2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

Rotation is the watchword for Manchester United heading into their final Group H Champions League match Wednesday at Valencia as Jose Mourinho’s already-through side are content to hold their runners-up spot versus a Tarongues club who have already assured themselves passage to the Europa League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Technically, Manchester United can finish atop Group H with a victory and a loss by Juventus, but since the Italian side are hosting Young Boys in their group finale, there is little belief the last-place Swiss club can pull off what would be the biggest shock of Champions League group play.

United come into this match in good spirits for a change, having properly walloped a last-place Fulham side 4-1 Saturday in their last Premier League match. Marcus Rashford continued his stellar run of playmaking, setting up goals by Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata in the first half-hour before adding a strike of his own on 82 minutes.

Ashley Young scored the other goal for the Red Devils, who are unbeaten in five (2-3-0) in all competitions and have lost just once in their last nine (5-3-1). Though there is nothing to play for, Mourinho has opted to bring just two academy players to Spain as he feels his senior players are deserving of playing time for this match.

“The kids won’t start the match. (James) Garner will be on the bench, and Mason (Greenwood) is the protection player, in case we have any injuries,” Mourinho said at his Tuesday news conference. “We have players that need to play; we have players that deserve to play so, in spite of leaving a few players in Manchester, we are going to play with a team only with players from the first team.”

One senior player getting the start will be Paul Pogba, who was an unused substitute versus Fulham and played just 15 minutes in the 2-2 draw versus Arsenal in the previous match. While things have been tense between manager and star throughout the season, Mourinho placed little expectations upon the France international for this match beyond a professional performance.

“I’m looking for him to play well, and to have a good impact in the game and in the team,” Mourinho said.  “[It will be] a team with many players that don’t have many miles in their legs, a team with some players that are not playing a lot.

“So I hope that people like Paul and a couple of others that are normally in the team, who have the number of miles that players need to be at that top level, I hope that they can have a good impact on the team.”

Mourinho will again have a makeshift backline of sorts as Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw did not practice, and Diogo Dalot — who responded well to the pressure of his first two Premier League starts — also is nursing an injury, as is Matteo Darmian. Centre back Victor Lindelof remains a longer-term absentee with a hamstring injury.

Up front, Anthony Martial also did not train Tuesday, and Alexis Sanchez is also sidelined with a hamstring injury. After back-to-back starts for the first time this season, Jesse Lingard will likely be among the reserves.

Valencia are also expected to be without a slew of first-choice starters with nothing at stake, as coach Marcelino already has an eye on his club’s league match against Eibar this weekend. The Tarongues are 15th in the La Liga table, just four points above the drop but also only six out of fifth place.

“I am as strong, convinced and excited as I was on my first day here, if not more. But obviously when you do not win you cannot be so happy, it would be irresponsible if there was no self-assessment. The word surrender is not in my vocabulary. I’m not going to give up,” Marcelino explained about his priorities for this match.

“This is a game we did not want to play, with hopes of qualifying over. Having sealed a place in the UEFA Europa League, and given our Liga situation, the priority has to be the match against Eibar [on Saturday]. At the same time, it’s a Champions League match and they are never meaningless.”

One change will be enforced as defender Jose Luis Gaya is out through suspension. Striker Kevin Gameiro and Jeison Murillo are not expected to play due to injuries, while Goncalo Guedes and Gabriel Paulista are also being held out ahead of league play.

Valencia have been starved offensively for goals in Champions League — the only team they have scored upon in their last eight matches was Young Boys in this term’s group play. Los Che have also lost four of their last six home matches in Champions League.

These teams are no strangers to Champions League play as this will be their eighth meeting. United are 2-5-0 in the previous seven, and goals have been at a premium throughout this rivalry. There have been just five goals combined in the last six matchups, with a scoreless draw on Match Day 2 at Old Trafford.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Valencia are slight 8/5 favourites to pull out a victory in this dead rubber, while United have 19/10 odds to claim all three points. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 12/5.

Given the teams played to a scoreless draw at Old Trafford coupled with there being nothing at stake, oddsmakers are split on whether there will be goals in this match. There are 10/11 odds on either side of the 2.5 goals threshold, with even money on at least one team recording a clean sheet compared to 3/4 odds on both teams scoring.

Continuing the split decisions up and down the toteboard for this match, Valencia’s Gameiro and Lukaku are joint-top options for the first goal-scorer at 11/2, with Martial and one-time Chelsea forward Michy Batshuayi joint-third at 6/1. Santi Mina, who has two of Valencia’s four goals in group play, has 13/2 odds, edging out teammate Moreno Rodrigo and the United duo of Rashford and Pogba.

Gameiro and Lukaku also lead the line for any-time goal-scorers at 7/4, followed by Martial and Batshuayi at 2/1. Santi Mina is 21/10, trailed by the same Rodrigo, Rashford and Pogba trio — all of whom are 9/4. Valencia’s Manuel Goncalo Guedes has 11/4 odds, followed by Dani Parejo at 3/1 and Lingard at 10/3.

PREDICTION

If a tree falls at the Mestalla and no one scores a goal, did it really happen? There is little in the way of expectations for this match, though all eyes will be on Pogba as he gets his first start since United’s 2-2 draw at Southampton in which the France international was lifted before the hour. After that match, word got out regarding another disagreement, albeit a calm one, between Mourinho and Pogba.

That said, having Rashford on his side makes for an intriguing examination to see if the forward’s pace is something Pogba can use to help create offence. That McTominay and not Marouane Fellaini is expected to anchor the central midfield is an added layer of intrigue since McTominay has struggled for first-team playing time for most of the season.

It also would have been interesting to see Dalot play after his impressive showings at right back versus both Arsenal and Fulham. After such a dour reverse fixture, it would not be surprising if the sides played to another scoreless draw, but the hunch here is United have too much firepower to bring in the final half-hour for that scoreline to repeat itself.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Valencia 0, Manchester United 1.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)

Manchester City need just a draw in Wednesday’s Champions League finale to finish atop Group F, something that is not expected to be too demanding as they face group-bottom Hoffenheim 1899.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning Premier League champions, though, are coming off their first loss in domestic play, a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Saturday that ended a 16-match unbeaten streak in all competitions (14-2-0). It was also just the second time Manchester City were held without a goal, the other coming in a scoreless draw at Anfield versus Liverpool.

