Liverpool return to the scene of one of their greatest triumphs on Wednesday in search of qualification for the knockout phase of the Champions League.
We’ll always have Paris.
The legend of Barney Rubble – that most unlikely of heroes, Alan Kennedy – wheeling away behind the goal in the Parc des Princes, only a moat stopping him from entering a jubilant throng of Liverpudlians. The echoes of tipsy Scousers singing “On the dole, drinking wine, Gay Par-ee”. The sight of Kirkby-born Phil Thompson wrestling “Old Big Ears” from the grasp of UEFA president, Dr Artemio Franchi to raise a shimmering European Cup into a sultry May sky. Stories of small children from all over Merseyside being dipped into the enormous trophy for a photo opportunity in Tommo’s local pub, The Falcon in the triumphant days that followed.
Liverpool to win the Champions League – 13.00
This time around the stakes are almost as high for Jurgen Klopp’s men. The simple mathematics with two matches to play are that a win probably secures Liverpool’s passage into the last sixteen. A draw would leave the Reds the task of beating Napoli in the final Group C encounter. A defeat in the French Capital would mean only a two goal victory or more would suffice in the last chance saloon at Anfield. As much as we relish the memory and theatre of Steven Gerrard’s last ditch intervention against Olympiakos back in 2005, in an ideal world, sudden-death drama can wait a while.
When the draw was made for the group stage back in August it was recognised that we’d been dealt a potentially dodgy hand but a lethargic defeat in Naples and supine surrender to Red Star in noisy Belgrade have crystallised concerns that the Europa League and all its inconvenience could beckon come February. The thought is unpalatable to those who revelled in last season’s journey to Kiev when Liverpool’s leading lights illuminated Europe’s grandest stage.
If there is pressure on Klopp and the Reds, more than same goes for their opponents’ boss Thomas Tuchel for whom European success is the only true benchmark. Paris St Germain’s hegemony in France – with an unblemished 14 match winning start to the season in Ligue 1 – is no real preparation for the stiffer tasks encountered abroad and yet the investment of Qatari millions, which was underway before his arrival, brings expectancy to rival that of all the European giants.
As if to underline the importance of Wednesday’s tie to the home side, it appears that Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will be risked despite both nursing injuries which kept them out of the weekend’s victory over Toulouse. The iconic French newspaper L’Equipe has them both down to start. Although Mbappe scored at a raucous Anfield to draw the Parisians level at 2-2 in the second half, he and his expensive Brazilian attacking counterpart failed to sparkle. Roberto Firmino’s late winner was no more than a vibrant Liverpool deserved on the night and the Reds carry the memory of their overall superiority into the game.
The Parc des Princes isn’t among the continent’s most vast football citadels but its acoustics create a din to match anywhere in Europe; a racket that encourages PSG to pour forward and maximize their attacking gifts, with Edinson Cavani and Angel di Maria supplementing the threat of Neymar and Mbappe. Encouragingly, their style of play suits Liverpool down to the ground, offering a salivating Reds’ front three ample opportunity to counter attack. At Watford on Saturday, once the opposition were forced to commit men forward, Sadio Mane, Firmino and Mohammed Salah were once more cavorting freely in the green space left behind.
In midfield, Klopp will be looking to provide his star turns up front with a solid base. Jordan Henderson’s weekend indiscretions and red card rule him out of the upcoming Merseyside derby so he will get the chance to atone and attempt to reprise his best form alongside the metronomic Gini Wijnaldum and redoubtable James Milner who shone in Europe last season. The claims of a recovering Naby Keita to demonstrate his worth after a stop-start beginning to his Liverpool career will have to wait for a gentler, less testing environment.
All is set fair for the tie of the round so far. PSG have opted to wear an all-white third strip despite their home advantage so Liverpool will line up in their familiar red, evoking memories of their most famous visit here back in 1981 against the might of Real Madrid. A similar victory here would rekindle memories of that iconic Paris night and set Liverpool fair on a course to conquer Europe anew.
*odds are subject to change.
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