Liver­pool be­gins Champs League de­fense

The Korea Times - - SPORTS -

DORT­MUND, Ger­many (AP) — De­fend­ing cham­pion Liver­pool and Barcelona open their Cham­pi­ons League cam­paigns with dif­fi­cult away games on Tues­day as Europe’s top club com­pe­ti­tion re­turns.

Liver­pool trav­els to Napoli, where it lost in the group stage last sea­son, while Barcelona vis­its Borus­sia Dort­mund as the Span­ish gi­ant re­news its search for a first Eu­ro­pean ti­tle since 2015.

Last sea­son’s sur­prise semi­fi­nal­ist Ajax is also in ac­tion, play­ing Lille at home, while Europa League cham­pion Chelsea wel­comes Va­len­cia to Stam­ford Bridge.

Here’s a look at Tues­day’s group games:

Group E

Liver­pool knows from ex­pe­ri­ence that it can’t take any­thing for granted at Napoli, where it lost 1-0 last sea­son be­fore beat­ing the Ital­ian side by the same score at An­field to ad­vance to the knock­out stages.

“The man­ager said it was prob­a­bly our worst game of the sea­son,” full­back Trent Alexan­der-Arnold said. “It is a re­ally tricky place to go. The fans are re­ally hos­tile.”

For­ward Divock Origi is out af­ter twist­ing his an­kle in Liver­pool’s 3-1 win over New­cas­tle at the week­end, and teenager Rhian Brew­ster has taken the Bel­gian striker’s place in the squad. Mid­fielder Naby Keita and goal­keeper Alis­son Becker re­main side­lined.

Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti has sev­eral new, en­tic­ing op­tions in his sec­ond sea­son. Sub­sti­tute Fer­nando Llorente made his de­but and set up Dries Mertens’ sec­ond goal in a 2-0 win over Sam­p­do­ria on Satur­day.

“Llorente is a com­plete for­ward. Be­cause he is so tall, ev­ery­one thinks he’s just an old-fash­ioned cen­ter-for­ward, but he can play foot­ball and has great tech­nique,” Ancelotti said. “I have many op­tions avail­able to me in at­tack now.”

Mex­ico winger Hirv­ing Lozano has also im­pressed, mean­ing Ancelotti can rest the vet­eran at­tack trio of Mertens, Lorenzo In­signe and Jose Calle­jon.

Aus­trian cham­pion Salzburg hosts Bel­gian coun­ter­part Genk in the other Group E game.

Group F

Dort­mund fans are hop­ing Span­ish for­ward Paco Al­cacer can keep his scor­ing streak go­ing against for­mer side Barcelona. Al­cacer net­ted again in his side’s 4-0 rout of Bayer Lev­erkusen on Satur­day to main­tain his record of scor­ing in every com­pet­i­tive game so far this sea­son — seven goals in six games for Dort­mund and three in two games for Spain.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is un­likely to fea­ture due to a lin­ger­ing calf in­jury.

Messi trained with his team­mates for the first time on Sun­day, a day af­ter the team’s 5-2 win over Va­len­cia in the Span­ish league.

The in­jury has pre­vented Messi from play­ing this sea­son, but young sen­sa­tion Ansu Fati could make his Cham­pi­ons League de­but. The 16-year-old Fati is al­ready a fan fa­vorite af­ter be­com­ing the youngest Barca player to score in the Span­ish league and the youngest to score at its Camp Nou Sta­dium.

Slavia Prague’s daunt­ing task to emerge from the group be­gins at In­ter Mi­lan, which has been the most con­sis­tent squad through three rounds of Serie A.

Cen­ter for­ward Romelu Lukaku has been stand­ing out fol­low­ing his 65 mil­lion euro ($73 mil­lion) trans­fer from Manch­ester United, and Alexis Sanchez made a short but im­pres­sive de­but off the bench in In­ter’s 1-0 win over Udi­nese on Satur­day.