Even playing without injured striker Sergio Aguero and still without top playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, City still looked the better side as Raheem Sterling was inserted between Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez as a false nine. Yet the Citizens were caught out on a counter over the top, finished by N’Golo Kante just before halftime, and they were consigned to a defeat when David Luiz added a second 12 minutes from time.

For all of City’s imperious displays this term, the loss also showed the fine line they are walking because the loss also dropped them behind Liverpool in the Premier League table.

“We still have a target against Hoffenheim to win the game and finish top,” Sane told City’s official website. “We want to finish first and hopefully look good for the Round of 16 draw – it’s important we win and end the group stage strongly.

“Even more so because we lost at Chelsea on Saturday and didn’t start the group stage very well.”

Though there is something at stake, City manager Pep Guardola is going to rotate a good portion of his side given the hectic December fixture list. Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho are both one yellow card from picking up a one-match ban that would rule them out of the first leg round of 16 tie, and while Aguero is in a similar predicament, Guardiola has ruled him out with his adductor injury.

The City boss, in fact, stated he has just 15 healthy senior players available for this match, also ruling out De Bruyne, David Silva and Danilo. Benjamin Mendy and backup keeper Claudio Bravo remain long-term absentees with injuries, which does limit some of Guardiola’s abilities to rotate his side.

“We have 15 players tomorrow it’s a really tough game,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We are in next stage which is important but we have to try and win every game, to finish first. Last-16 is always tough but in general the next Monday when there is a draw it’s a success we are there and the team we will face will be tough.

“They (Hoffenheim) were incredible against Donetsk and they lost. It was incredible and fascinating to watch as a spectator. My admiration for Hoffenheim has increased. I knew about Julian Nagelsmann and his team but now I realise how tough tomorrow will be.”

While Guardiola is effusive in praise of his German counterpart, getting three points to have a chance of reaching the Europa League as third-place finishers in Group F remains a daunting task for Hoffenheim. The 12 goals they have shipped are better than only fellow Group F side Shakhtar Donetsk and both AEK and Red Star Belgrade.

“As an optimist, I can say that it’ll be difficult to get third place,” Nagelsmann said Tuesday. “We don’t have a lot to lose tomorrow, so we want to show the football that got us to the Champions League in the first place.”

Domestic play has not treated Die Kraichgauer much better of late as Hoffenheim have just one win from their last six matches overall (1-4-1) and are winless in their last four (0-3-1). Hoffenheim are coming off a 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg on Saturday as Andrej Kramaric salvaged a point with a goal in the 71st minute.

Kramaric had set up Ishak Belfodil in the fourth minute, but an own goal by Ermin Bicakcic and a strike from Daniel Ginczek four minutes apart left Hoffenheim down 2-1 after 32 minutes.

“I was very satisfied with the opening 20 minutes. We consciously gave up possession in order to have chances to counter,” Nagelsmann told his club’s official website. “We defended too aggressively before the equaliser. Thereafter, we did not get to grips with our pressing too well. During the interval we brought on another striker – we couldn’t get much more attacking than that.

We deserved to get the equaliser and dominated the second half. It was a fair result. The right commitment was there and I like that.”

Kramaric, who helped Croatia reach the World Cup final last summer, has a team-best 10 goals in all competitions and netted four in Champions League play. Joelinton has gone five matches without a goal for Hoffenheim since his brace versus Bayer Leverkusen on Nov. 3.

“Andrej Kramaric also plays in the number eight position and does that well,” Nagelsmann said. “He has a lot more to him than goals and assists. He is very critical of himself but his heart is in the right place”

Hoffenheim have never won a Champions League road match in three tries, though they did draw Shakhtar and Lyon earlier in this group. This will be their second trip to England, with the other result a 4-2 setback in a second-leg qualifying round match last year versus Liverpool.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, City are overwhelming favourites to cap group play on a winning note and enter this match as a 2/9 pick for a victory. Hoffenheim are 12/1 longshots to avoid going winless in group play, and there are 13/2 odds on the teams splitting the points, a result also acceptable for the reigning Premier League champs.

Given the open play of Hoffenheim coupled with City’s quality, oddsmakers are expecting a haul of goals as there are 3/10 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 5/2 odds for it being a low-scoring affair. The odds of both teams finding the back of the net are 4/6, with 11/10 odds on either side posting a clean sheet.

With Aguero out, Jesus has moved to the top of the board for first-goal scoring options at 3/1, followed by Sterling (9/2), Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1). With Guardiola’s expected rotation, some of the bottom players on the 25-man roster are seeing action, including Brahim Diaz (8/1) and Foden (11/1).

Bernardo Silva is also an 8/1 option to make it 1-0 for the hosts, while Ilkay Gundogan is 11/1 to do likewise. Kramaric and Joelinton are the top options for Hoffenheim at 14/1, just ahead of Belfodil (16/1) — who gave Die Kraichgauer a shock lead in the opening minute of the reverse fixture.

Jesus (8/15) and Sterling (10/11) lead the any-time goal-scoring options, with Mahrez checking in at even money. Sane is just off that pace at 5/4, followed by Diaz and Bernardo Silva at 7/4. Kramaric and Joelinton again are the top picks for the visitors with both being offered at 11/4.

PREDICTION

It is a shame Manchester City supporters have not fully warmed up to Champions League group matches at the Etihad because this has the potential to be a wild back-and-forth contest. There were two goals in the first eight minutes of the reverse fixture, which then calmed until David Silva’s 87th-minute winner.

It is admittedly difficult to figure out what exactly Guardiola is going to do with his back line. It could range from anywhere with Fabian Delph being shifted from left to right back to let Oleksander Zinchenko play left back to Otamendi playing in central defence or in central midfield ahead of a partnership of John Stones and Vincent Kompany.

Otamendi sitting on a potential yellow card ban is less than ideal, but if there is going to be one player between him and Fernandinho to sit out this match because of such a possiblity, Fernandinho is going to be the spectator. Additionally, Guardiola had been looking to give his central midfielder a rest ahead of the holiday fixtures, and this is as good a time as any.

