Liverpool’s Champions League draw turned out to be a favourable one.
Pitted against Napoli, Genk and Red Bull Salzburg, the reigning European champions have no excuse not to reach the knockout rounds.
Though there is the potential for one or two shock results, this group of players have enough knowhow to avoid becoming a famous scalp for one of their opponents.
Jürgen Klopp’s men know all about Napoli. They’ve faced off four times since the start of last season, twice in pre-season matches and in the Champions League group stage last term.
Napoli edged the Reds out in the first tie courtesy of a last-minute Lorenzo Insigne winner. Liverpool got their revenge at Anfield with Mohamed Salah settling the game. The win meant Klopp’s men progressed at the expense of Carlo Ancelotti’s charges.
Napoli triumphed 3-0 in the friendly this summer while Liverpool romped to a 5-0 win last summer. The two sides are evenly matched and both will be eying up top spot.
Genk are making their first appearance in Europe’s elite club competition since the 2011/12 campaign. That time around they finished bottom of a group containing Chelsea, Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen.
Similarly, Red Bull Salzburg have been a Europa League side. Their participation in the Champions League this season is their first after missing out in the play-offs for the past eleven years.
Here, we take a look at the key players from each of the three teams. Individuals the Reds need to be wary of if they’re to progress without any potential hiccups.
Liverpool fans are familiar with the Italian. A rumoured transfer target for what feels like the past decade, Insigne was the match-winner when the two sides met in Italy. The 28-year-old also opened the scoring during Napoli’s 3-0 win in August.
He’s already off the mark in Serie A, netting in Napoli’s 4-3 victory over Fiorentina to kick off the new season in memorable fashion. His return of 14 goals in all competitions last term has only been bettered once. It could be twice come the end of this current campaign with Gli Azzurri even more potent going forward.
They’ve also added to their attacking ranks with Hirving Lozano joining from PSV. His arrival could see Insigne benefit from more space in the final third which could be bad news for opponents.
Samatta had a 2018/19 season to remember. For the first time in his Genk career he scored 20 league goals and over 30 in total. His previous return was 20 in all competitions.
The 26-year-old averaged 0.62 goals per 90 last season with an expected goals average of 0.51. A slight overperformance but still an impressive feat nonetheless.
What makes Samatta one to watch is the variety of his goals. Despite his small frame, the Genk forward is surprisingly good in the air and regularly powers headers home from all different positions.
He emphatically finishes with his right foot and can calmly beat the keeper using his left peg. Furthermore, he’s a wildcard in the sense he also manages to score from distance.
Keeping tabs on him won’t be easy.
Erling Braut Håland
Håland came to prominence during the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup when he netted nine times in a single game during Norway’s 12-0 win over Honduras.
The Leeds-born forward had already made a name for himself in Norway having starred for Molde as a 17-year-old.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, then the Molde manager, compared Håland’s style of play to Romelu Lukaku and revealed several bids had been rejected for the teenager.
The striker agreed to join Red Bull Salzburg in August 2018 but didn’t arrive until the start of this year. And though his first six months in Austria were more of a watching brief, he’s making the most of his promotion to the first-team this season.
Having sold a number of key players in the summer, 19-year-old Håland was given a starting berth in Jesse Marsch’s team. We’re just five games into the Austrian Bundesliga season and it’s already clear he’s a level above.
He’s scored seven times and is completing over 50 per cent of the six dribbles he attempts per 90. He’s bullying teams with relative ease.
The Champions League is a step up in class but defenders won’t have come up against many 6ft 5ins strikers who have the dribbling ability of a tricky winger.