The UEFA Champions League returns to Anfield and it returns with a mouthwatering tie. Six-time champions Liverpool, host seven-time champions Milan at 19:00 GMT. Astonishingly, the two giants have only ever met twice in their history, with both coming in finals; 2007 in Athens, and more famously, 2005 in Istanbul.
It is difficult to think of a better tie to welcome the return of fans to Anfield on another famous European night. Milan has been missing from the showpiece tournament for seven years and will be looking to make an instant impact on their return. Atletico Madrid and Portuguese giants FC Porto round up what is a tough group.
Stefano Pioli’s side finished runners-up to city rivals Inter in the Serie A last season and have begun this season with three wins from three. Perhaps not as good as the vintage Milan sides of the 2000s, but what this current group boasts of, is a perfect blend of youth and experience. None embodies that experience more than soon to be 40 years old Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Swede marked his comeback over the weekend with a goal against Lazio but has unfortunately been ruled out through an Achilles tendon injury. In his absence, Olivier Giroud could step in, a man Liverpool will know all about. Exciting young talents like Theo Hernandez, Sandro Tonali, Brahim Diaz, Rafael Leao will all be on show.
Liverpool themselves have also made a strong start to the season, earning ten points from their opening four games. Jurgen Klopp’s side will be missing Roberto Firmino, Neco Williams, and young Harvey Elliott through injury, but can count on Takumi Minamino again after he returned to team training on the eve of the game.
It should be the strongest starting XIs from both coaches as they seek a perfect start to the European campaign. Milan faces Juventus this weekend but you can be sure that will not play any part of Pioli’s thinking for this game. Milan is expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 that looks like; Maignan, Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez, Kessie, Tonali, Saelemakers, Diaz, Rebic, Leao.
They will understandably be cautious, as they wouldn’t want to go toe to toe in an open game. They will carry a threat on the counter-attack though, and the battle of the pacy Leao against Alexander-Arnold will be very interesting to watch. The winger will have to be very diligent in tracking back to help out Hernandez who will be having his own enthralling battle against Mohamed Salah.
Whoever wins the battle down that side of the pitch, you feel will win the game. The midfield battle of Kessie and Tonali against Fabinho and Thiago is another battle that will swing the game in the winner’s favour. Wherever you look, there are interesting individual battles. This is what the Champions League offers, technical excellence all across the pitch.
It should be a good one, the Anfield crowd will definitely play its part, and you can expect the Reds to be lifted up a level. You don’t want to miss this.