Though a 4-3-3 is projected, it would not be surprising to see Guardiola use a 4-4-2 in which Jesus and Sterling are up front with Mahrez and Sane lying deeper behind the pair. Another possibility is a 4-1-4-1 with Jesus as the lone striker, which would allow Sterling to terrorise Hoffenheim’s back four with his pace.

Kramaric has been in exquisite form — his equaliser at Wolfsburg extended his goal-scoring streak to eight matches in all competitions for Hoffenheim. But not having centre back Kevin Vogt could prove problematic for a team that has often looked out of their depth in this tournament and need a win.

City could put this match out of its misery early with a pair of strikes in the first half-hour, though Hoffenheim are more than capable of finding a quick goal for the second time in as many matches between the sides. But in the end, it will be too much City, who will wrap up group honours with a win.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 4, Hoffenheim 1.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)

(y-denotes clinched first in Group B)

It is not “Mission: Impossible” but still a daunting challenge for Tottenham Hotspur at the Nou Camp nevertheless: Spurs must at least match the result of fellow Group B side Inter Milan on Tuesday against Barcelona to reach the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Inter are hosting last-place PSV Eindhoven in the other Group B match which is going on simultaneously. The Lilywhites have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament, throwing away points from winning positions at both the San Siro and Philips Stadion in their other two road matches before scrambling to give themselves a chance to advance with wins over both the Italian and Dutch sides.

Tottenham Hotspur, though, will face long odds in trying to deal the Blaugrana their first Champions League defeat at the Nou Camp since Bayern Munich stormed to a 3-0 victory in the second leg of their 2013 semifinal.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at home since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 in those games and not conceding more than once in any of them. The current La Liga leaders have a chance to match the longest Champions League home unbeaten run set by Bayern at 29 games from 1998-2002.

“This is special because it’s special for Tottenham and it’s special for us to have the chance to go to the next stage of the Champions League – and that’s with all the respect to Barcelona,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said at his Monday news conference, himself no stranger to Barcelona derbies from his days as a player and manager with Espanyol.

“We are focused on trying to prepare for the game in the best way. After the victory against Leicester I think it’s important in a decisive game to have confidence and a belief we can win. Of course, in front of us, we are going to have one of the best teams in the world and it’s going to be tough, but the most important thing is to be focused and concentrate on trying to play in our best way and trying to win.

“Without belief in football, it is too difficult to win,” Pochettino added. “I think it’s so important to arrive at that moment with the belief and the faith that we can perform in the best way. After that, we will see what happens in the game because you need some luck and some good things to happen for you but we are confident that we can do a good job.”

The big news for Spurs will be the likely insertion of third-choice Kyle Walker-Peters at right back since both Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier did not make the trip due to injuries. Walker-Peters got a late runout Saturday in Tottenham’s 2-0 win at Leicester City, and the 21-year-old has the complete confidence of manager Mauricio Pochettino heading into this crunch encounter.

“His quality is unbelievable. Younger players always need trust and one day to be given a chance to play and to play here at a difficult place like the Nou Camp will make him stronger. We don’t have a doubt that he can perform,” Pochettino said at Monday’s news conference. “I’m so happy because from the beginning of the season we have three excellent players in that position, three players with different qualities. Kyle has the quality to play.

“He needs to feel free. He’s a very relaxed player and person and the most important thing is that we believe in him, we trust in him and whatever happens he will be a massive success at this Club.”

Walker-Peters is part of a back line who have been severely challenged throughout the season due to injuries as only Toby Alderweireld has emerged unscathed coming off the World Cup summer. Left back Danny Rose and fellow centre backs Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez have all missed time due to injury, with Sanchez still sidelined. A potential centre back replacement, Juan Foyth, is not eligible for this match since he was not on Tottenham’s 25-man roster for group play but is also injured at the moment.

Up front, however, there was good news as playmaking midfielder Erik Lamela was cleared to play and should see his first action since suffering a thigh bruise in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28. Pochettino must choose between Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son among his attacking options alongside striker Harry Kane.

Kane leads the Lilywhites with 13 goals in all competitons, and both he and Son have bagged three in their last five matches in all competitions. Kane also has potted seven goals in his last seven Champions League away matches.

Eriksen has a goal and three assists in that stretch and Alli two goals and two assists as Spurs have racked up 11 goals in those five contests while winning four.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at the Nou Camp in Champions League play since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 during this unbeaten run and have not conceded more than once in any of those contests. There have been five wins over Premier League teams in that stretch, including three over Manchester City.

The Blaugrana have won back-to-back matches and waxed Pochettino’s Espanyol side 4-0 on Saturday as Lionel Messi had a brace on either side of halftime via a pair of jaw-dropping free kicks. Messi also set up a goal by Ousmane Dembele, who set up a goal by Luis Suarez that gave Barca a 3-0 lead right before halftime.

Ernesto Valverde’s team have nothing to play for in this match — Barcelona will finish atop their Champions League group for the 12th consecutive year and the lone blemish was a 1-1 draw at the San Siro versus Inter. Valverde has already decided to hold out Suarez for this match, while it is possible Messi could also be a spectator for the Catalans.

That could prove largely beneficial for Spurs as Messi has tormented English sides with 22 goals and six assists in 29 career Champions League matches. His 22 Champions League goals are the most of any player against English clubs, far outpacing runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo (12).

“There are players with discomfort and it does not fit into my plans, of course, to play then in two games in three days,” Valverde said ahead of the Nou Camp clash when asked about player availability and maintaining the integrity of the match with nothing at stake.

“Inter has nothing to fear. If they had drawn or won, they would have no problem. We have to look after ourselves. We will go out to win but we respect the competition and we want to win.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers are still fairly confident in Barca being able to win without at least Suarez and potentially Messi as well, entering this contest as 19/20 favourites. Spurs are 5/2 underdogs to get a victory that could potentially propel them to the knockout round, and there are 10/3 odds on the sides splitting the points.

After the ragged six-goal match between the sides at Wembley on Match Day 2, it is also not surprising their are 1/2 odds for the clubs to clear 2.5 goals compared to the 13/8 odds to finish below it. There are similar 1/2 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while 6/4 odds exist for at least one clean sheet.

