Tuesday Champions League preview: Chelsea v. Ajax, Liverpool v. Genk

Champions League draw
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The Champions League group stage is halfway complete, and while the groups are taking shape, there’s still plenty to sort out as teams look for openings through to the knockout stage.

Two Premier League teams are in action – both at home – as Chelsea hosts Ajax at Stamford Bridge while Liverpool gets set to host Genk at Anfield.

[ MORE: Liverpool to rotate squad in Champions League? ]

The Reds will be watched closely as this could be a potential trap game for Liverpool, knowing the massive tilt against Manchester City looms over the weekend. Jurgen Klopp as refused to answer questions about Man City, saying he is “not in the mood” to talk about the weekend’s game knowing they still must traverse the 90 minutes against the Belgian side.

The match is a critical one for Liverpool, who sits second in Group E, a point behind leaders Napoli and three ahead of third-placed Red Bull Salzburg. Dropped points against Genk could see Liverpool placed in a perilous position, especially should Salzburg shock the Italian side in Naples. The Reds have looked vulnerable at times in Europe this season, losing at Napoli for the second straight season while staving off a Salzburg comeback at home in a wild 4-3 win. Klopp may rotate the squad with the Man City game looming, but he will almost surely not take this game for granted.

Napoli, meanwhile, hosts Salzburg in the other Group E fixture, with an opportunity to bounce back from the weekend’s loss to Roma in Serie A play. The Napoli defense, anchored by Kalidou Koulibaly, gave up 17 shots to the home side in the nation’s capital despite a 57% possessional advantage. That defense will now deal with a Red Bull Salzburg side that leads the Austrian Bundesliga table and has scored an astonishing 53 goals in 13 league matches.

Chelsea hosts a quality Ajax side in London with the two teams level on points atop Group H in a game that could put any winner on the brink of qualification should other results go their way. The Blues won the reverse fixture in the Netherlands two weeks ago thanks to a late Michy Batshuayi winner, but Chelsea is in even better form now than they were at that point.

American Christian Pulisic has risen to a contributing role at the club in Premier League play, and therefore could be rested should manager Frank Lampard wish to save him for the domestic match against Crystal Palace over the weekend, potentially giving Calum Hudson-Odoi a chance to shine. Should Pulisic find the field, he could once again match up with international teammate Sergino Dest, who recently committed to the United States long-term. He beat Dest to assist Batshuayi’s winner last time these teams matched up.

A fascinating match in Germany sees Borussia Dortmund host Inter Milan at Westfalenstadion with both teams in good form. Inter has lost just twice all year in all competitions – to Barcelona and Juventus – sitting second in the Serie A table. They also knocked off Dortmund at home in the reverse fixture behind bookend goals from Lautaro Martinez and Antonio Candreva, with the former in incredible form having scored in five of his seven October matches. Dortmund, meanwhile, has lost just once in league play and is on a seven-match unbeaten run, but only three of those produced wins and a poor result to Inter would leave them vulnerable in Group F, currently level with Inter on four points behind leaders Barcelona on seven.

Barcelona welcomes Slavia Prague to the Camp Nou looking to put the Catalan giants on the brink of qualification to the knockout stage. A win plus a Dortmund or Inter victory in Germany would mean the La Liga side’s magic number decreases to just one. The reverse fixture in the Czech Republic saw a 56th minute own-goal prove decisive in a 2-1 Barcelona win, but they were poor on the ball and gave up a whopping 24 shots – nine on target – on the road. A repeat of that performance could see Group F thrown into deepening chaos.

RB Leipzig travels to Zenit St. Petersburg in a matchup of the two top teams in Group G in a critical game for both sides as the group remains logjammed, with just three points separating top from bottom. The trailing two sides Lyon and Benfica meet in France as they both look to pounce on any potential slips of the aforementioned squads leading the pack. Finally, Valencia hosts Lille as the Spanish side hopes to capitalize on any potential Group H loser in London.