Gareth Roberts’ preview ahead of AC Milan v Liverpool at the San Siro, with The Reds hoping to make it a perfect six out of six in the group stages
ALREADY qualified for the knockouts. The group already won. A stack of other more important fixtures to worry about ahead, including in what is unfolding to be the tightest of title races.
So why would anyone be arsed about this Champions League dead rubber in Italy? Well, where to start. Let’s start with the Group B table. The Reds sit 10 points clear at the top of the ‘Group of Death’ having chalked up five wins out of five. Six out of six has a nice ring to it – especially as The Reds would be the first English side to achieve the feat.
For the rest of the B-team also-rans, including Milan, this final fixture has a cup final feel – win or bust. AC even rested 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the weekend to have him ready for The Reds. Which means those that do pull on the Liverpool shirt on Tuesday night can expect a proper game. It might be a dead rubber over here. But it’s not a dead rubber over there.
It’s also a proper game inside one of football’s true cathedrals as well. Sounds better already doesn’t it? There will be the usual moans and groans from those among your mob that always look on the shite side of life, but you can imagine most, if not all, of the players at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal will fancy a run out in this one. It’s their job after all. And you only live once. There are goals to be scored, records to be had, and who wouldn’t fancy having denying Ibrahimovic on their football CV?
Tyler Morton would. Nat Phillips would. And who is telling Mo Salah he isn’t playing as he tries to score the most goals in a season ever? There’s also *another* record in reach for Mo with one more goal meaning he will set a new club record for goals scored in the group stage of a European competition.
The Diogo Jota injury at FC Midtjylland will always surface as a warning for games like these and some will say an unrecognisable 11 is the way forward in these circumstances. Klopp hinted at more chances for the youngsters in Italy but given his moves so far, something really and truly left-field across the pitch seems unlikely. The manager has been making good use of the five subs on offer in the competition and will likely do the same again, with a senior striker among those that either starts and plays an hour, or is summoned from the bench with half an hour to play.
Klopp’s side against Porto is likely a decent indicator of the majority of the side we will see, with Neco Williams, Tsimikas and Konate looking to go again in defence in the competition, Tyler Morton and Oxlade-Chamberlain eyeing midfield spots, and Takumi Minamino hoping for the nod up front. Divock Origi looks a shoo-in after the weekend, and Klopp admitted as much in his press conference.
With no rotation so far in between the sticks, that leaves a debate around one in defence, one in midfield, and one up front. It seems early for Joe Gomez and Naby Keita to be playing any meaningful part in the game but as ever, Klopp and co have more useful information regarding fitness at their fingertips than we can ever have. That of course hasn’t stopped everyone from assuming Jordan Henderson, Jota and Thiago will play no part as they were not snapped as being among the number training on Monday.
James Milner is suspended after his booking versus Porto and Curtis Jones and Roberto Firmino are still ruled out by injury.
Anything else? Well as is now well documented, there’s c. £2.5m up for grabs for every Champions League group stage victory. And beating the Serie A leaders again after the 3-2 victory over AC Milan at Anfield in September can’t be bad for morale, can it? It won’t be easy though, rotation, home advantage, competition jeopardy for the Italians and decent recent form – with both Genoa (3-0) and Salernitana (2-0) beaten in the last week – suggests a match with some meat in it.
There’s also a decent chunk of recovery time post match with Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa next up at Anfield on Saturday at 3pm. All that and not even a mention of the travelling Kop. They will have enjoyed one of Europe’s most prestigious destinations regardless, but a win always helps to put the cherry on top of a trip to the continent.
Lastly, what of Phillips? Klopp has talked him up the last few days and there’s every chance the stand-in hero of last season moves to pastures new next month when the transfer window opens with Newcastle a rumoured destination.
What better way to sign off than a San Siro sayonara? Here’s hoping it’s the joy of six for the big man. Up The Reds.
Predicted 11: Alisson; Williams, Phillips, Konate, Tsimikas; Morton, Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Salah, Origi, Minamino.