With Messi still at least a possibility to play, he leads the toteboard for first goal-scorers at 11/4 with plenty of daylight between him and Kane at 4/1. Dembele is an 11/2 selection as the third-most likely option, while one-time Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho has 6/1 odds. Barca’s El Haddadi Munir rounds out the top five options at 13/2 just ahead of a whole slew of Spurs to make it 0-1 — Fernando Llorente (7/1), Son and Moura (15/2), Alli and Lamela (10/1) and Eriksen (11/1).

Messi is an 8/13 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Kane is even money to do likewise. Dembele again edges out Coutinho for third at 7/5 compared to 8/5 for the Brasil international, with Munir (7/4) and Llorente (15/8) completing the group at better than 2/1 odds. Son and Moura start that group, followed by Alli and Lamela at 11/4 and Eriksen at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Let’s be blunt about this for a second: Spurs are going to have to win this match because the odds of PSV getting a victory at the San Siro are far longer at 17/2 than the Lilywhites at that more modest 5/2 offering. That said, Tottenham are going to have to withstand the first half-hour of this match — no small challenge since Barcelona were two up in the reverse fixture before 30 minutes had passed at Wembley.

That means the spotlight will shine brightest on Walker-Peters, who has not played a minute of the previous five group contests. His under-20 turn with England aside, Walker-Peters’ lone match action for Spurs before Saturday’s late runout came in their Carabao Cup win over West Ham United on Halloween.

While he may miss out on Suarez, Coutinho will undoubtedly be someone to mark, and that does not even account for the interplay between the Brasilian and Messi, who would likely move into the false No. 9 role without Suarez into the middle of Barca’s three-man front. Messi has accounted for six of Barcelona’s 13 goals in Champions League play, but no one else on the La Liga side has more than one.

Tottenham have shown plenty of fight in getting to this point, and they also showed plenty of it in that loss to Barcelona at Wembley, twice drawing within one goal before a 90th-minute marker from Messi sealed that victory. But a victory at the Nou Camp by any English club is rare — the lone one in 30 matches since the start of the 1976-77 season was a 2-1 win by Liverpool in 2007.

There will be plenty of heart for Tottenham to display, but the fact Pochettino’s side have to play an open match to equal Inter’s result means Barcelona will have many opportunities themselves, and the Catalan side are too ruthless to not take advantage.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Barcelona 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)

The most straightforward way Liverpool can advance to the knockout round of the Champions League for a second straight year Tuesday is with a 1-0 victory over Napoli at Anfield.

The question is whether their improved defence can live up to that 90-minute challenge or whether their offence will have to deliver like last term to reach the round of 16 in Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.

“It’s going to be a difficult game. That’s how they play but we need to play our game, we need to be ready to do what we’ve been doing almost the whole season,” centre back Virgil Van Dijk said at Monday’s pre-match news conference. “We have plenty of quality to score and we have plenty of quality to defend as well, but at the end of the day it’s all about showing it on the pitch. It is all about showing it on the pitch.”

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Though Liverpool have taken the pole position in the Premier League table following their 4-0 romp at Bournemouth combined with Manchester City’s first defeat — a 2-0 reverse at Chelsea — looking down at their domestic peers has taken a back seat to the urgency of Tuesday’s moment. If the Reds, currently third in Group C on six points, fail to keep a clean sheet, they must beat the Italian side by two or more goals to advance.

The good news for Jurgen Klopp’s team is that the match is being played at Anfield, where they have won both their group matches and been near-invincible. Liverool’s only defeat in 10 matches (8-1-1) across all competitions at home was a 2-1 loss to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, and they have scored 23 goals with only five in reply while posting seven clean sheets.

“So far at home we were good – we have to be even better tomorrow night. I told the boys, I really think if nothing special happens with referee decisions, we get tomorrow night what we deserve,” Klopp said. “The only way to make that sure is to really perform at our highest level in the two big parts of the game: defensive and offensive. That makes it special. But we caused the situation and we are responsible in a good way and in a bad way.

The group is a hard one; that was clear when we got the draw. Now we have the chance to go through and that is pretty special after the campaign we played so far.”

The Reds have been two distinctly different sides home and away through their first five group matches, always level or ahead at home and failing to grab a lead in any of their three road contests. The seven goals allowed overall are one more than they have yielded in 16 Premier League matches, though Saturday’s 4-0 rout at Dean Court was more about striker Mohamed Salah re-discovering his lethal form from last term with three goals against the Clarets.

The Egypt international has eight goals in his last 10 matches in all competitions and has a team-high 12. Three of the dozen have come in group play, and Liverpool have also struck three times from the spot for nearly half of their eight goals.

“What Mo did around his two goals in the second half was just exceptional,” Klopp said after Saturday’s win. “I don’t know at the moment a lot of players who would have scored these two goals. The first one, it is a foul actually but he wants to score the goal so he stays on his feet and scores it. It was not the most impressive finish but I would say it was pretty surprising [for the goalkeeper]. His third goal was outstanding as well; really, how we set it up and all that stuff was good.”

Klopp does have some selection questions for this match, most notably who will pair with Van Dijk in central defence. Joel Matip got the call this weekend, but the Cameroon international is coming off back-to-back starts on a short turnaround and has yet to be in the first XI for three consecutive matches. That leaves Dejan Lovren, who sat out the last two matches due to a concussion but returned to practice Monday, as the most likely option.

In the midfield, Klopp must also decide whether he will stick to his regular 4-3-3 formation or the 4-2-3-1 he has used on occasion. Jordan Henderson is likely back after being held out at Bournemouth, while James Milner is hoping to get back in the midfield after playing right back — a spot Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to reclaim.

Naby Keita and Fabinho are also midfield options, with Giorginio Wijnaldum likely to hold down one of those three spots if Klopp goes 4-3-3 or in a defensive midfield pairing in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

Napoli are atop the group on nine points, one better than Paris-St. Germain, and are unbeaten in 12 matches (8-4-0) overall since a 3-1 loss at scudetto-holders Juventus on Sept. 29. The Partenopei have won three on the bounce after storming past Frosinone 4-0 on Saturday as Arkadiusz Milik had a second-half brace set up by Faouzi Ghoulam after Piotr Zielinski and Adam Ounas scored in the first half.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti was able to rest some of his regulars ahead of this match, most notably keeper David Ospina and striker Dries Mertens along with centre back Raul Albiol and midfielder Jose Callejon. Despite spending four seasons with Arsenal — mainly as a backup to Petr Cech in the previous three — Ospina has never played at the cauldron that is Anfield.

