Liverpool need no reminder of the danger they face against Red Bull Salzburg on Tuesday night – nor will those who watched these two sides meet at Anfield earlier this season.
At 3-0 up and cruising, the defending champions were delivered an almighty shock as the visitors roared back into the tie before prolific teenager Erling Bruat Haaland eventually levelled the scores in the 60th minute.
Having been beaten in their Group E opener by Napoli, Liverpool could ill-afford another slip-up – and they were forced to sweat on another breakthrough until the 69th-minute when Mohamed Salah scored his second of the night to snatch a dramatic 4-3 win.
Since then their defence of the European crown has remained on course, if lacking a little of the swashbuckling spirit that saw them romp to victory during last season’s competition.
Jurgen Klopp’s men could only muster a draw on Matchday 5 against an impressive Napoli side, needing Dejan Lovren’s second-half header to cancel out Dries Mertens’ 21st-minute opener.
That – combined with results elsewhere – left the Reds in pole position to top Group E yet agonisingly short of confirming their place in the last 16.
They now sit top of the group, one point ahead of Napoli and three ahead of Salzburg heading into this week’s fixtures needing only to avoid defeat to book their spot in the latter stages of the competition.
However, that may be easier said than done on Tuesday night against a fearless, youthful Salzburg who have only been beaten at home once this season – a 3-2 defeat by Napoli in October.
Helmed by highly-rated American coach Jesse Marsch, Salzburg have become an increasingly dangerous proposition in Europe over the past two seasons.
Under Marsch’s predecessor, Marco Rose, Salzburg reached the last 16 of the Europa League, narrowly losing 4-3 on aggregate to Napoli and the Austrian upstarts have continued their forward momentum with impressive performances in the Champions League this season.
Undoubtedly the star of their season so far is teenage striking sensation Haaland – son of Premier League alumni Alf-Inge Haaland of Leeds and Man City – whose goals have made him one of the most sought-after talents in European football.
At just 19 years of age, the Leeds-born Norwegian forward is joint-top of the Austrian Bundesliga goalscoring chart with 16 in 14 appearances.
But most impressively, Haaland has also registered eight goals in five games in his first season in the Champions League including a hat-trick against Genk on Matchday 1.
That performance saw Haaland become the first teenager to score more than once on his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick for Manchester United against Fenerbahçe in September 2004.
He also became the third youngest third youngest player to score a Champions League hat-trick, behind Raúl and Rooney respectively, putting scouts from across the continent on red alert.
Haaland will be full of confidence ahead of Liverpool’s arrival at the Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night having already found the back of the net against the Reds’ ordinarily-imperious defensive unit back in October.
And despite Virgil Van Dijk’s Ballon d’Or-worthy 2019, Liverpool have looked noticeably less solid than during their trophy-winning campaign last season, particularly when playing away from home.
A look at the stats confirms that fact with the Reds currently shipping far more shots (15 compared to 11.4) shots on target (5.5 compared to 3.4) and goals (2 compared to 1.3) on average per game away from home.
Interestingly, Liverpool are dominating far more of the ball in European fixtures on the road this season compared to last, with an average of 64% possession compared to last season’s 54.9%.
With less possession expected against more accomplished sides in the knockout stages of the tournament, this year’s figure is likely to dip should Liverpool progress – but it may also be a sign that teams are prepared to sacrifice the ball to negate Liverpool’s potent counter-attack.
Whether Salzburg, needing a unlikely win to qualify, afford Liverpool the same privilege remains to be seen – but with their talismanic goal-getter Haaland on top form, the Austrians have every chance of causing a monumental upset on Tuesday night.
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