Champions League: Liverpool prepare for Milan in opener of ‘proper group’

The Guardian - Wed Sep 15 07:00

With Milan in town, surprisingly for the first time at Anfield, it was understandable that Istanbul cropped up several times during Jürgen Klopp’s press conference on Tuesday but also something of a diversion from the task in the Liverpool manager’s hand. Group B, complete with champions, history and above all pedigree, allows little time to reminisce.

Liverpool and Milan have never met outside a Champions League final and a contest between two clubs crowned European champions 13 times in total seems a fitting way to open a group of rare stature and intrigue.

The Italian club have not competed at this level for seven years but won twice as many away games as home matches when finishing second in Serie A last season (16-8) and have lost only once in 11 away games in all competitions.

Klopp sees no margin for error when plotting a Champions League course that also involves finding a way past Atlético Madrid and Porto. It is a four-team super league, if you will, but with risk, appeal and sporting integrity.

“This is the strongest group we have had since I am at Liverpool, no doubt about that,” said Klopp. “In 2013 at Dortmund we had a real Champions League group as well. We had Man City, Real Madrid and Ajax, which was a proper group where people said: ‘Oh my God, how will we get through?’ This is a proper group as well.

“What does it do for the competition? It kicks out two really good teams from the knockout stages and it will deliver one really strong football team into the Europa League as well, that’s for sure. I never understand when people talk about changes to the Champions League. It is just not my thing. I like it how it is and this group obviously shows that there are no games where people think: ‘Do I really want to watch that?’

Jürgen Klopp said Group B is ‘the strongest group we have had since I am at Liverpool’.
Jürgen Klopp said Group B is ‘the strongest group we have had since I am at Liverpool’. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

“This group will be exciting from the first second to the last second. Nothing will be decided early in this group. That keeps us on our toes and in between these games we have a very important competition as well, playing Premier League and League Cup, then hopefully the FA Cup later in the season. But it’s exactly what we wanted. We play Milan, Atlético, Porto – unbelievable stadiums, great crowds, passionate fanbases. It’s exactly how you want football. Now we got it, so let’s deal with it.”

The group opener will be Liverpool’s first European game in front of a capacity Anfield crowd since 11 March last year when, with the pandemic under way in Europe, Atlético and their fans were allowed to travel to Merseyside for a last-16 victory that took place days before everything came to a halt.

“It is all about getting enough points to get through the group,” Klopp said. “We better not waste time. We should start with that tomorrow night. It is a long time ago that we had a Champions League game at home and the opportunity to experience again the atmosphere that Anfield is able to produce. We have spoken a lot in the past about European nights at Anfield and I can’t wait to experience that now. I am really looking forward to it.”

Quick Guide

Liverpool v Milan – probable teams

Show

Liverpool (4-3-3) Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konaté, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Jota, Mané

Milan (4-2-3-1)  Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Tonali, Kessie; Florenzi, Díaz, Leão; Rebic

Referee Szymon Marciniak (Pol)

Stefano Pioli, Milan’s head coach, will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic despite the veteran marking his latest injury comeback on Sunday with a goal in the 2-0 defeat of Lazio. Pioli said: “Zlatan wanted to join the match [against Lazio] and of course after the match he had some inflammation. We hoped he could play but he still had pain so we don’t want to risk tomorrow as it’s a very important match and we have so many matches. We are very well prepared.”

Liverpool’s injury focus remains on Harvey Elliott, whose breakthrough season was cruelly interrupted when he sustained a dislocated ankle at Leeds on Sunday. The 18-year-old underwent successful surgery in London on Tuesday, while Leeds have announced they would appeal against the red card shown to the defender Pascal Struijk for his challenge on the midfielder.

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“I spoke to him the night of the game and he was in the best possible place,” Klopp said of Elliott. “He accepted already that he would be out for a while.”

As for his recollections of 2005, Klopp said: “I was thinking about not watching the second half because everyone in the world apart from a few people in the Liverpool dressing room thought the game might be decided … And then it became one of the biggest football sensations ever and I was really happy that I didn’t switch the telly off.”