It was the second brace Milik has notched at home for the Partenopei and is third on the team with seven goals, trailing only joint-leaders Lorenzo Insigne and Mertens — who have 10 apiece in all competitions.

Despite their current form, Napoli are still eight points adrift of Juventus in Serie A through 15 matches. The Italian side are trying to avoid their second straight exit in group play after finishing third in a group behind Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk last term, but Ancelotti is confident his side can get a result after recording a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture Oct. 3 on a 90th-minute goal by Insigne.

“We know what to expect from Liverpool,” Ancelotti said at Monday’s news conference at Anfield. “We know all about the tempo they play at but we have to focus first and foremost on our own game. If we’re smart in defence and incisive in attack, we have an excellent chance of going through.

“The reverse fixture gives us confidence but we don’t know if we’ll be able to reproduce that performance. We certainly won’t sit back and let Liverpool come at us. We believe in our ability and our potential. A lot of what happens on the pitch is down to us, but it also depends on how Liverpool play. We have this final step to take and we believe we can take it even at a very tough ground like Anfield.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are 8/13 favourites to get the job done and make a return to the knockout round. There are 7/2 odds for Napoli to hold out enough for a draw and seal their advancement and 9/2 odds to grab a victory that would see them through as the group winners.

Oddsmakers are expecting both teams to press for goals, with 8/15 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 6/4 odds for failing to reach that threshold. There are also 4/7 odds for both teams to bag a goal, and 5/4 odds of there being at least one clean sheet.

Salah’s current rich vein of goal-scoring has made him the favourite for the match’s first goal-scorer at 10/3, followed by teammates Daniel Sturridge (15/4), Divock Origi (4/1), Roberto Firmino (5/1) and both Dominic Solanke and Sadio Mane (11/2). Mertens (6/1) and Insigne (13/2) are Napoli’s top options, with Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri also 13/2, a step ahead of Milik (15/2).

Salah and Sturridge are better than even money odds to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 4/5 and 10/11, respectively. Origi is at even money, with Firmino lurking behind him at 5/4. Solanke and Mane have 7/5 odds, and Mertens is 8/5. Insigne and Shaqiri are again paired together at 7/4, and Milik has 2/1 odds along with Callejon.

PREDICTION

It really is all there for Liverpool, but the question is which way are they going to take to get there. Obviously, they will try to ride the emotion of the home supporters at Anfield, and the first half-hour will turn into a high-paced match in which the Reds try to turn the screws on Napoli.

The next question is what happens if Liverpool score in those 30 minutes. Do you make the commitment to find the second and then try to kill off the match, or do you have trust in Alisson and Van Dijk at the back four to hold that 1-0 advantage until the final whistle?

The Partonepei did not have an overwhelming majority of the possession in the reverse fixture at 54 percent, but they were far more efficient with the ball — Napoli attempted 16 shots to Liverpool’s four and registered five on target while the Reds failed to do so. Klopp also had to make an injury-forced substitution less than 20 minutes into that contest as Keita suffered a back injury, but Liverpool were clearly second-best and can ill-afford such a repeat performance at Anfield.

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 10 Champions League home matches (7-3-0) since a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid on Oct. 22, 2014. AS Roma was the most recent Serie A side to visit Anfield and took a 5-2 drubbing in last term’s first-leg semifinal.

Napoli are winless in their last five Champions League road contests (0-2-3), though both draws have come this season. The Partonepei are 0-1-3 on Premier League grounds in this competition, suffering a 2-1 loss at the Etihad last term. The only point Napoli claimed was a 1-1 draw at Manchester City in 2011.

This should be a finely balanced match, but in the end, the fire of the Anfield cauldron will again prove too much for a European side as the five-times champions will scrape through into the next round.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Napoli 0.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

Europa League Match Day 5 Preview — Chelsea (4-0-0, 12, +5) vs. PAOK (1-0-3, 3, -1)

If this is how Maurizio Sarri is going to respond after a loss, things just got much more interesting at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea.

Still agitated after suffering their first loss in embarrassing fashion, Sarri and Chelsea look to regain some pride and momentum for this weekend’s Premier League play as they host Greek side PAOK in an Europa League Group L match Thursday in London.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After piling up 14 victories going 18 matches unbeaten in all competitions, Chelsea finally tasted the bitter pill of defeat Saturday, absorbing a 3-1 reverse to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium. The loss dropped the Blues to fourth in the table, one point better than hard-charging Arsenal and seven points adrift of frontrunners and reigning champions Manchester City.

But the manner of the defeat did not sit well with Sarri. He was tactically outfoxed by Spurs counterpart Mauricio Pochettino, whose decision to play a midfield diamond exposed Jorginho’s lack of pace in his deep-lying midfield role in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation. That lack of pace was exacerbated when N’Golo Kante went forward and left patches of open areas where Spurs raced through — Tottenham were two goals to the good after 16 minutes.

The match was done and dusted when Heung-Min Son bamboozled Jorginho on the flank and raced by him and around him before slotting past Kepa Arrizabalaga nine minutes after the re-start. Olivier Giroud grabbed a late consolation with his first Premier League goal, but Sarri was blunt and withering in his critique of Kante at Thursday’s pre-match news conference.

“I want to play a central midfielder who is a very technical player, a Jorginho or Fàbregas,” Sarri said. “I don’t want Kanté in this position. … Kanté, in the last match, wanted to solve the match after the first 15 minutes but in the wrong way,” Sarri said. “He lost his position. He attacked the other box too much. This is not one of the best characteristics of Kanté.

“Maybe it’s only a question of time,” Sarri added. “But Kanté has to stay near to Jorginho, especially when the ball is on the other side.”

The public rebuke was stunning as Kante’s meteoric rise to stardom as a defensive midfielder was instrumental in Leicester City’s shocking Premier League title in 2016 and again with Chelsea under Sarri’s predecessor Antonio Conte the following season. The France international was able to operate in a push-pull tandem with Paul Pogba in helping Les Bleus win the World Cup this summer, and after signing a new five-year deal to stay at Stamford Bridge worth a reported £290,000 per week, the timing of Sarri’s criticisms are sub-optimal.

