No time to waste in tough group

Reds start off with 'must-watch' game against Milan, with Atletico and Porto stiff rivals too

LONDON • Liverpool must hit the ground running in their first Champions League game against AC Milan, as a tough Group B also including La Liga winners Atletico Madrid and Porto will leave no room for error, manager Jurgen Klopp said yesterday.

The Reds and Milan contested two finals in 2005 and 2007, with both sides winning one title each, but this will be the Italian side's first appearance in the competition since 2013-14.

But despite their prolonged Champions League exile, the visitors still have rich pedigree with seven European Cups, one more than the hosts. That makes today's fixture at Anfield one of the "must-watch" games in the group phase, according to Klopp.

"It's a tough group. Atletico Madrid, wow. Porto, usually the champions in Portugal so a top team, and then AC Milan is one of the biggest teams in Europe, so it is proper Champions League," the German said at his pre-match press conference.

"When we all saw the draw, I don't think any of the teams said, 'Oh my god, what a great group' ... It's all about getting enough points to get through that group and we better not waste time, starting tomorrow.

"This group shows there are no games where people say, 'Do we really want to watch that?' This group will be exciting from the first second to the last second. I can't see any early decisions made in this group and it keeps us on our toes."

The match marks the first time Anfield will be full for a Champions League game during the Covid-19 pandemic since March last year and Klopp is counting on the 12th man to recreate the famous Kop roar.

"It was a long time ago when we had a Champions League game at home. We've spoken a lot about European nights at Anfield and I cannot wait to experience it again," he said.

Liverpool came back from 3-0 down in the 2005 final to win the match on penalties in what became known as the "Miracle of Istanbul" and Klopp, then manager of Mainz, admitted that he nearly switched off the television when Milan led 3-0 at half-time.

That comeback remains one of the most memorable in European football history and the memory has left an indelible mark on the former Borussia Dortmund coach.

"I was thinking about not watching the second half, to be honest," the 54-year-old said with a laugh.

"All of us except the Liverpool dressing room thought the game was decided.

"And it then became one of the biggest football sensations ever. I'm glad I didn't switch the telly off and watched the whole game."

Teenage midfielder Harvey Elliot will miss the game after undergoing surgery for a dislocated ankle suffered over the weekend but the hosts otherwise have no other injury worries.

Milan will not be able to call on Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the veteran missed out on a first return to England since leaving Manchester United in 2018.

The 39-year-old made an instant impact on Sunday in his first appearance since May, scoring the second goal in their 2-0 Serie A win over Lazio, seven minutes after coming on, but picked up a knock thereafter.

"We hoped he could still play, and he tried, but he was in pain. It is pointless to take risks, this is an important match, but we have so many other matches after tomorrow," Milan coach Stefano Pioli said yesterday.

"I will choose between Ante Rebic and Olivier Giroud for who will start, we are covered... I am passionate about English football. I know Liverpool and we have studied them."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'No time to waste in tough group'. Subscribe