The UEFA Champions League is back and arguably the most mouth-watering clash of Matchday one is at Anfield as Paris Saint-Germain take on five-time European champions Liverpool on Tuesday evening.
Both sides go into Tuesday’s clash with confidence high and 100% domestic records after securing five straight wins each.
With so much attacking talent expected to be on show, we could be in for a night of extravagance on the pitch and an intriguing battle of wits in the dugout.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp welcomes the man who succeeded him as Borussia Dortmund head coach, Thomas Tuchel, to Anfield. The pair faced each other as recently as April 2016 in the quarter final of the Europa League, where Klopp got the better of his compatriot in a 5-4 aggregate win for Liverpool over Borussia Dortmund.
Ironically, Tuesday’s game between Liverpool and PSG will be officiated by Turkish Referee Cuneyt Cakir, the same man that took charge of that Europa League quarter final two years ago.
Newly appointed PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel will welcome back his star duo of Kylian Mbappé (domestic suspension) and Neymar (rested) after both watched Friday night’s 4-0 destruction of Saint Etienne from the stands.
World Cup winner Mbappé and Neymar will re-form their deadly three-pronged attack with Edinson Cavani. The trio have already notched up 11 goals between them this season despite only starting together twice in PSG’s first five games.
It’s likely that Tuchel will opt for the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation to match Liverpool’s set up instead of the 5-2-3-1 formation that the German has been sampling so far in Ligue 1. PSG have operated with 3 centre backs and two in midfield, a formation which is still very much a work-in-progress and could be deemed too risky in a game of this magnitude.
Layvin Kurzawa and Dani Alves remain long-term absentees so new signing Juan Bernat is likely to deputise at left-back after making his debut against St Étienne, but late reports suggest that Stanley N’Soki might beat the Spaniard to the post.
The capital club will be without the fit-again Marco Verratti who will serve a one-match suspension following his sending off against Real Madrid in March. As a result, Marquinhos is likely to be deployed in a make-shift central midfield role alongside Adrien Rabiot.
Depending on how Tuchel sets up his team, Liverpool may look to exploit a ‘weakened’ PSG midfield area for success as they look to overrun the seven-time French champions.
So far this season, Tuchel has given debuts to no less that five academy graduates but it’s unlikely that any of the five will start the game at Anfield as the German tactician welcomes back his most senior players.
Gianluigi Buffon begins the first of a three-match suspension after his sending off for Juventus in last season’s Champions League semi-final, therefore Alphonse Areola will start his fourth game in-a-row, further confirming that Tuchel views the Frenchman as PSG’s number one goalkeeper this term.
Except for defender Dejan Lovren, the hosts have a near fully fit squad to choose from but are sweating on the availability of Roberto Firmino after the Brazilian suffered a painful-looking eye injury during Saturday’s 2-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur. Firmino was taken to hospital for treatment but was discharged the same day. The striker missed training on Monday and he will continue to be assessed before Jurgen Klopp decides on his striker.
Klopp will also decide on which midfield trio he will start with; Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner have started four of Liverpool’s five games this term and seem to be the German’s first choice threesome. Club captain Jordan Henderson continues to bide his time as minutes have become scarce so far this term. The ex-Sunderland man has just one start to his name so far, in place of Keita in the 2-1 win at Leicester City earlier this month.
On Paper, group C appears evenly matched, with three of the four teams realistically capable of topping the group, but a defeat for either side would not be catastrophic at this stage. Both managers will be cautious of having to play catch up so early in the campaign and the pressure that can create.
Similarly, to matchday one in the 2017/18 season where PSG opened the group stage at Celtic, Tuchel’s side will need to contend with the raucous atmosphere at Anfield and an early goal, just like a year ago, would help quieten the passionate home crowd and settle the visitors.
Tuesday’s game will be the first time Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have met since the semi-final of the 1996/97 Cup Winners Cup where PSG advanced 3-2 on aggregate despite a second leg 2-0 defeat on Merseyside.