Ever the diplomat, Giroud defended his compatriot, saying, “I think N’Golo can play every single position in midfield. We don’t need to question his position. He just needs to adapt to what the manager wants.”

Sarri said he met with each player individually to figure out what went wrong as he prepares for Chelsea’s next league match Sunday against fellow Italian, former Chelsea and Leicester City boss, and newly minted Fulham gaffer Claudio Ranieri. Sarri is expected to make wholesale changes for the Pensioners for this contest, with a complete swap of the back four and midfield three expected.

Up front, there will be at least one change as Sarri has ruled out Eden Hazard, who suffered an ankle injury versus Spurs. That comes on top of the back injury that knocked the Belgium international for a few matches earlier this term, but what has irked Sarri is the assorted knocks are costing Hazard training time. Victor Moses will also miss this contest, leaving Pedro and Willian as the likely flanks to either Giroud or Alvaro Morata.

The Blues have already clinched a spot in the knockout round thanks to their 100 percent record and need a draw from either this match or their last contest at Vidi to clinch the top spot in the group. They opened Europa League play with a 1-0 victory at PAOK as Willian’s goal in the seventh minute stood as the difference.

The Greek side have won three on the bounce since their 1-0 defeat at Vidi left them third in the group ahead of BATE on goal difference. PAOK posted a 2-0 victory over Xanthi on Saturday as Aleksander Prijovic scored two minutes after the restart and Mauricio added a second on 65 minutes.

PAOK are five points clear atop the Greek Super League through 11 matches despite a two-point deduction stemming from their abandoned match versus AEK last term. They have only shipped four goals in domestic play, but the calibre of competition has flummoxed Razvan Lucescu’s side, which have yielded five goals in their four group contests.

We are here to win,” Lucescu said at his pre-match press conference. “I hope we took a lesson from the previous game. We have to play perfectly until the final whistle. Every game is different. We have will to fight for a good result. Chelsea is a great team. We have to be focused and concentrated.”

Omar El Kaddouri will miss the final group match if he is booked in this contest.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are firm 1/3 favourites to retain their 100 percent record and post a fifth win in group play. There are 9/2 odds on the sides splitting the points, which would also give Chelsea group honours, and a shock scoreline in PAOK’s favour would offer a 10/1 return.

Despite the 0-1 scoreline in the reverse fixture and in three of their four group fixtures, oddsmakers are expecting Chelsea to hit the back of the net on multiple occasions with 8/13 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 13/10 for fewer.

Morata and Giroud are joint-top options to open the scoring at 9/2, with Willian a 6/1 selection to offer an encore from the reverse fixture. Pedro also has 6/1 odds to make it 1-0 for the hosts, with Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek checking in at 8/1. Prijovic is PAOK’s top choice on the toteboard for a surprise first goal at 9/1 along with teammate Chuba Akpom.

For any-time goal-scorers, the order remains the same for the aforementioned eight players — Giroud and Morata have 5/4 odds, Pedro and Willian 7/4, Barkley and Loftus-Cheek 12/5 and Prijovic and Akpom 11/4.

PREDICTION

At various points in the early part of the season, pundits have taken Sarri to task for what they felt was a sandbagging and playing down of Chelsea’s title hopes as each match passed and they continued to hover around the top of the table with Liverpool and Manchester City. The Pensioners have an intriguing eight days coming up as they travel to Wolverhampton mid-week before their long-awaited showdown with City at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 8.

Maybe Sarri doth protest too much in some regards, but it was growing more clear with each passing match against quality opposition that pushing Kante forward is not his optimal role. Ranieri knew that at Leicester, Conte knew that before Sarri arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the guy who perfected the role of “water-carrier” as a player with Les Bleus — Didier Deschamps — knew that in Russia this summer.

What made Sarri’s broadside all the more compelling is that Kante is a rather private person — he does not talk much about his game or anything. That Giroud spoke up for him speaks volumes about the respect Kante does have in that dressing room because Giroud has a fair amount of equity himself in doing all the dirty work as the knock-down target forward who makes everyone’s lives easier around the penalty area.

This match is one for Chelsea to exhale and let some of the understudies get a run-out, though the Ross Barkley/Mateo Kovacic tussle at left midfield continues to be one of the more underreported position battles on this team — mainly because it affects how often Kante can push forward on the opposite side.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 2, PAOK 0.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEW:

Vorskla Poltava (1-0-3, 3, -3) vs. Arsenal (3-1-0, 10, +6)

Europa League Match Day 5 Preview — Vorskla Poltava (1-0-3, 3, -3) vs. Arsenal (3-1-0, 10, +6)

Already through to the knockout round of the Europa League, it would not be surprising if Arsenal manager Unai Emery opts to give playing time to some of his younger and second-string players as the Gunners face their second long trip in group play with Thursday’s Group E clash with Vorskla Poltava.

The match has been moved 220 miles to Kiev — west of Vorskla Poltava — due to the simmering naval tensions between the Ukraine and Russia. The challenging logistics of travel — it is a round trip of 3,000 miles — ahead of a crucial top-five clash and north London derby versus Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday means Emery could overturn a large portion of his starting XI from the side that defeated Bournemouth 2-1 last weekend.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Gunners snapped a run of three consecutive draws with their win over Bournemouth, consolidating their top-five status while closing within one point of Chelsea. Arsenal (3-1-0) are unbeaten in 17 matches overall (13-4-0) after losing their first two under Emery, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal midway through the second half proving decisive versus the Cherries.

While the late change of venue has created logistical issues for both Arsenal and their supporters — the club is trying to help make sure the estimated 500 supporters making the trip will be able to get into the stadium in Kiev — Emery seemed to take everything in stride despite the club having its travel delayed by 90 minutes.

“First of all, we need to respect Uefa’s decision because it’s not easy for Vorskla,” Emery stated at Wednesday’s press conference. “It’s not an easy decision for Uefa to make either. For us, yesterday we were preparing for our trip to Poltava and then awaiting the final decision in the evening. We made small changes in our training session in London and now we have just arrived. This decision, for us, is with all the respect.”

One player familiar with the Ukraine is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who did not make the last lengthy road trip to Qarabag due to the on-going issues between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan. Mkhitaryan, who played for Metalurg and Shakhtar Donetsk, will be looking for his second goal in three matches after netting the equaliser versus Wolverhampton on 86 minutes before the international break.

