The second half of 2019-20 UEFA Champions League matchday 3 group games begin at 12:55pm ET today.
This season’s “Group of Death”–Group E–features three teams ranked in the top 14 of FiveThirtyEight’s Global Club Rankings (ClubElo agrees as well, with all three in the top 19). This will be a tightly bunched group at the top with razor thin margins separating who advances. The match-ups today between Genk vs Liverpool and Red Bull Salzburg vs Napoli have particular weight to the eventual group outcomes.
Napoli’s away draw to Genk opened the group up
Thanks to a BS call against Andy Robertson leading to a late penalty and win, Napoli took firm control of Group E on matchday 1. All they needed to do was hold serve at home and manage a win at Genk.
That didn’t happen. They drew 0-0 at Genk.
While oddsmakers still have Napoli heavily favored (-1000!!!) to advance out of Group E with Liverpool (-2500), that all could change quickly if Red Bull Salzburg (+285) take care of business at home. Amazingly, RBS and Napoli are basically even according to oddsmakers in this match.
To be fair, the line is more or less in line with FiveThirtyEight’s match probability.
Also! They played Red Bull Salzburg in the Round of 16 in the Europa League last March. They lost 3-1 away to a not-as-strong-as-they-are-today RBS side. And that match didn’t have an Academy Award winning halftime speech from Jesse Marshe either (NSFW).
…Nine points probably gets you out of the group
Last season’s “Group of Death” also contained Liverpool and Napoli. Here’s how it ended up:
Nine points is a pretty good delineation marker for advancing to Champions League knockout rounds. In the past three UCLs, only twice has a team with less than 9 points advanced (Benfica with 8 in ’16-17, Lyon with 8 last year).
In a group with three legit teams, 9 points and you’re probably good (unless you’re Napoli last year). 10 and you’re golden.
If Liverpool win at Genk, they’ll get to 6 points. Liverpool will win at Anfield against Genk, which gets them to 9. From there, it’s just an away draw at RBS or draw at home vs Napoli and they’re 100% advancing.
So for RBS and Napoli, this match really is everything. If Red Bull win and move to 6 points, Napoli may find themselves in a painfully close third place finish for the second year in a row.
Too bad a Zlatan to Napoli transfer can’t happen sooner.