Klopp's champs fight to avoid early Euro exit

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 10 Dec 2019

Liverpool travel to Salzburg tomorrow (HK time) needing to avoid defeat to the 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 specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the competition's top scorer in Erling 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 English Premier League.

The Reds recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth but lost another center-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 Dutchman Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

An injury to Fabinho has also robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

When Liverpool and Salzburg met in October, the hosts raced into a 3-0 lead but the Austrians hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed 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 Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The Austrians need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years. A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are at home to French side Lille as they go for a win that will send them into the knockout stage from Group H.

Frank Lampard's men are third in the group on eight points, level with second-placed Valencia who face leaders Ajax Amsterdam.

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