In a repeat of the 2005 and 2007 Champions League finals, Liverpool and AC Milan kick off the 2021-22 edition with a mouthwatering affair at Anfield on Wednesday.
The Reds go in search of their seventh European crown this year, while Milan are aiming to come up trumps on the continental stage for the eighth time.
The headlines from Liverpool’s win over Leeds United at the weekend should have been centred around Mohamed Salah’s 100th Premier League goal, but a horror injury to Harvey Elliott overshadowed what was otherwise a good day’s work for the Reds at Elland Road.
Salah, Sadio Mane and Fabinho were all on target during a 3-0 win, but 18-year-old Elliott – who had begun to establish himself as a regular starter under Jurgen Klopp – was stretchered off with a dislocated ankle following a challenge from Pascal Struijk and is now set to go under the knife to rectify the issue.
Klopp has affirmed that Liverpool will “wait” for Elliott as he begins the long road to recovery, but the Reds cannot afford to dwell on the teenager’s poor fortunes for a second as they seek to better their quarter-final finish in last season’s Champions League, where Real Madrid sent them packing.
Having claimed three wins and three clean sheets from four Premier League matches so far this term – as well as extending their unbeaten streak to 13 matches in competitive action – Liverpool will seek a fast start to action in Group B, which also comprises Iberian giants Porto and Atletico Madrid.
Liverpool can also take encouragement from the fact that they have recorded three successive clean sheets in their last three Champions League home matches, and only one of their group-stage games at Anfield under Klopp has ended in defeat, although that came last season in a 2-0 loss to Atalanta BC.
Despite not being able to maintain a Scudetto charge in the 2020-21 top-flight campaign, AC Milan have once again started as they mean to go on with three wins out of three in Serie A so far, including a 2-0 success against Lazio on Sunday.
After Rafael Leao had opened the scoring on the stroke of half time, ageless striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic – now three weeks shy of his 40th birthday – came off the bench to wrap up the victory as the Rossoneri maintained their perfect start alongside Roma and Napoli.
The 2021-22 season marks AC Milan’s return to the promised land of the Champions League after a painful eight-year absence from the top table – during which time they have only mustered two last-16 finishes in the Europa League – and five of their last six runs in the Champions League have also ended at that stage.
Wednesday’s game will mark the first time that AC Milan have stepped foot onto the pitch for a Champions League tie since going down 4-1 to Atletico Madrid in the 2013-14 last-16 – not exactly a good omen with the La Liga champions also in their group – and they have claimed just one win from their last 13 ties against English opponents.
The miracle of Istanbul still lives fresh in the minds of the Liverpool faithful, but AC Milan gleaned revenge two years later with a 2-1 victory in the 2007 final, which represents the most recent meeting between two sides with 13 European titles between them.