the same level as Genk and could claim the third-place spot that will take them to the Europa League.

Apart from back-up goalkeeper Alexander Walke, none of the players in Salzburg’s squad is over the age of 27. The young guns surely warrant some attention ahead of their first Champions League campaign

Key player: Erling Braut Haland

Prediction:

1. Liverpool

2. Napoli

3. Genk

4. RB Salzburg

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard excited ahead of his first Champions League assignment

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard is relishing the prospect of his first Champions League match as a manager.

The occasion comes on Tuesday when the Blues kick off their Group H campaign by hosting Valencia.

Lampard’s playing career with Chelsea included making over 100 appearances in the Champions League and helping them win the competition in 2011-12.

The Valencia contest follows Saturday’s 5-2 Premier League win at Wolves, which saw Chelsea’s young academy graduates Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham – scorer of a hat-trick – and Mason Mount all register goals.

When Lampard was asked about the victory at Molineux in terms of momentum and the game coming next, he said: “It’s certainly a good feeling to see the team play the way they did.

“We need more clean sheets, that’s something we continually need to work on.

“But, yeah – the Champions League. It is the top club competition in world football and I’m sure Mason and Tammy and Tomori are all excited for it.

“All the players should be, all players love the Champions League – and I’m looking forward to my debut as a manager.”

Abraham came off in the 77th minute on Saturday looking to be in discomfort, and Lampard – who has stressed that when it comes to the Champions League he will “just pick on merit” and “won’t consider age” – has confirmed the 21-year-old striker had been suffering with cramp.

Chelsea are assessing defender Antonio Rudiger, who was substituted at half-time after slipping on his way off the pitch and feeling pain in his groin.

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Champions League returns with a mouthwatering first week of appetising fixtures

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They say the initial phase of the Champions League is becoming boring, predictable. That due to the vast riches and ever-expanding gap in financial might between the haves and the have-nots, the group stages are concessions rather than contests for the teams at the top table.

And then the first round of the 2019/20 competition rolls around and offers up a smorgasbord of sumptuous showdowns, games that would be befitting of the final itself.

As club football’s greatest and most glamorous competition returns, we look at four fizzing fixtures taking place this week.

NAPOLI v LIVERPOOL

Venue: Stadio San Paolo I KO: Tuesday, 11pm UAE

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final

A sense of déjà vu greets both sides, who also met in the group stages a year ago. And while a pair of 1-0 wins for each home side doesn’t sound enthralling, the game in Naples was an absorbing contest – won by Lorenzo Insigne’s dramatic 90th minute strike. Alisson had been on song for the visitors prior to that with a couple of fine stops, while Dries Mertens hammered one effort off the crossbar.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Partenopei will be hoping to spoil the party for the holders who will be in celebratory mood on their return to the competition following winning their sixth European Cup against Tottenham four months ago.

The hosts head into the game in raucous goalscoring form having netted nine in three Serie A games so far – including a 2-0 win over Sampdoria on Saturday.

Concession of a ruinous 90th minute Kalidou Koulibaly own goal in a 4-3 defeat to champions Juventus is the only blight on their season.

The Reds, meanwhile, go into the game following a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Newcastle on the weekend. They are the only Premier League side with a perfect record from five games, with their fearsome forwards in fine form too.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND v BARCELONA

Venue: Westfalenstadion I KO: Tuesday, 11pm UAE

Missing? Messi is yet to feature this season for Barca.

Missing? Messi is yet to feature this season for Barca.

Lionel Messi is set to make his long-awaited first appearance of the season in Westphalia, but even devoid of the little magician sprinkling some stardust on it, this game should be special.

Curiously, these two behemoths have only once met previously, which was two decades ago in the 1997 UEFA Super Cup final. Technically it was twice as the showpiece was played over two legs back then.

Barca won 3-1 on aggregate, thanks to first-leg goals from Luis Enrique and Rivaldo, while Giovanni extended that advantage in the return leg in Germany; Jorg Heinrich’s goal no more than a consolation for Dortmund.

Both sides exited at the hands of English opposition last season – in fact they both lost to the two sides that made the final. Barca embarrassingly ceded a 3-0 first-leg semi-final advantage to crash out 4-0 in the Anfield return, while BVB were beaten like an old rug, losing 4-0 on aggregate to Spurs in the last 16.

The Blaugrana got their domestic campaign up and running with a 5-2 vanquishing of Valencia on Saturday. Dortmund also come into the game on the back of a big win, blitzing Bayer Leverkusen 4-0, to sit second in the Bundesliga.

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN v REAL MADRID

Venue: Parc des Princes I KO: Wednesday, 11pm UAE

KarimBenzemaRealMadridLevante (1)

These two giants cast a mighty shadow over Europe, but something that will undoubtedly pour cold water on what should be the powderkeg fixture in Paris is the home side’s absentees.

Neymar belatedly returned to the fold for the French champions this weekend, incessantly booed before scoring a dramatic late winner to beat Strasbourg 1-0 in stoppage time, and extend PSG’s lead at the top of Ligue 1.

It should have served as the caveat to set up a scintillating match with a team considered his potential suitors, Madrid, before former employers Barca became the frontrunners for the Brazilian’s signature this summer.

Instead, excitement has been quelled by Neymar’s niggling absence through suspension, earned after a stunning social media rant following the Parisiens’ last 16 exit to Manchester United last season.

Meanwhile, the other two parts of the PSG attacking triumvirate – Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani – are out with respective hamstring and hip injuries.

While PSG predictably top the pile domestically, Real have failed to illuminate La Liga yet this season. Real Valladolid snatching a late draw and then their own rescue act courtesy of Gareth Bale’s brace against Villarreal, before he was sent off, followed an opening day 3-1 win over Celta Vigo. They just about held on for a 3-2 victory against Levante on Saturday, although they had led 3-0 at half-time.

ATLETICO MADRID v JUVENTUS

Venue: Wanda Metropolitano I KO: Wednesday, 11pm UAE

Ronaldo's hat-trick sent Juve through against Atletico last season.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick sent Juve through against Atletico last season.

A rematch of last season’s last 16 clash awaits us at the Wanda. Juve looked finished in February when Diego Simeone’s side had put one foot into the last eight following a 2-0 first-leg defeat of Cristiano Ronaldo and Co in Madrid.

But the old man, 34, put the Old Lady into the quarter-finals with a virtuoso display in the return leg as the Bianconeri turned the tables in Turin with a 3-0 win – Ronaldo’s 86th minute penalty proving the difference.

The two sides twice took it in turns to be losing finalists in a four-year span from 2014-17 – Atleti defeated by city rivals Real on both occasions while Juve also felt Spain pain as they were beaten by Barcelona and then Real.

The duo have started their domestic campaigns relatively well although both will head into the continental clash on the back of underwhelming results.

Simeone’s home side lost for the first time following three wins, going down 2-0 to Real Sociedad – for whom Real loanee Martin Odegaard opened the scoring. The Italian champions also dropped points for the first time this term following a 0-0 draw at Fiorentina.

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