London: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.
However, the spectre of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League’s top-scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.
The Reds’ recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another centre-back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.
Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp’s only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defence.
Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d’Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool’s fortunes over the past two years.
But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.
The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.
“I forgot how it feels, to be honest,” said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.
“It’s great, we should have them more often.
“The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday.”
That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch’s men in October.
The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohammad Salah’s winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.
Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.
Napoli v Genk, 9.55pm
Salzburg v Liverpool, 9.55pm
Benfica v Zenit, midnight
Lyon v RB Leipzig, midnight
Dortmund v Slavia Prague, midnight
Inter v Barcelona, midnight
Chelsea v Lille, midnight
Ajax v Valencia, midnight