Everything you need to know about UCL Group A, Ajax, Napoli and Rangers
While Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have gotten the better of Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool in the Premier League (for the most part) in recent years, the Reds have dominated the Champions League. This year’s Liverpool Champions League draw presents Klopp with yet another opportunity to get the most out of his EPL rivals and the rest of the world.
Since taking over the Merseyside football club in 2015, Klopp has guided Liverpool to three incredible Champions League finals and won a UCL trophy with his side. The Reds were in the final last year in France, losing a heartbreaking game 1-0 to Real Madrid.
This season, Liverpool’s Champions League draw has placed the club in Group A along with Ajax of the Netherlands, Napoli of Italy and Rangers of Scotland. Here’s everything you need to know on Liverpool’s route to the knockout stage.
UEFA Champions League Group A draw
As runners-up in the 2021-22 English Premier League season, Liverpool’s Champions League draw came from Pot 2. The Merseyside club were lucky in their draw and avoided Pot 1 powerhouses like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. . Drawing Ajax, Napoli and Rangers is about as good as the Reds could have hoped.
The exact UCL schedule is not yet finalized, but we know which weeks the teams will play the matches:
- Day 1: September 6/7
- Day 2: September 13/14
- Matchday 3: October 4/5
- Matchday 4: October 11/12
- Matchday 5: October 25/26
- Matchday 6: November 1/2
A note about this year’s lineup: UCL has TV pairings in place by country, so top teams from the same league don’t play on the same day. For example, Liverpool and Manchester City are a pair, which means they will play on opposite matchdays.
In UCL Group A, Rangers and Celtic are a pair, as are Napoli and AC Milan.
Liverpool v Ajax
When Ajax qualified for the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League by winning the Eredivisie by two points over PSV, their coach was Dutchman Erik ten Hag. The 52-year-old skipper will face Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool at least twice more this season, but it will be with Manchester United.
Ajax’s new manager is Alfred Schreuder. The Dutch manager was Ten Hag’s assistant in 2018-19, head coach at 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany and assistant at Barcelona. Last season, he won the Belgian Pro League with another UCL team 22-23, Club Brugge.
This year’s Ajax squad includes many household names that Liverpool fans will recognize from the Premier League past. These players include Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham/Everton), Davy Klaassen (Everton), Daley Blind (Manchester United), Dušan Tadić (Southampton) and Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham).
Ajax are still a dominant side in the Dutch top division. Still, they are one of the weaker teams in Pot 1, resulting in a great Champions League draw for Liverpool.
Liverpool v Napoli
Italian club Napoli from Campania finished third in Serie A last season, five points behind Inter Milan and seven behind champions AC Milan.
Manager Luciano Spalletti’s side are also off to a strong start to their 2022-23 campaign. Napoli won their first two matches against Verona and Monza by a combined score of 9-2. This is largely due to the club’s new Wonder Boy, 21-year-old Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The youngster has come this offseason after playing in Russia and Georgia and has already scored three goals.
Other familiar faces Liverpool fans might recognize are Mexican winger Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Italian national team stalwart Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Tottenham loanee Tanguy Ndombele.
Napoli have lost some big names this offseason, with Lorenzo Insigne (Toronto FC), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea) and Arkadiusz Milik (Marseille on loan to Juventus) all gone. Despite these losses, Napoli still have a full roster and the brass might not be finished in the transfer market.
The latest Cristiano Ronaldo rumors from Manchester are that Napoli could step in and make a bid for the ill-fated superstar. Such a move would permanently change the tenor of Liverpool’s Champions League draw in Group A.
It’s been over a decade since Scotland’s most decorated club (sorry Celtic fans) last appeared in the Champions League group stage. But Rangers came on with a spectacular second-half goal against Ajax rivals PSV in qualifying.
Rangers have an international flair, with players from 16 different countries. However, there aren’t many names that even relatively hardcore football fans will recognize.
For American fans watching Liverpool take on Rangers, there are two Americans in the squad. Defensive midfielder James Sands is on loan from NYCFC in MLS, and attacking midfielder Malik Tillman (a USMNT-eligible German) is on loan from Bayern Munich.
Predictions for UCL Group A
Liverpool’s Champions League has worked out about as well as it could for Jürgen Klopp and company. The Reds should qualify for the knockout stages without too much trouble. The matches against Ajax and Napoli will be tough and exciting, but if Liverpool are at full strength and playing their best there should be no doubting the outcome.
As for who else comes out of the group, the prediction here is that it will be Napoli. Yes, Ajax are technically the best club in the group, but losing Erik ten Hag and a boatload of talent this offseason will be too much to bear. The Kings of the Netherlands will soon be back in the UCL knockout stage. It just won’t be 2023.
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