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31st Aug 2018

If you’re worried about ‘group of death’, you’re forgetting everything this Liverpool team stand for

Melissa Reddy

“We want to go to the next round so it is not our job to decide how we go there with the draw”

These words from Jurgen Klopp, said after Liverpool were pitted against Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals last season, should be always be front, centre, in capitals and bolded at times like this.

The German, a big believer in not fixating on what you can’t control, is also a disciple of a really simple concept: not worrying about ‘who’ but ‘how.’

During any given pre-match briefing, he swats away presumptions that an encounter may be easy, while highlighting the opposition’s strengths and what Liverpool need to do to combat them.

Conversely, when he is previewing a blockbuster clash, he spotlights why there should be no fear and rattles off the ways his side can prove to be a conundrum.

Amid all the talk of Liverpool being in Pot 3 for the Champions League group stage draw, paving the possibility of an obstructive pathway, and the Reds ultimately being paired with Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade, Klopp and his charges will not flinch.

While Group C is taxing, the Reds boss will point out that is exactly the point of being in the tournament: to compete against the elite.

And moreover, Liverpool have given every inch over the past two seasons to ensure a seat at the top table, so why wouldn’t they welcome and be enthused by a challenge?

Those spellbinding nights under the lights are what they’re in this for, what they’ve worked so hard for.

None of their adversaries would have been pleased to find themselves in the company of the Reds – not least PSG manager Thomas Tuchel.

The 45-year-old, who followed Klopp at the helm of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, suffered a most unforgettable defeat with the latter at Anfield.

In the 2016 Europa League quarter-final, his BVB were 2-0 up inside 10 minutes on Merseyside only to lose 4-3 at the death to exit the competition.

In the aftermath, Tuchel said: “It was an atmosphere where everybody, except our supporters, believed it was meant to be.”

The German will undoubtedly have designs on exacting European revenge and can count on a stellar attacking cast to help instruct that. He can call on the two most expensive players in the world, who also happen to be among the most explosive in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Liverpool, however, relish fixtures against open teams. They also faced Napoli in a pre-season test at the start of August, which they won 5-0. While this will be a completely different examination altogether, there will be a psychological advantage to use.

The last competitive test against Red Star, whom Marko Grujic was bought from, was all the way back in 1973 but it presents an interesting match-up.

Those three teams will be aware that last season’s finalists that boasted the most formidable attack in Europe, now have a steely rearguard in front of one of the game’s best goalkeepers in Alisson.

Liverpool have also added Naby Keita, a gamechanger in midfield, while increasing the depth and quality in the squad with the recruitment of Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Since Klopp joined the club, he has only suffered four defeats on the continent and two of them have been in finals – against Sevilla in the Europa League and in May on the premier stage against Real Madrid.

So while the 51-year-old will appreciate the scale of the task, he will be confident given his record and his roster.

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