I’m very pleased to be here and I have a lot of good memories from time with Shakhtar and Metalurg, and also with the players I used to play with,” Mkhitaryan said. “I still remember the day when I scored two goals for Donetsk.”

All told, Emery could be ringing in as many as eight changes from last weekend’s side, with Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi potentially the only attacking holdovers. Sokratis is expected to retain his spot in central defence, with Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny serving as the link to the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 set-up. While Emery wants to build depth with these last two group matches, he also expects his younger charges to maintain a winning edge.

“When there are matches like tomorrow’s in a very big week for us, where we are playing a lot of matches, we have players to cover here,” Emery said, clearly eying the north London derby. “We need to give them chances. They are working with us in all the sessions and also in pre-season.

“They are coming with us because we can give them chances tomorrow and also because we would prefer for some players to not do this long travelling. We prefer for them to stay in London working for the next match on Sunday. The Europa League is very important for us and it’s very important for us to win tomorrow and come first in this group.”

Vorskla (1-0-3) still harbour hopes of advancing out of this group, though they are slim. They are four points behind Sporting for second, but need to not lose this match and hope Qarabag get a result against the Portuguese side to have something at stake in the group finale in Lisbon in a fortnight.

The Ukraine side have dropped three on the trot in all competitions as they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Mariupol on Saturday and are 17 points adrift of frontrunners Donetsk in the Ukrainian Premier League. Oleksander Zubov’s goal on 57 minutes proved to be the difference between the sides as Vorskla have now gone 321 minutes without a goal in all competitions since Najeeb Yakubu completed the scoring in the 39th minute of their 2-0 win over Lyiv on Nov. 4.

Vorskla have scored four goals in their four group matches, though two of them came at the Emirates well after the game was put of reach by Arsenal. Mkhitaryan suggested the late venue switch to Kiev may benefit Arsenal more since, “We were ready to play in Poltava, we are ready to play in Kiev. It was a long trip but it does not matter where we play. For Poltava it’s a big disadvantage because they wanted to play at home.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are even money to return to London with all three points and potentially the top spot in Group E secured depending on the result of the Qarabag-Sporting match. There are 23/10 odds for the teams to split the points in what will be frigid conditions, while Vorskla have 7/2 odds to pull off a shock scoreline and perhaps give their qualifying hopes a lifeline.

Oddsmakers are expecting a low-scoring game as there are 4/5 odds on the match finishing with less than 2.5 goals while it is even money for the match to cross that threshold. For first-goal scorers, the toteboard is in disarray since Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette did not make the trip as Emery opted to keep the pair in London ahead of the Spurs match.

Eddie Nketiah is now the top option at 6/1, with a trio of Vorskla players — da Cruz Nicolas Careca, Gegham Kadymyan, and Yuriy Kolomoets range from 13/2 to 8/1. Mkhitaryan, Emile Smith-Rowe and Aaron Ramsey are all 17/2 selections to make it 0-1 to the Arsenal.

For any-time goal-scorers, Nketiah is a 2/1 selection, but it would not be surprising to see these odds fluctuate as punters review the adjusted Gunners options. The aformentioned Arsenal trio all have 3/1 odds at finding the back of the net.

PREDICTION

The goal is really simple for Arsenal: Get a goal, get a win, make sure no one gets hurt, and get the hell out of there. It will be an intriguing challenge for the young Gunners, who could potentially be playing in a half-empty stadium, trying to deal with the frigid conditions and just the whole sub-optimal scenario that comes with the late venue switch. They will talk about it for years afterward — a good yarn for the kids and grandkids — but this is a match Emery might secretly be thrilled about post facto as no one is in their comfort zone for this match.

Vorskla has picked the absolute worst time to be in a goal drought, though they did play the full 90 minutes at the Emirates in the reverse fixture with those two goals in the final quarter-hour. The problem with that was the Ukraine side had only one shot on target in the first 75 minutes.

Mkhitaryan tore through Vorskla’s defence in that match, setting up goals by Aubameyang and Denny Welbeck eight minutes apart in the second half. He may have to become the goal-scorer in this match as Aubameyang will be watching from his cozy London confines and Aubameyang sidelined with that horrific ankle injury. Ramsey will have to pull the strings while Smith-Rowe, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan do the scoring damage.

It will take a lot for Arsenal not to get a result in this match, and it would not be surprising to see the Gunners assured of group honours by the final whistle.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Vorskla Poltava 0, Arsenal 3.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEW:

Chelsea (4-0-0, 12, +5) vs. PAOK (1-0-3, 3, -1)

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)

Liverpool can potentially clinch a spot in the knockout round of the Champions League for a second successive season if they can complete the double over Paris-St. Germain on Wednesday at Parc des Princes and get a little bit of help.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jurgen Klopp’s side opened group play with a thrilling 3-2 victory at Anfield over the Ligue 1 leaders in September as Roberto Firmino’s goal in stoppage time the winner after PSG nearly escaped with a point after Kylian Mbappe’s equaliser on 83 minutes.

Yet therein, lies the rub for the Reds. They have played arguably their two worst matches of the season on the continent in group play, suffering a 1-0 loss at current Group D leaders Napoli and then a stunning 2-0 setback at Red Star earlier this month with a chance to put one foot through the door to reach the knockout round.

Liverpool can clinch a spot in the round of 16 with a victory and a win or draw by Napoli against Red Star.

“Two very ambitious teams will face each other in a very, very interesting competition, in an interesting situation in the group because we brought Belgrade back in the group [by losing in Serbia], so we go for everything and that’s how football should be,” Klopp said at Tuesday’s news conference. “Very often when you see groups after the draw you know immediately who will go through. The first two are pretty clear most of the time, but in this group it was clear from the beginning it was a difficult one and that’s it. We are here, we didn’t ever think negatively about it, we were looking forward to the game in Paris.”

Liverpool have won both their matches since the defeat to Red Star, recording clean sheet victories over Fulham and Watford, including a 3-0 romp past the latter at Vicarage Road last weekend. Mo Salah has scored in both contests and has five goals in his last five matches across all competitions, but the more welcome news was Firmino ending a four-match goalless drought with a marker right before the final whistle.

