2022/23 Champions League: Liverpool’s group stage rivals
Last year’s finalists avoided the big guns and line up relatively short away trips during the group stage to Amsterdam, Italy and Scotland.
It’s fair to say that Liverpool haven’t been enjoying the best of times since the new season started but for all their troubles, the 2022/23 Champions League group stage draw was relatively kind to last year’s runners-up. Klopp’s team, who started out in Pot 2, avoided the top seeds - title holders Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and while no rival can be underestimated in Europe’s top club competition, they can take some comfort in that their away trips are relatively close to home. Clubs from the same association cannot meet at the group stage which meant that Liverpool could not face City, Spurs or Chelsea but they won’t have to leave the mainland for their trip north of the border to face Rangers. In fact the furthest the Reds will travel between now and November is southern Italy where they will be guests of Napoli.
Curiously, out of their Group A rivals, Rangers is the only club they have never met before in official competition. Napoli and Ajax are both familiar opponents however, the Reds have crossed paths with both clubs in this competition during the past three years.
Let’s take a look at Liverpool’s rivals in Group A.
Ajax emerged from Pot 1, the seeded clubs. So Liverpool managed to avoid three of the big favourites: PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern. Ajax are the defending Dutch champions having secured a record 36th Eredivisie title back in May. They have carried that form through to the current campaign - Alfred Schreuder’s side are flying high at the top of the Eredivisie with faultless figures - three wins from three. New signing Steven Bergwijn is the team’s top scorer, he is already on four goals - the same number that Liverpool have managed as a team so far. Schreuder has a relatively young squad, with an average age of 24.2. Three key players left over the summer - Lisandro Martínez, Sébastien Haller and Ryan Gravenberch. Considering they boast a combined 10 European crowns between them, it’s strange that Ajax and Liverpool have only met four times in Europe. The 1966 tie is still wistfully talked about on Merseyside, as it was the first time many had caught a glimpse of a teenage Johan Cruyff, although not so much in the first leg with visibility at zero due to the fog. Cruyff lit up the return leg at Anfield as the Dutch masters ran out 7-3 winners on aggregate. More recently, the two clubs found themselves in Group D in the 2020/21 edition - Liverpool edged both games by the minimum to top the section.
Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli have been undergoing a mini transformation since the transfer window opened back in July. The club’s record goal scorer Dries Mertens left on a free transfer earlier this month to join Galatasaray. Lorenzo Insigne also bid the southern Italian club farewell, to try his luck in MLS Toronto FC. David Ospina, Kalidou Koulibaly and Arkadiusz Milik also departed this summer and there has been talk that Fabián Ruíz could follow suit - possibly to PSG. Arrivals include Tanguy Ndombélé, André Zambo Anguissa and Giovanni Simeone - son of Atlético Madrid coach Diego. The transfer comings and goings doesn’t appear to have affected the team’s results - they sit comfortable top of Serie A with two wins from two and the goals flowing in, with sweeping victories over Verona and Monza. Liverpool and Napoli most recently crossed paths three years ago, at the group stage. The Reds were punished by late goals in the Matchday 1 game in Italy and were held to a 1-1 when they returned to meet at Anfield on Matchday 5. They have met six times in total - this will be their third encounter in the Champions League, they also met in the Europa League in 2010/11, both advancing from their group.
With all of Liverpool’s historic connections with Scotland, it’s bizarre to think that this will be the first ever meeting, in official competition, with Rangers. They have meet many times in friendlies and there are links between the two clubs - Steven Gerrard, Graeme Souness… Liverpool sold centre-back Ben Davies to Rangers at the start of the current transfer window, one of several reinforcements the club made this summer. Giovanni van Bronckhorst took over the manager’s post from Gerrard in November 2021 and guided Gers to last season’s Europa League final, taking several big scalps along the way including Dortmund, Leipzig and Braga. Rangers have enjoyed a decent start domestically, they sit second in the Scottish Premiership, unbeaten and just two points behind Celtic. They booked their place in the group stage via the play-offs - entering at the Third Round, they beat Belgian outfit Union Saint-Gilloise then PSV Eindhoven.
This will be the first official meeting between Liverpool and Rangers but there have been 10 pre-season friendlies over the years at both Anfield and Ibrox - most recently in 2011. Seasoned campaigners in Europe, this will be Rangers’ 30th appearance in the Champions League/European Cup.
Liverpool’s group stage fixtures
Wednesday 7 September Napoli v Liverpool
Tuesday 13 September Liverpool v Ajax
Tuesday 4 October Liverpool v Rangers
Wednesday 12 October Rangers v Liverpool
Wednesday 26 October Ajax v Liverpool
Tuesday 1 November Liverpool v Napoli