This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
On Tuesday, Liverpool will play their vital Champions League match against RB Salzburg. In this clash, one battle in particular could decide the final outcome.
Once again, Liverpool will need to get a result on the final matchday of the group stage to qualify for the next round of the European competition. Last season, they did what was required and beat Napoli at Anfield. This time, they will travel to Austria needing at least a draw. Whilst they are not as good an outfit as the Serie A club, Salzburg did cause the Reds plenty of problems earlier on the season as they valiantly lost 4-3.
Salzburg have been particular dangerous in front of goal in Europe, scoring 16 goals in five matches in the group to date – Jurgen Klopp’s team have managed just 11. As such, there is one duel that will be intriguing to watch.
Ever since Joel Matip picked up an injury, Dejan Lovren has been an ever-present at the heart of the defence. He has actually done rather well this season, picking up an average WhoScored rating of 7.22 in the Premier League. In Europe, that number has also been above seven.
However, the reasons why Liverpool fans have slammed him in the past have not been eradicated. Against Everton, he was arguably at fault for both of the goals, and the Merseyside outfit have kept just two clean sheets in the 11 matches he has played a part in this term. Such carelessness at the Red Bull Arena will leave the Reds in a world of trouble.
Much of the focus in the build-up to this match has been – and will continue to be on – teenage sensation Erling Haaland. That is understandable – he has scored 28 goals in 21 matches after all. But whilst he is one of Jesse Marsch’s danger men, there is another player than Liverpool will need to keep their eye on.
This term, 23-year-old Hwang He-Chan has been on fire as well. He has not been able to match Haaland’s prolific streak in front of goal, but has still chipped in with nine goals. However, it is in terms of providing where he has proven his worth, picking up 14 assists in all competitions, including three in the Champions League.
With 2.8 key passes per match, he is in the top 10 in the whole tournament to date. It is vital, therefore, that Lovren does not allow the South Korea international to link up with his 19-year-old strike partner too often in the match. Salzburg have played with two strikers in every single match this term to date, which means that the two have built up a good understanding already.
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Having scored eight goals from just 14 shots in the Champions League, Liverpool cannot allow Haaland to get the ball in good areas. To avoid this from happening, Lovren must stop £4.05m-rated Hwang – as per Transfermarkt – from having a strong influence on proceedings.
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