Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
UEFA Champions League 2018/19 Group C is positively bursting at the seams with goal scoring potential.
Goal hungry teams from France, England and Italy will attempt to out-score each other in the race for first and second place, though the final member of the Group’s quartet must be pushing the goal posts at the Red Star Stadium closer together as we speak.
Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are the early favourites to top the Group – but only just. Despite only finishing in 4th place in last season’s Premier League, Liverpool’s run to the 2017/18 Champions League Final has made them many people’s outside bet to go all the way this time around.
Napoli, still adjusting to life after Maurizio Sarri, ran Juventus close in the Serie A title race last season and the Partenpoei won’t give up a place in the Champions League knock-out rounds without a fight.
18th September 2018
Liverpool vs Paris Saint-Germain (Anfield, Liverpool)
Red Star Belgrade vs Napoli (Red Star Stadium, Belgrade)
3rd October 2018
Paris Saint-Germain vs Red Star Belgrade (Parc des Princes, Paris)
Napoli vs Liverpool (Stadio San Paolo, Naples)
24th October 2018
Paris Saint-Germain vs Napoli (Parc des Princes, Paris)
Liverpool vs Red Star Belgrade (Anfield, Liverpool)
Red Star Belgrade vs Liverpool (Red Star Stadium, Belgrade)
Napoli vs Paris Saint-Germain (Stadio San Paolo, Naples)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Liverpool (Parc des Princes, Paris)
Napoli vs Red Star Belgrade (Stadio San Paolo, Naples)
Liverpool vs Napoli (Anfield, Liverpool)
Red Star Belgrade vs Paris Saint-Germain (Red Star Stadium, Belgrade)
How did they qualify?
PSG won Ligue 1 in France, finishing 13 points ahead of nearest challengers Monaco.
Best Champions League season:
PSG have never won the European Cup/Champions League, though they did reach the Semi Finals of the competition in the 1994/95 season, where they lost 3-0 over two legs to AC Milan.
Paris Saint-Germain’s desperation to get their hands on the Champions League trophy increases with each passing season of failure in the competition.
Since the club’s colossal injection of Qatari cash in 2011, the Parisians haven’t been able to extend their domestic dominance beyond French borders. Despite successive annual heavy transfer outlays, PSG haven’t managed to get beyond the Quarter Final stage of the Champions League, though this season there is renewed optimism that this year could finally be “theirs”.
PSG smashed the record for most goals scored in a single Champions League Group Stage in 2017/18, netting twenty-five times in total in their games against Bayern Munich, Celtic and Anderlecht, though they were outscored by Real Madrid in the last 16.
Unai Emery’s continental failings saw him removed from office at PSG over the summer, and the Spaniard was replaced by young German coach Thomas Tuchel.
After some clever trimming of fat and minor tweaking during the transfer window, which included the arrival of highly decorated goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Paris Saint-Germain look well equipped to mount an assault on multiple fronts this season. Anything less than an appearance in the Final will be seen as another European failure however.
In Kylian MBappe and Neymar, PSG have two of the world’s elite attacking players in their frontline. Each of those bona fide match-winners can swing the momentum of any fixture on his own. Their supporting cast is almost unparalleled in terms of quality and depth. PSG have one of the strongest overall squads in the Champions League this season.
There aren’t many identifiable areas of weakness in the PSG squad. A couple of injuries to key players in attack could leave them looking a little short in that area however.
Kylian MBappe was instrumental France’s 2018 World Cup win in Russia, scoring four goals during the tournament including one in Les Bleus 4-2 win over Croatia in the competition’s Final. MBappe’s potential is frightening, and it’s even scarier to think that there is much more to come from the 19-year old who scored 21 times in his debut season for PSG last season.
The Brazilian might football’s poster boy for feigning injury and playacting, but Neymar remains one of the game’s global superstars. Neymar averaged just under a goal per game in all competitions last season and racked up 28 goals in total during a campaign that was marred by injuries. Keeping Neymar fit and injury free in 2018/19 could be the difference between winning the Champions League and failing again for PSG.
- PSG have only kept a clean sheet in 6 of their last 20 Champions League fixtures.
- There were over 2.5 goals scored in 100% of PSG’s last 15 Champions League matches.
- PSG only failed to score in 1 of their last 22 Champions League games.
Paris Saint-Germain are scheduled to play away from home in Ligue 1 directly after 5 of their 6 Champions League Group C matches. That’s countered somewhat by PSG’s pre-Champions League match schedule, where they play at home before 5 of their 6 Group C games.
PSG travel south to take on Ligue 1 rivals Marseille just a couple of days after their home match against Napoli on Champions League Match Day 3.
After the return match in Italy on the 6th of November, PSG travel south again to lock horns with last year’s Ligue 1 runners up Monaco.
