Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is relishing trying to stop a fit Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, with Paris Saint-Germain’s superstar duo having shaken off injuries in time for Wednesday’s potentially decisive Champions League showdown.
The two most expensive players in the world had been fitness worries for the match at the Parc des Princes after hurting themselves on international duty last week.
Both watched PSG’s weekend win against Toulouse from the stands, but coach Thomas Tuchel declared them fit to face the English side.
“I am actually pleased for them that they are not seriously injured. That could have happened — we always expected them to play,” Klopp said at Tuesday’s eve-of-game press conference.
Neymar set up Mbappe for one of PSG’s goals at Anfield in September, but Liverpool won that game 3-2. Klopp’s side therefore have the upper hand coming to the French capital, where they must again be prepared to handle a duo with 26 goals between them this season.
“It’s much more difficult to prepare for a game when my players don’t know the opponents, which happens from time to time,” Klopp remarked.
“This generation of players have watched probably 500,000 YouTube videos of Mbappe and Neymar and (Edinson) Cavani and all that stuff. They know more about these players in that respect than I do, but they can only shine when they get the ball, so that means we have to defend, close the spaces.”
Liverpool and Napoli are level atop a very tight Group C, a point ahead of PSG. That means a win for last season’s runners-up coupled with a victory for Napoli against Red Star Belgrade will take those teams through, condemning PSG to a group-stage exit.
However, Liverpool’s recent away record in Europe is a concern — they have lost their last four Champions League games away from Anfield — despite them still being unbeaten in the Premier League this season.
“We brought Belgrade back in the group, and so we go for everything and that is how football should be,” said Klopp, who said Sadio Mane was fit to play, while Adam Lallana and Dominic Solanke are out.
– PSG in danger –
PSG are enjoying a record-breaking season in France, having won all 14 games in Ligue 1, but they have not managed to take that form into Europe.
“You have to think about how to defend, how to play football ourselves. That is the most important thing, and probably the thing Paris are not used to that much in the league because they are so dominant,” Klopp said.
Tuchel followed Klopp as coach at Borussia Dortmund before moving to France. Despite his outstanding start domestically, he knows the importance of progressing in the Champions League for the Qatar-owned club.
“I feel the pressure, of course. I feel that in every special match and this is clearly a special match,” said Tuchel, tipped to start Brazilian centre-back Marquinhos in midfield.
Tuchel also dismisses fears that his team struggle to adapt to the step-up in Europe because Ligue 1 is too easy for them.
“It cannot be a matter that we win too much, that it is too easy for us. That would mean someone else is responsible. It’s not like this — we are responsible. We can’t have anyone to blame but us tomorrow,” he insisted.
A premature exit from the competition would raise questions about the whole PSG project at a time when they are under pressure to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. But Tuchel wants his players to relax.
“We cannot control the result, nobody can in football, and for that, no matter what the result is, the sun will shine the next day again and we will have to get up out of bed and go to work, whether in a better mood or a not so good mood.”