Here we go again, then. Last year Liverpool went into the Champions League draw as losing finalists, with the chance of adding another European Cup to our collection feeling like a distant and remote possibility. Not because we weren’t good enough, just because the sheer quality of teams in the tournament means that it really is very difficult to make the final more than once in a row. The Reds did the business, however, giving us plenty of memories along the way. When Borussia Dortmund were drawn in the group with Barcelona, for example, the club’s Twitter account tweeted a message saying ’Time to practice our corners’, taking the Mickey out of the Spanish club for the manner in which Trent Alexander-Arnold and Divock Origi pulled their pants down in the semi-final. There are no teams that wanted to be drawn in our group, yet Napoli, RedBull Salzburg and Genk saw their names come out of the hat and plopped into Group E alongside the defending European champions.
💫 #UCLdraw – Group E#LFC@sscnapoli@RedBullSalzburg @krcgenkofficial
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 29, 2019
Manchester City are none of our business at this stage of the competition, given that country protection remains in place until the quarter-final stage. Yet it’s impossible not to look at their draw considering the teams that they’ll have to play will give Pep Guardiola pause for thought when he’s picking his side for the Premier League games that come before and after the Champions League matches. With that in mind it was remarkably disappointing to see them drawn against the Dog & Duck three times. If you thought that the Cityzens had used up all of their luck with their draws in the League Cup and FA Cup last year then think again. Don’t be shocked if they somehow get Lincoln City in every round, even though Everton have already knocked them out. There’s no bitterness in that, though. Liverpool are European champions because Manchester City can’t seem to make it past the quarter-finals, so let them draw whoever they want. Let’s focus on us and the key points from today’s draw.
There’s No Need To Fear Any Of Those Teams
Napoli came within an Alisson Becker wonder-save from knocking us out in the group stage last year, but that was more to do with our own poor performances against Red Star Belgrade in Serbia and Napoli themselves out in Italy than their own skill and ability. They’re a decent side and Carlo Ancelotti will be keen for revenge not only for that but doubtless also for his experience against us in Istanbul all those years ago. You have to fancy both us and Napoli to progress, however, so even if he does get one over on us we should still have more than enough to make it through to the knockout stages relatively comfortably. That’s not to underestimate either Salzburg or Genk, either. Salzburg is one of Europe’s top feeder clubs, with both Sadio Mané and Naby Këita having played for them on their journeys to Southampton and RB Leipzig before landing in Anfield. It’s highly likely that they’ll have some talented youngsters ready to give us a game.
Liverpool have never faced Salzburg. Keïta and Mané used to play for them though.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) August 29, 2019
Even with that being said, though, the European champions have nothing to fear from any of those teams. There’s a reason we won the competition last year and it’s that we’re one of the best teams in the world. The fact that we’ve already added it to our trophy cabinet for the sixth time means that pressure will be off, too. None of our players will be overly concerned about proving anything to anybody, whilst the Anfield crowd will be keen to tell all visiting supporters exactly what title we’ve had bestowed upon us thanks to our performance in Madrid. In a perfect world we’ll be able to win the early matches so that the last couple are either dead rubbers or else just being played to decide who will finish at the top of the group. As we learnt last year, though, even a second-place finish shouldn’t give us too much cause for concern.
There Isn’t Much Travel
Perhaps the most notable thing about Group E is the fact that there isn’t a huge amount of travel involved for any of the teams drawn in it. In fact, it’s just over a thousand miles to the Stadio San Paolo as the crow flies, just shy of eight hundred miles to the Red Bull Arena and less than four hundred miles to the Luminus Arena in Genk. Compare that to City’s one thousand seven hundred mile trip to the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv and you can see that things could have been much worse for us. That might not seem all that important, but it’s exactly the sort of thing can make a difference to Jürgen Klopp’s preparations for Premier League matches.
#UEFA Men’s Player of the Year! @VirgilvDijk 🙌🏽
1st defender to win the award 👏🏽👏🏽
Calm as you like, he’s Virgil van Dijk!#YNWA #LFC #UCLdraw #uefaawards pic.twitter.com/21c7WOZJwP
— Seema Jaswal (@meseemajaswal) August 29, 2019
Given that our squad contains the UEFA Goalkeeper Of The Year in Alisson Becker and the winner of the Defender Of The Year and Player Of The Year awards in Virgil van Dijk, we can be confident of getting results from all of those away matches and then still be in fine fettle when we return to England for the follow-up matches in the domestic league. Confidence alone isn’t enough to win matches, of course, but Real Madrid proved in Kiev last year that experience can often see you through. We have a delightful combination of both, which means that there shouldn’t be any need to think about having to prioritise one competition over another this time around. Last year we combined 97 points with a Champions League win, so why not aim for the double this time around?