The match also showed what could be Klopp’s eventual evolution from a 4-3-3 set-up to a 4-2-3-1 formation in which Salah is the most forward striker and Firmino in the hole behind him flanked by Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri. It does not seem likely Liverpool will hold that formation for this match given PSG’s offensive prowess and Shaqiri’s ability to make a bigger impact in Champions League play given the style of competition, but Klopp has been pleased Firmino has adapted to the new role asked of him.

“In the last home game against Fulham, I had 20 German coaches in the stadium. Most of them were friends of mine, and I know them all,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “They watched the game. I’m not sure what the critics were saying about Bobby Firmino after the game, but when I saw the coaches later and we had drinks together, they were like ‘Bobby Firmino… what a player!’

“It’s because of the small things he is doing, he is working hard, he is here, he is there, he has five goals now and he opens 5,000 gaps for everybody. It’s about how you see it.”

Klopp has a midfield that is almost 100 percent as Fabinho was the only regular who did not make the 21-man roster who traveled to Paris. But it will be the central defence pairing of Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk who will likely be the most influential factors in whether Liverpool can shake off their road blues while wearing their trademark home red kits.

“We know they are top players – their strike force is something they are known worldwide for,” Gomez said. “As a team we just have to play our way. We have fundamentals that we stick to, that the gaffer gives us; we have to defend as a team regardless of who we’re playing.

“We do analysis and we have to prepare for different formations and different set-ups but our general philosophies in defending stay the same. That’s what we have to stick to.”

PSG could not figure out a way to beat Napoli as the two sides played to draws at both venues, and their Champions League play runs in stark contrast to their seeming invinicbility in Ligue 1. Les Parisiens retained their 100 percent record domestically last weekend with a 1-0 victory over Toulouse.

Thomas Tuchel held out both Neymar and Mbappe to let the superstars nurse injuries, and the third part of their potent strike force, Edinson Cavani, supplied the contest’s only goal in the ninth minute. It was the ninth goal in as many league matches for the Uruguay international, whose 10 overall goals are third behind the pair’s 13 apiece.

Both players are expected to be in PSG’s first XI for this game, but Teuchel believes his defence is going to be as important, if not more, to the chances of the French club’s side of getting through to the round of 16.

“The key will be to defend well against Liverpool’s attacking trio, that’s always difficult because they can change position. Firmino can play everywhere, he’s fluid, able to change rhythm,” Tuchel said.  “They can also play in 4-4-2, but that doesn’t change much in terms of their structure or their approach to the game.

“It’s necessary for us to play with confidence and play attacking football and have the desire to win. The ball has to move around quickly, we have to take the right decisions quickly, and we have to limit the number of touches in our opponents’ half.”

PSG will have at least two notable changes from the reverse fixture as keeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Marco Verratti are expected to be in the starting XI. Buffon served a suspension for his red card while with Juventus as they lost to eventual champions Real Madrid in the second leg of last year’s Champions League semifinals while Verratti served a one-match ban for his two yellow cards accrued in PSG’s second-leg exit to the reigning three-time champions in the round of 16.

Liverpool will conclude their group play at home versus Napoli, while PSG caps their six group play matches at last-place Red Star.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, PSG are firm favourites to hold serve and claim all three points with 11/10 odds, while Liverpool are a 21/10 pick to return to Anfield with a vital three road points. The odds of the sides splitting the points and contributing to a free-for-all in the final match day are 27/10.

The French side have 9/5 odds on winning with more than 2.5 goals scored, while a like result for Liverpool offers 16/5 odds. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw is the next-most likely outcome according to the oddsmakers with 19/4 odds, while PSG get 11/2 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory compared to Liverpool’s 17/2 for the same such results.

PSG’s attacking trio of Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani are all joint-top options to open the scoring at 9/2, while Liverpool’s trident of Salah (5/1), Mane (7/1) and Firmino (15/2) are joined by teammate Daniel Sturridge (6/1). Angel Di Maria is a distant fourth option for Les Parisiens at 10/1, which is also 10th overall.

Surprisingly, no one is better than even money to score a goal in this match, with Neymar and Mbappe joint top at 5/4 and Cavani just off their pair at 11/8. Salah is 7/5 to lead Liverpool’s options, trailed by Sturridge (7/4), Mane (21/10) and Firmino (11/5). Expected to come off the bench because Klopp is likely to use a 4-3-3, Shaqiri offers a 10/3 return to score during the contest.

PREDICTION

First off, is there anyone who really thought Mbappe and Neymar would not play in this match? Ok, just wanted to get that out of the way. Onto the match.

Though it sounds like hyperbole, it does not feel out of place to say Liverpool’s season could hinge on getting at least one point from this contest. No one will say it out loud, but there has to be a certain amount of exhaustion and frustration chasing Manchester City in the Premier League. Yes, Liverpool are just two points behind the reigning champions, but how quickly do good feelings wash away after a 3-0 road victory when scoreboard watching reveals a 4-0 victory by City?

In this competition, Liverpool only have themselves to blame for what could be a potentially disastrous plight. The Reds should have taken at least one point from their other two road contests and clearly played below their capabilities in both contests against sides they were perceived to be better than or, at worst, equal to.

Paris-Saint Germain, it can be argued, are a side better than Liverpool. They are unbeaten in 12 (10-2-0) since the loss to Liverpool and have conceded just seven goals in those contests. The trip of Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani have accounted for 24 in that span. And while Liverpool have a good amount of pressure on them to return to the Champions League knockout round, it still dwarves the amount on Les Parisiens, who in some ways have become France’s answer to Manchester City as an ultra-rich squad who have yet to crack Europe’s true elite.

It says a lot Buffon is going to get the start in this match over Alphonse Arreola, having appeared in only one other Champions League match for the side, their 1-1 draw at Napoli in which the Italian side scored their lone goal from the spot. This could be Buffon’s last go-round at the one trophy which has eluded him all these years, and the self-applied pressure could also factor here.

This is a game that could be played in fits and spurts, where individual defensive breakdowns lead to goals scored. The winner of this match is who will have the lesser amount, and given Liverpool’s road form in this group, it is hard to imagine PSG not getting the inside track to advancing with a victory here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Paris-St. Germain 2, Liverpool 1.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Lyon (1-3-0, 6, +1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)
Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)