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

Sooraj Kamath - Writer 21:12 16/09/2019
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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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