Verdict: Erling Haaland to score
Best odds: 31/20
RB Salzburg will welcome Liverpool to their Red Bull Arena, also known as the EM-Stadion Wals-Siezenheim, on Tuesday evening in the final round of the Champions League Group E. Nothing is quite settled yet in this group, also containing Italian side Napoli and Genk from Belgium, and this clash between the two teams undefeated in their own respective leagues, will have much bearing on the final ranking.
Their first clash, played at Anfield in the second round, was a very exciting matter as Salzburg came back from 3-0 down to equalize, before a 69th-minute strike from Mohamed Salah, his second on the evening, saw the Premier League leaders ensure the points stayed in England.
Salzburg won the Austrian Football Bundesliga title in each of the last six seasons; the last time that anyone pipped them to it was Austria Wien back in 2013. At the moment, they look on course to make it seven out of seven as they sit top of the table with 13 wins and four draws from 17 games, though they aren’t too far ahead of LASK in second place – only two points separate them.
They’ve done remarkably well in the Champions League as well, despite the group being far from easy. They absolutely hammered Genk twice, they only lost one of the two encounters with Napoli (at home, they drew in Naples), and as has already been said, they gave the trophy holders Liverpool quite a scare in the second round at Anfield. At the moment, they are third with seven points to their name. A win here would see them go through to the knockout stages, most likely at the expense of their visitors.
Forward Seikou Koita is out of contention for this game, though coach Jesse Marsch shouldn’t be too short on firepower with the likes of Hwang Hee-Chan and Takumi Minamino at his disposal; not to mention the sensational Erling Haaland with his 28 goals in 21 games so far this season. All three of them were on the scoresheet at Anfield.
Apart from Koita, defender Patrick Farkas and midfielder Antoine Bernede are out as well.
It’s very hard to find anything negative in the season Liverpool have been having up to this point, at least on the domestic scene. Their run in the Premier League has been nothing short of superb, with 15 wins and a draw from 16 games – only Manchester United managed to hold them back at Old Trafford. Plenty of pundits and other types of ‘experts’ have been attributing their success to an alleged lack of injuries when compared to other team, particularly title defenders Manchester City, but that argument simply doesn’t hold water – they’ve had their share of bad luck in that department too and haven’t let it stop them. They now sit eight points clear at the top of the table, with Leicester City second and Manchester City, entire 14 points behind, now in distant third.
Their title defence in the Champions League hasn’t been going quite that well. The only defeat this season came in the opening round in Naples, and they failed to beat the Italians at Anfield too. They have, however, beaten Salzburg at home and Genk on both grounds, and that has so far been enough for them to top the group with 10 points, though how it will all end remains to be seen.
Should they lose in Austria, they will almost certainly continue in the Europa League from there. There is a chance that even a defeat gets them through, but for that to happen, the already written off Genk would have to pull a miracle and win in Naples.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has been rotating his team lately and to great success, which means it’s very hard to guess what he’ll do here. But with Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold rested in the 0-3 win away to Bournemouth on Saturday, it feels safe to assume they will be a part of the starting XI against Salzburg. Joe Gomez will likely partner Ballon d’Or runner-up Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence, after Dejan Lovren, a regular replacement for the long-absent Joel Matip, was replaced in Bournemouth due to cramp.
Midfielders Fabinho and Adam Lallana are also unavailable, but Klopp has plenty of options in that department.
With Salzburg needing a win and having already proven they can score goals against the European champions, Liverpool will likely seek to control the game and turn it into a dull affair. But they failed to cling on to a 3-0 lead at home against this opponent, and the home players will now be motivated to repeat that performance more than ever.
Salzburg will probably get the kind of game they want, with goals at both ends, but maybe not the result they dream about. Having scored in all five games so far, and with Liverpool rarely keeping a clean sheet this season despite the overwhelming success, it’s hard to imagine Haaland not finding the net in the final round.
Verdict: Erling Haaland to score
Best odds: 31/20
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