By common consent, Liverpool start this season’s Champions League group stage with the hardest fixture of the six: away to Serie A side Napoli.
There are pros and cons to such a schedule; nobody wants to lose their opening group game, and it has been nearly two decades since the Reds did suffer defeat in their first European game of the season—but it also means it’s out the way early.
Even if the outcome is a loss, there’s then time to recover and put a string of wins together afterward.
Regardless of it being the first or last game, though, Liverpool do have to play on the road at the home of their biggest group rivals eventually, so how have they tended to fare in that away game down the years—and how has the result shaped the group itself overall?
Of course, it’s worth noting that as holders, Liverpool are this year the hardest fixture for everybody else, too…
18/19: PSG, Champions League – defeat
When it was played: The fifth group game of last season’s Champions League—a key point, given the Reds had lost away twice already.
What was the score: A 2-1 defeat for Liverpool. The Reds were two behind before James Milner struck a penalty late in the first half.
Game and group context: It left us needing a last-game victory with specific requirements to progress ahead of Napoli on the head-to-head ruling. Thanks to Mo Salah and Alisson in particular, we did just that!
17/18: Sevilla, Champions League – draw
When it was played: Again, fifth game—after playing the Spanish side first off at Anfield.
What was the score: 3-3, ridiculously. The Reds were absolutely flying and three goals clear by the half-hour mark, before conceding the same tally to the Spanish side after the break, including an injury-time equaliser.
Game and group context: We were already top of the group heading into the game, but still required a win for progression. More notably, it was symptomatic of the Reds’ all-out-attack approach at times, with a propensity to silly defensive work.
15/16: Rubin Kazan, Europa League – victory
When it was played: Fourth group game. The Reds and the Russians played back-to-back games against each other, at Anfield then at Kazan Arena.
What was the score: 1-0 to the Reds, newly under the management of Jurgen Klopp. Jordon Ibe scored early in the second half.
Game and group context: The three rivals were evenly matched, and though Sion came second, the trip to Kazan was arguably the harder test for a team in transition.
Under Brendan Rodgers we had drawn all three earlier fixtures, so this took Liverpool a big step toward eventually finishing top.
14/15: Real Madrid, Champions League – defeat
When it was played: Fourth game again, the second of the double-header against the Spanish giants.
What was the score: An extremely tepid and tame 1-0 defeat, two weeks after they battered us at Anfield by three.
Game and group context: For whatever reason, the Reds were atrocious in Europe after having almost won the league the previous season. This was a third loss from four games and left us almost out; shambolic draws against Ludogrets and Basel afterward completed the job.
We came third and the Bernabeu team selection became something of a symbol of Rodgers’ inability, or unwillingness that season, to make us competitive on the biggest stage.
12/13: Anzhi Makhachkala, Europa League – defeat
When it was played: Once more this was the fourth game, a trip to the far reaches of Eastern Europe to face the then-cash-rich Anzhi side, who now compete in the regional third tier of the Russian football league.
What was the score: A rather forgettable 1-0 defeat, lanky striker Lacina Traore the scorer just before the break.
Game and group context: Thankfully, the Reds had beaten Anzhi by the same scoreline just previously—and these games meant Liverpool, Anzhi and Swiss side Young Boys all finished on 10 points each.
By head-to-head ruling, the Reds came top, thanks largely to a 5-3 drubbing of the Swiss outfit in the first game—but in these fixtures against the other best team in the group, the Reds haven’t habitually given a good account of themselves.