Before getting into the preview, I’d like to first thank the Champions League schedule-makers. Getting Liverpool‘s group stage advancement match-up against Red Bull Salzburg out of the way in the first slate of games is a gift from above. Sweating this out until Wednesday at 3pm would’ve been torture. It’ll be done and dusted and we know if we’re going to defend our title or [shivering] playing in the Europa League right away.
The reality is, Liverpool shouldn’t be in this position. They could’ve taken care of Napoli at home and this game wouldn’t have even mattered.
But they didn’t. And here were are.
This isn’t an ideal set-up or match-up, but the Reds have face similar adversity and prevailed. Regardless, here are the advancement scenarios:
Liverpool advance with a win or draw. They also advance if Napoli lose at home to Genk. A win and Liverpool advance atop the group.
RBS need more help. They advance if they beat Liverpool and Napoli loses to or draws Genk. If Napoli win, RBS must beat Liverpool by two goals (since Liverpool won their home match 4-3).
Red Bull Salzburg vs Liverpool Champions League Group Stage Final Matchday Preview
When these two teams faced on October 2nd, Liverpool rushed out to a 3-0 lead in 36 minutes. Then, they got super casual on defense and conceded 3 goals in the proceeding 24 minutes. Mo Salah netted a brace in the 69th minute and Liverpool won 4-3. Watch the highlights in the following clip, it was a rollercoaster.
RBS were perfectly content letting Liverpool dominate possession (70-30%) and just pounce on mistakes. Shots were even (10) as were shots on target (5). Liverpool just converted one more of their opportunities.
For Liverpool, Joel Matip and Fabinho are still out. Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum are dealing with thigh issues but are expected to be available. Dejan Lovren, who came out early this weekend vs Bournemouth with a muscle issue, is 50/50.
For RBS, no regular starters / key contributors are injured or suspended. Goalkeeper Cican Stankovic has returned from injury though and is expected to start.
What to expect
Jurgen Klopp has options now for his line-up selection. His rotations the past week have paid off. Xherdan Shaqiri, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi (obv) and even Naby Keita have all played well. It’s good to know you can trust your non-regulars.
The front three is set with Roberto Firmino, in-form Sadio Mane, and Salah. The backline we know will have Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the flanks. As for who is paired with Virgil van Dijk in the center, we likely won’t know until tomorrow. The hope is that Lovren is fit and ready (post update: he was just declared available at 10:30am ET Monday). He’s been more of a confident and steady presence this season than Joe Gomez. While Gomez played well at center-back this weekend vs Bournemouth, he was part of the defensive problems against RBS in October. However, it looks like Lovren will get the nod.
The midfield is a 🤷♀️ as of now. Again, Klopp has options. The only “for sure” starter feels like Jordan Henderson. He’ll be dropped back as the #6 in the Fabinho role. If Gini is fit (post update: he was just declared fit around 10:30am ET Monday), he’ll start. If he’s not, James Milner 100% gets the nod. You could argue he should start in midfield regardless. He’s been solid all season. He does well in big European nights. His ability to be a constant pest is a plus. The other midfielder who could warrant a selection is Ox. He’s back to vintage 2018 Ox and Liverpool will need goals this match.
For Salzburg, it’s really about ERLING BRAUT HAALAND, Hwang Hee-Chan, and Takumi Minamino. Haaland gets all of the attention and rightfully so. If he nets a goal this match, he’ll become only the 2nd player to ever score in all six UCL group stage matches.
But it was Hee-Chan and Minamino who caused Liverpool fits in October. Klopp’s midfield of Fabinho-Gini-Hendo did not fare well against them. Selecting Milner this match and pitting him against a marauding Minamino would be a fun watch.
Red Bull create easy chances. That’s their calling card. The key in this match for Liverpool is containing creators like Hee-Chan and Minamino and limiting the number of easy opportunities Haaland has to convert. Expect Firmino to drop back defensively and help break up the RBS midfield. Klopp hasn’t been afraid in shifting formations the past month and could go 4-2-3-1 with either Salah or Mane up top at times to help provide additional defensive support (especially if Liverpool take a lead).
There will go goals. It may be tense for Liverpool fans. However, the Reds have shown well in similar situations. Earlier in 2019, Liverpool traveled to Bayern Munich in need of a draw where they scored a goal or win to advance in the UCL. They comfortably won 3-1. This match feels similar. Expect a Liverpool 3-2 win with a MotM performance from Mane.