Liverpool were unlucky to miss out on a tie with Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League re-draw… but should still beat Inter Milan and reach the quarter-finals
European football’s governing body scrapped the initial fixtures when Manchester United were pitted against reigning Europa League champions Villarreal.
The tie was ineligible after the two teams faced each other in the group stage, creating a knock-on effect for the rest of the draw.
The Austrian champions have never reached the knockout stages of the Champions League before, nor have they won a European trophy.
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Salzburg also lost both of their group-stage games against Liverpool two years ago.
The Reds were obvious favourites for the tie, although manager Jurgen Klopp remained humble when asked about his team’s chances.
“Tactically they are really good, technically they are really good,” he said. “I think we cannot deny the ‘favourites’ role, but we know it is a tough place to go.”
Following the re-draw, though, Liverpool were told to prepare for a two-legged contest with Inter Milan.
Klopp’s team are still tipped to progress. “It’s a slightly worse tie than the original but Liverpool should still be confident about it,” ex-Reds striker Michael Owen told BT Sport.
“I think it’s a nice trip for the fans and the players to play in an iconic stadium. Liverpool are still clear favourites. The toys won’t be completely out of the pram.”
But it won’t be plain sailing. Inter are the Serie A holders and playing as such, winning five consecutive league games to storm to the top of the table after a slow start.
The three-time champions of Europe were expected to struggle after losing manager Antonio Conte and star player Romelu Lukaku last summer, but they remain a stellar side.
Inter have scored 43 league goals this term, the third most in Europe’s top five divisions (Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A).
The only teams to have scored more league goals are Bayern Munich (47) and, as fate would have it, Liverpool (45).
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Although there’s no doubting the Reds were unlucky with the re-draw, it could work in their favour.
Inter’s desire to score may offer Klopp’s relentless attack more opportunities in the final third and, as we saw in their 5-0 victory at Old Trafford, they can be devastating when afforded space.
Liverpool will also be full confidence after breezing past Inter’s rivals AC Milan in the group stage, where they picked up six wins.
Klopp rested players for both fixtures against Milan, who are just a point behind rivals Inter in the Serie A title race. Liverpool’s 2-1 win at the San Siro emphasised the gap in quality between the Premier League and Serie A.
Inter are a better team than Salzburg, but the Reds – playing on a familiar stage – should still have enough to make the next stage, especially if either game opens up.