IT’S a bigger game than we’d budgeted for.
Yes, when the draw was made it was appreciated that a bum hand had been dealt, but still.
Liverpool are often careless in Champions League group stage games, but now is not a time for regrets as we approach the decisive phase. Talk has been that we would have taken where we are now. Napoli and Paris were never just going to lie down.
The maths are as follows: draw in Paris, and we need to beat Napoli; lose and we will have to beat Napoli 2-0. But win. The win. Any kind of win, simply qualifies us. In the wake of the defeat in Belgrade, banking on that outcome looked a pipe dream. Time has passed, though. The Reds have (fairly) quietly won another two games, Premier League games, and won them well.
Liverpool, the real Liverpool, have nothing to fear in the city of light. If anything, facing PSG in a matchup where they simply have to pour onto us, is manna from heaven. Liverpool are a devastating counter-attacking side. Many combat that prospect by dropping off and deep. The statistics show that rarely works, but what definitely fails, nine times out of 10, is coming onto this Liverpool side. Our boys live for the green grass in behind.
Watford at the weekend was a test, but The Reds dug in, stayed focused, and eventually took the spoils in emphatic style. It was just the pre-Paris pick me up the doctor ordered.
The French champions are laden with riches. They’ve won every single domestic fixture they’ve played this season. It is a record that’s hard to argue with. The certainty they face at home, though, leaves them vulnerable for the greater tests in the Champions League. Toulouse do not prepare them for Liverpool.
At Anfield, PSG were flattered in 3-2 defeat. They were demolished on the night but fate gave them more hope than they merited. Subsequently they have been resilient in draws with Napoli but are yet to truly convince.
Of course, if they bring all their gifts — in Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani to the table, at peak capacity — then they are capable of delivering Liverpool a knockout blow.
Call me naive, call me a fate tempter, but I don’t think they will. I’m a believer in there being a right time to play teams, and my hunch is that PSG may be about to run into Liverpool at precisely the wrong time.
Jordan Henderson’s sending off at Vicarage Road virtually ensures his start in the French capital, given that he can’t be employed in the derby next weekend. The imperious Gini Wijnaldum should partner him, alongside the redoubtable James Milner — preserved at Watford but rearing to go again. Milner relished Europe last campaign. It’s his stage.
All of this leads to the conclusion that important men like Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita will be left to kick their heels on the bench. They will be in good company with Daniel Sturridge, Fabinho, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren all vainly longing to be first picks in this most glamorous of ties.
The oft-testing international break was for once kind to us. Jürgen Klopp has a rested and largely injury-free squad to choose from. We’re in the midst of dense fixture congestion but essential rotation can wait another week.
This means Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Bobby Firmino — the greatest trio since Snap, Crackle and Pop — will unite once more to bring their travelling roadshow of footballing fantasy and pain to the Parc des Princes.
PSG can beat Liverpool on Wednesday night, but the feeling remains that they will have to be very good to do so. Klopp knows that all results enable Liverpool to emerge into viable parallel universes, but the reward of the win is binary. Win, and we’re through. The job is done and the cue is there to begin another European adventure into the spring of 2019.
I don’t worry that our boys will play with any fear in Paris. Why should they? Neymar, Mbappe et al looked all too mortal at Anfield. Their lack of preparedness for the biggest contests was apparent.
Liverpool will be ready, though. Liverpool will be right.
Predicted 11: Alisson; Trent, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Kick off: 8pm, Wednesday
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
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