If you like goals, this group is for you.
Home to defending champions Liverpool, Group E also houses European underachievers Napoli, debutantes Red Bull Salzburg, and Genk – four clubs capable of scoring in bunches.
But can any of these free-scoring sides dethrone the Reds?
|TEAM||TO WIN GROUP||TO QUALIFY||NOT TO QUALIFY|
|Red Bull Salzburg||14-1||5-2||2-9|
Liverpool enter this campaign with a target on their backs after winning their sixth Champions League trophy last season in a second successive trip to the final. They’re undeniably the cream of the crop in Group E.
However, that victory makes it easy to forget how close they came to being knocked out prematurely by Napoli. The Reds didn’t win their group last year, finishing behind PSG and level on points with the Partenopei. Liverpool claimed second place ahead of the Italian outfit by virtue of the sixth tiebreaker. A world-class stop from Alisson in the final minutes of their Group C finale saved the Reds and denied Napoli a trip to the round of 16.
The Partenopei have proved that they can go toe to toe with Liverpool, suggesting there’s good value to back them winning this group. Kalidou Koulibaly and new signing Konstantinos Manolas form one of the better defense partnerships in the world, while Carlo Ancelotti has a plethora of options at full-back. Allan, Fabian Ruiz, and Piotr Zielinski are all excellently versatile midfielders, though Napoli are a bit thin in the middle of the park after those three. Finally, goals will be scored in bunches by an attack that brought in electrifying Mexico international Hirving Lozano this summer to join the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, and Arkadiusz Milik.
With Liverpool desperate to win their first Premier League title since 1990, they could put less emphasis on the group stage, knowing they will still have enough firepower to go through. Meanwhile, Napoli will put all their efforts into securing a place in the knockout stage for just the second time in club history.
Pick: Napoli to win Group E (7-4)
This is one of those unique spots where Napoli have as good a chance of winning the group as they do of not qualifying at all.
Salzburg are making their long-awaited debut in the competition. Having faltered in the qualifying stage in each of the last six seasons, they instead earned a reputation as Europa League darlings. A massive jump in the Austrian Bundesliga coefficient, however, ensured the league winner’s automatic qualification for the Champions League for the first time since the adoption of the new format.
Now that the monkey is off their back, the sky is the limit. A fearless side with a penchant for attack-minded football, Salzburg will have no qualms about going blow for blow with the likes of Liverpool and Napoli. It should make for great entertainment, but could also result in some lopsided defeats. Case in point: Last season, Salzburg faced Napoli in the last 16 of the Europa League and nearly turned the tie around in the second leg, beating them 3-1 after losing the reverse fixture 3-0 in Naples.
It’s also possible their debut is coming a season too late, as they were raided over the summer. Munas Dabbur, Xaver Schlager, Stefan Lainer, Hannes Wolf, and Diadie Samassekou were all poached by bigger clubs. Those players each appeared in over 40 matches for Salzburg last season, combining for 59 goals and 43 assists. No club can absorb such a devastating blow to production and still maintain the same standard of play.
Rounding out the group is a Belgian side that’s far from a pushover. Genk didn’t lose any of their home fixtures in their last appearance in the competition, though they’ve also never won a group match in their history. This will be just their third appearance in the Champions League. They’ve built up an impressive resume of European experience over the past few seasons, and players like Sander Berge and Mbwana Samatta can do some damage. Still, they’re not a real threat to progress, especially following the summer departures of Leandro Trossard and Ruslan Malinovskyi.
Liverpool and Napoli should go through here, but there are worse bets than throwing a little something down on Salzburg to progress. Not for me, though.
Alex is a sports betting writer for theScore. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, is too impatient for futures, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.