“It’s a long road ahead of us, we have a lot of work to do and won’t get caught up by easy en­thu­si­asm,” In­ter coach An­to­nio Conte said.

Group G

Lyon opens its Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign at home to Rus­sian cham­pion Zenit St. Peters­burg, widely con­sid­ered the weak­est of the com­pe­ti­tion’s eight top seeds.

Zenit has not played in the group stage since 2015-16, when it beat Lyon home and away. How­ever, play­ing abroad has since be­come a prob­lem for the side, which has won none of its last nine away Eu­ro­pean fix­tures dat­ing back to 2017.

Zenit signed winger Mal­com in the sum­mer from Barcelona but he has missed the club’s last four league games due to hip prob­lems, and seems un­likely to re­turn against Lyon.

Lyon has not im­pressed in the French league so far. Cen­ter half Ja­son De­nayer’s re­turn could be a much-needed boost for coach Sylv­inho, who has been frus­trated with the at­ti­tude of his play­ers re­cently.

Lyon’s 2-2 draw at Amiens on Fri­day was the side’s third con­sec­u­tive game with­out a win and its sec­ond straight draw af­ter giv­ing away a lead.

It lead to some stern words from Sylv­inho, who is in his first sea­son as coach. The for­mer Ar­se­nal and Barcelona left back re­buked his play­ers and urged them to im­prove both their in­ten­sity and con­cen­tra­tion start­ing against Zenit.

“Of course I’m wor­ried. We need the men­tal­ity to win and keep on win­ning,” Sylv­inho said.

Af­ter be­ing an un­used sub­sti­tute on Fri­day, Mem­phis De­pay is ex­pected to take his place in at­tack be­side the in-form Moussa Dem­bele and Nether­lands team­mate De­nayer, who has re­port­edly shaken off a mi­nor foot in­jury.

Ben­fica hosts Ger­man side Leipzig in the other Group G game.

Group H

Va­len­cia ar­rives at Chelsea in cri­sis fol­low­ing last week’s fir­ing of coach Marcelino Gar­cia Toral by Sin­ga­porean owner Pe­ter Lim over plan­ning dis­crep­an­cies. For­mer Real Madrid as­sis­tant Al­bert Ce­lades made his de­but as coach on Satur­day with a 5-2 de­feat at Barcelona.

“The only way to re­bound is to keep work­ing hard,” Ce­lades said. “We’ll give our best.”

Chelsea coun­ter­part Frank Lam­pard be­gins his bid to win the Cham­pi­ons League as coach af­ter lift­ing the tro­phy as a Chelsea player.

Af­ter tak­ing over from the fired Mau­r­izio Sarri, Lam­pard leads Chelsea in only his sec­ond sea­son in man­age­ment. The first was spent in the sec­ond tier at Derby.

Mean­while, Lille coach Christophe Galtier is un­der no il­lu­sions about the task fac­ing his side away to last sea­son’s semi­fi­nal­ist Ajax.

“We know how good a side they are and how dif­fi­cult it will be,” Galtier said. “I won’t give more im­por­tance to the Cham­pi­ons League than to the (French) cham­pi­onship.”

The match fea­tures two teams with a strong rep­u­ta­tion for giv­ing tal­ented young play­ers the chance to shine.

The 21-year-old Jonathan Ikone, who re­cently scored on his France de­but, and 23-year-old Jonathan Bamba are ex­pected to line up in a Lille at­tack that likes to hit teams with fast coun­ter­at­tacks.

Ajax, mean­while, will have to cope with­out two of its key play­ers from last sea­son — cen­ter back Matthijs de Ligt and mid­fielder Frenkie de Jong — who were both sold in the sum­mer.


Liver­pool’s Ger­man coach Jur­gen Klopp speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at San Paolo sta­dium in cen­tral Naples, Italy, Mon­day, on the eve of the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League Group E foot­ball match Napoli vs Liver­pool.

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