Two former champions fight for their future in this season’s competition. Liverpool and Inter Milan enter tonight currently sitting third in their respective groups in a do or die scenario. Liverpool, having previously won five European titles, were beaten last season in the final and need to beat Napoli at home in order to progress. Inter Milan were European Champions in 2010 and was the final trophy needed to complete the treble. They need to best PSV Eindhoven a home and better Tottenham’s result at the Camp Nou to make it to the knockout stages. Tonight’s fixtures will conclude the group stages for the first four groups. Inter are expected to beat PSV and their fate depends on the events in Barcelona. The game of the group stages will be Liverpool v Napoli.
Jurgen Klopp is stuck in a dilemma. On the one hand, they are a point ahead of league champions’ Manchester City and could win their first league title in nearly three decades. On the other, this season will be considered a disaster if the Reds crash out in the group stages. So far, the Merseyside club has done a decent job in trying to find a happy balance between their European and domestic campaigns. However, their inability to prioritize one over the other had left them in a winner-takes-all showdown. It is entirely possible where they manage to squander on both fronts.
Be it through beautiful football or by grinding out results, Liverpool currently sits with a one-point gap at the top of England. Europe says otherwise. For starters, they are in an incredibly tough group. Last season’s runners-up have had to face a FIFA team on steroids and Napoli. That being said, the fact they have only won once in their last 4 games is a string of results that could have been avoided. Their away loss to Red Star Belgrade could end up being their downfall. One loss was expected. Two were slightly alarming but still would have given them a good chance of advancing. Three could end up being a death sentence. Their saving grace could be the fact that this game is at home. At Anfield, Liverpool has won both their games this season, and six of their last seven. At atmosphere of the legendary stadium should be enough to give Liverpool the edge their Naples based team.
The fate of the Red’s campaign is in their hands. Anything is possible. Liverpool could top the group or finish bottom should Napoli beat them and PSG lose to Red Star. Klopp will put out his strongest team. He has a deep and versatile team that is capable of competing on two fronts. The form that got them to the top of the Premiership has to translate into Europe.
Paul Pogba will start having spent the past couple of games on the bench. In a game where Manchester United have nothing to lose, this could very well be the make-or-break game for Paul Pogba. Jose Mourinho has guaranteed that he will be in the XI and that he will play with the fighting mentality that has embodied since their 2-2 draw at Saint Mary’s. Despite being the most talented player for the Red Devils – and when on form their best outfield player – United have been much better in their past two performances against Arsenal and Fulham. The challenge has been set upon him where he has to find his role within the team rather than have it mold to him. In dire times, Jose’s philosophy for pragmatic play over flair and style will shine brighter than ever. Even on a bad, the World Cup winner is miles ahead of Fellaini, Herrera, Matic and Fred from a technical ability. Though he is yet to match their heart and commitment on the pitch. Jose has publically place the ball on Pogba court – and between his feet. It is a win-win for him. Should Pogba succeed, the manager can claim victory for his tactics have worked. Should the Frenchmen once again fail to perform, Jose will continue to publicly berate Pogba and force him out. Hopefully, the 25-year-old midfielder can land on the side where he too can claim victory.
Tottenham are looking to etch themselves in the history books. They are attempting to join a list of 17 teams to make it past the group stages after failing to win any of their first team games. This overlaps with a set of 11 other teams that made the knock stages after losing their opening two games. An even smaller list of eight have made it to the past the first stage of Europe’s elite competition after getting only a point or less from their first three games. Spurs are playing this awfully close. Their European run was looking to come to a predictable but disappointing end after a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven. Back-to-back wins at home has left them with a punchers chance of making it to 2019 in Europe. All that lies in front of them is an away fixture at the Camp Nou.
This might not be the case should PSV are able to get a favorable result at the San Siro. The last time Barcelona lost at home in the Champions League was in May of 2013 against eventual champions Bayern Munich. In the 5 and a half year since Barça have played 28 European home games and have scored 87 goals. And have conceded a meager 13. Never since their semi-final defeat have they let multiple goals (at home) in a game. Yet, the North London side still have a chance. Barcelona have already topped the group and it would not be out of the ordinary to not field their regular XI. The pressure is still on Valverde to deliver in Europe. Barcelona last won the Champions League in 2015 with their El Clasico Rivals having come out on top over the past three years.
Kane and Eriksen are both fresh having started on the bench over the weekend. This is a squad that is eager to prove that they are an elite team. Their backs are against the wall. But that is expected for any team that is looking to dominate on the continental level.