How did they qualify?
Liverpool finished 4th in the Premier League, 5 points ahead of Chelsea in 5th.
Best Champions League season:
Liverpool have lifted the European Cup/Champions League on 5 previous occasions (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984 and 2005). They were runners up in 1985, 2007 and 2018.
Liverpool were the surprise packages of last season’s Champions League, cutting a path to the Final with their high-octane, heavy metal brand of attacking football.
The Merseysiders scored forty-seven times in total during their European campaign, obliterating the record for most goals scored in a single Champions League season. Their style of play and current personnel are perfectly suited to the two-legged knockout format in the latter rounds of the competition.
In fact, the pattern of their play is much more suited to the Champions League than it is to the bread and butter of Premier League football. Liverpool finished in 4th place last season, amassing one-point less than they did the year before.
In an attempt to improve their Premier League fortunes, Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp spent massively over the summer, further reinforcing their already talented squad. Error prone goalkeeper Loris has been finally been replaced by Alisson, while Naby Keïta, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri add depth and quality to Liverpool’s ranks.
Optimism is high among Liverpool supporters and silverware of some description is expected this season. It’s time for Jurgen Klopp and his players to deliver.
The majority of teams Liverpool face struggle to cope with the intensity of the Reds press. Their ability to win the ball high up the pitch opens huge spaces for their livewire front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah to exploit. That attacking trio is one of the most feared forward lines in Europe.
Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy is a demanding one and his teams often suffer from physical exhaustion at points during the season. Juggling multiple commitments at once could prove a problem for Liverpool again.
Mohamed Salah blew everyone away with his sensational performances in 2017/18. The Egyptian scored forty-four times in his debut season for Liverpool, slamming home strikes from every conceivable angle and distance. Liverpool will be looking to him again to provide a touch of magic from the right-hand side.
Virgil van Dijk
The world’s most expensive defender Virgil van Dijk is one-man attack thwarter at the back for Liverpool. Quick, aggressive in the tackle and dominant in the air, the Dutch international is like Jaap Stam reimagined…..but with better hair. An injury to van Dijk, and Liverpool’s defence suddenly looks very ordinary however.
- Liverpool conceded 9 goals in their last 3 Champions League fixtures
- Liverpool only failed to score in 1 of their last 17 Champions League games
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 8 Champions League matches at Anfield.
Liverpool’s fixtures in and around their Champions League games look difficult enough to cause them some real problems in the coming months.
Before their opening Group C match against PSG, Liverpool take on Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Before their first away match of the Group at Napoli, Liverpool have to come through a tough fixture away at Chelsea. When they return from Naples, they have just a couple of days to prepare for a titanic clash with Manchester City at Anfield.
Match Day 4 sees Liverpool travel to Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade. That game comes just a few days after they play Arsenal at the Emirates.
Liverpool’s return date with PSG in France on November 28th is preceded by a trip to London to take on a rejuvenated Watford side. When Liverpool return from France, they must square themselves for the Merseyside Derby against Everton at Anfield.
Directly after Liverpool’s final Group C match against Napoli, they host bitter rivals Manchester United on Merseyside.
How did they qualify?
Napoli finished 2nd in Serie A last season, earning them a place in the Champions League Group Stage for the 3rd successive year.
Best Champions League season:
Napoli reached the Last 16 of the Champions League in 2011/12 and 2016/17.
2017/18 was a season of both highs and lows for Napoli. The team played some of the most eye-catching and entertaining football on the continent, though to not be crowned Serie A champions after a 91-point season must have been a bitter pill to swallow.
Napoli’s Champions League adventure ended abruptly last season, when the Partenopei failed to qualify from a Group containing Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Feyenoord. Napoli lost four matches out of six in total, including all three of their away matches.
Following their unsuccessful Serie A title tilt, enigmatic Coach Maurizio Sarri was lured to England by Chelsea, and the Blues went back to Napoli to take key midfielder Jorginho to London shortly after. Sarri was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti at the Stadio San Paolo in a managerial switcheroo that had an era-ending feel to it.
The style of play that won Napoli so many plaudits under Sarri is unlikely to be thrown out the window completely by Ancelotti, though the former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich manager will certainly want to put his own stamp on things.
With modest business done during the transfer window, and a transitory tactical period likely, the other teams in Group C will probably face a less dangerous Napoli side compared to the team they might have faced a year ago.
Under Sarri, Napoli passed the ball rapidly and vertically through the lines, though Ancelotti might opt for a more considered approach. Their diminutive front three of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens have a fantastic understanding and they can cause any defence numerous headaches with their movement.
Jorginho’s departure has left a gaping hole at the heart of Napoli’s midfield. Without him, there is no identifiable playmaker in the middle of the park and the rhythm of Napoli’s play could suffer as a result.
Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly is a rock in the centre of the Napoli defence. The 27-year old, who has been at the club since 2014, is a cult hero in Naples, mixing equal parts robustness with composure at the back. Reports suggest that Napoli rejected an offer of close to £90m for Koulibaly from an un-named Premier League club *cough* Man Utd *cough* over the summer.
Napoli through and through, 5’4” attacker Lorenzo Insigne came through the ranks at his home town club before making his Serie A debut in 2010. Usually deployed to the left of an attacking three, Insigne’s close control and flawless technique make him a nightmare to defend against.
- Napoli have won 5 and lost 5 of their most recent 10 Champions League fixtures.
- Napoli have scored in all but 1 of their last 22 Champions League matches.
- Both teams have scored in 8 of Napoli’s last 11 Champions League games.
Napoli play away from home in Serie A after mid-week Champions League fixtures on 4 separate occasions over the coming months. They do however, play at home in the league before 4 of those games.
In general, Napoli’s domestic fixtures around their Champions League games have fallen quite nicely for the Partenopei. There are couple of tricky runs however.
A few days before their Match Day 2 game at home to Liverpool, Napoli travel to take on Serie A champions Juventus in Turin.
Directly after their Match Day 3 clash with PSG at the Parc de Princes, Napoli play fellow Serie A big-hitters Roma at the Stadio San Paolo.
Red Star Belgrade
How did they qualify?
Red Star Belgrade won the 2017/18 Serbian Super Liga and then had to come through four rounds of Champions League pre-qualifiers to make it to the Group Stage of the competition.
Best Champions League season:
Red Star won the old format European Cup in 1991 with a team containing legendary players like Vladimir Jugović, Robert Prosinečki, Siniša Mihajlović, Darko Pančev and Dejan Savićević.
This season will be their first appearance in the Champions League Group Stage since the tournament was revamped shortly after Red Star won it.
Red Star Belgrade are back in Europe’s premier club competition this season, returning to the continent’s elite competition for the first time since 1992.
Red Star took the long route to qualification after winning the Serbian SuperLiga ahead old enemies Partizan. The Serbians had to battle their past Latvia’s Spartaks Jūrmala, Lithuainia’s FK Sūduva, Slovakia’s Spartak Trnava and finally Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg to make it to the Champions League proper.
The club now have trips to the Parc des Princes, Anfield and the Stadio San Paolo to look forward to, though the team will have to make the first two pilgrimages alone. Red Star fans have been banned from attending their team’s away matches at PSG and Liverpool after causing trouble against RB Salzburg in the qualifiers.
Head Coach Vladan Milojević had a busy summer strengthening and reshaping his squad for the Champions League challenge. Reinforcements were undoubtedly needed, though the frantic window has left Red Star’s team looking almost unrecognizable the SuperLiga winning side that lost just once on their way to clinching the title.
Red Star have the kind of technique and mastery of the ball you’d expect a well-coached Serbian side to have. Vladan Milojević also has a deep pool of attacking talent to pick from and can mix things up in the final third depending on who Red Star are playing.
The overall standard of Red Star’s squad is a couple of levels below the rest of the team’s in Group C. The Serbian champions will relish testing themselves at this level, though that thin veneer of enthusiasm could shatter if they concede a couple of early goals in a particular game.
25-year old Ghanaian striker Richmond Boakye returned to Red Star this summer after just 6 months at Jiangsu Suning in China. Boakye scored 23 times in 28 appearances in the first half of last season before moving to the Far East for approximately €6.5m in January. Boakye returned to Red Star on the last day of the summer window for just €1.5m.
35-year old midfielder and club captain Nenad Milijaš has played over 500 club games in half a dozen different countries during his career. The 25-times capped former Serbian international’s experience is invaluable to a team that’s largely untried at top level football.
- Red Star Belgrade have lost just 3 out of 41 games in all competitions including friendlies in 2018.
- Red Star Belgrade have lost just 1 of their last 38 competitive home matches.
- Red Star Belgrade have only failed to score in 1 of their last 13 games.
Red Star play away from home in the Serbian SuperLiga 5 times directly after mid-week Champions League fixtures. They do however, play at home before 4 of those Group games.
A few days after Red Star face Napoli in Belgrade on Match Day 1, the Serbian champions take on bitter rivals Partizan in the Eternal Derby.
Their return match against the Italians in Naples is bookended by tough domestic games against Radnicki and Vozdovac, who finished 4th and 6th respectively in the Super Liga last season.
Similarly, their Match Day 6 contest with PSG in Belgrade is preceded by a meeting with Napredak who finished 7th last season, and followed by a clash at Cukaricki, who finished 3rd.
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