Things to Know About Liverpool's Champions League Opponents

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp's Reds are looking to reclaim their European crown | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

There wasn't much forgettable about Liverpool's 2019/20 season, but their Champions League showing won't exactly live long in the memory.

The Reds' defence of the famous trophy was ended by Atlético Madrid in the last 16, but they will return to the competition next month as Premier League champions, looking to put last season's continental disappointments out of their mind by going for their seventh European Cup.

If there's one thing we can confidently predict about Group D, it's that there will be goals. Jurgen Klopp's team will go up against free-scoring Ajax and Atalanta, while Danish underdogs Midtjylland don't exactly hold back either. It might not be the group of death, but it's no walkover.

Here, we've got the lowdown on each of this season's group stage opponents, and what Liverpool can expect.

Ajax

Last Season at Home: Ajax are once again the team to beat in the Netherlands, and were on course to win a second straight Eredivisie before the RNFA compassionately decided to void the 2019/20 season off the back of the coronavirus crisis. They topped the division on goal difference at the point the season was halted, having won 18 of 25 games, while also scoring 14 more goals (68) than any other team.

Last Season in Europe: Ajax's 2018/19 European exploits were famous as they made the Champions League semi-finals, but they weren't quite able to recapture that magic last term. They finished third behind Valencia and Chelsea in Group H, before losing to Getafe in the Europa League round of 32.

Carel Eiting
Getafe was a rare moment to forget for this Ajax team | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Major Summer Business: Ajax are one of Europe's best selling clubs and they showed why again this summer, with Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek and Sergino Dest netting them a combined £90m. They have spent a fraction of that, recruiting highly-rated Brazilian winger Antony from Sao Paolo, as well as teenage forward Mohammed Kudus, who was briefly linked with Liverpool before his move to Amsterdam.

Key Players: The aforementioned Antony has quickly become a key figure, scoring twice in three Eredivisie matches and ousting international compatriot David Neres for a place in the starting XI. Dusan Tadic is as central as ever, while Quincy Promes is showing promise (wahey) in a new central role.

Coach: Erik ten Hag is fast becoming a legendary figure in Amsterdam, having stuck by the club following that run to the semi-finals in 2019. He won them the league that season and looked likely to do that again last term before the season was cut short, but he will have to learn lessons from last season's European showing in a group that could eat them alive.

Erik Ten Hag
Ten Hag is one of Dutch football's most highly-rated coaches | BSR Agency/Getty Images

2020/21 Expectations: Domestically, Ajax will expect to win everything, while in Europe they will back themselves to qualify from a group that is tough yet negotiable. Third place wouldn't be a disaster, so long as there is improvement from last season.

Any Other Business: Dusan Tadic is on record as saying Ajax would have beaten Liverpool in the 2019 final had a Lucas Moura hat-trick not stopped them getting there. Time to put your money where your mouth is, Dusan.

Atalanta

Last Season at Home: Atalanta were probably the best team to watch across all of Europe's big five leagues last season. They scored 98 goals in Serie A: second most was Inter, on 81. But the fact that they still finished third tells you all you need to know about how open they were defensively at times.

Soccer Serie A, Parma v Atalanta
Celebrating goals was no rare sensation for Atalanta last term | BSR Agency/Getty Images

Last Season in Europe: Atalanta did themselves justice in their first ever venture into Europe's elite competition, making it all the way to the quarter-finals before losing to eventual finalists PSG. Aware they can beat anyone on their day, they will be keen on another run to the knockout stages this time.

Major Summer Business: It's been a good window for Atalanta, whose only notable departure from last season's squad is Timothy Castagne, who joined Leicester. They've signed Chelsea's Mario Pasalic on a permanent deal, while Aleksey Miranchuk, Sam Lammers and Juventus loanee Cristian Romero add depth right through the spine of the team.

Key Players: Alejandro Gomez was the only Atalanta player to make the Champions League squad of the season last term, and three goals in his opening two Serie A matches of 2020/21 suggests that influence will continue. Robin Gosens and Hans Hateboer continue a formidable wing-back partnership, while Duvan Zapata's goals will be as critical as ever - especially while Josip Ilicic is out of action

Alejandro Gomez, Duvan Zapata
Gomez and Zapata will be key yet again | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini's hyper-offensive 3-4-3 has completely reinvented Atalanta. They were relegation fodder when he took the reins in 2016 - now, they're considered title contenders, and few in the Champions League will relish facing them. That includes Liverpool, who will be cautious in going for the jugular against an Atalanta team who can dismantle anyone.

2020/21 Expectations: The football hipsters among us are willing on Atalanta for a serious tilt at the Serie A title this term, and we're not exactly living in dreamland. They finished just five points off Juventus last term and have won two out of two, scoring eight, in 2020/21. Internally, however, if they can return to the Champions League next term and enjoy another run into the knockout stages of the tournament, they will be quite happy.

Any Other Business: This 'Atalanta' thing isn't a fad. They've been the top scorers in Italy for each of the last two seasons, and while their tactics may be gung-ho, their system is sustainable - that's why they're in the Champions League for a second successive year. Having blown away Lazio and Torino already this season, it looks as if they are here to stay.

FC Midtjylland

Last Season at Home: Midtjylland won their second league title in three years last season and it wasn't even close. They finished 14 points clear of Copenhagen, and were top of literally every metric - they scored more, conceded fewer, won more and lost fewer than any other team in the division. They were, and are, comprehensively the best team in Denmark.

Last Season in Europe: It was one to forget on the European stage for the Danish side last season. They had one European tie, a Europa League qualifier with Rangers, who swept them aside over two legs. More on how they have improved since then in a moment...

Major Summer Business: It's pretty much as you were at Midtjylland, with one major change - the return of the once prodigious Pione Sisto. The winger was tipped to set the continent alight when he joined La Liga side Celta Vigo in 2016, but it didn't quite play out as planned, and this summer saw him return to the club that brought him through. He might be one to watch in Group D this season.

Key Players: Well, yeah. Sisto. Other than that, former Celtic defender Erik Sviatchenko is a key figure at the back, while Evander provides some South American flair to an otherwise disciplined midfield.

Coach: The difference at Midtjylland since Brian Priske took over in August 2019 has been incredible. They have swept aside everything in their way domestically, and now have their first ever Champions League season to look forward to after clawing their way through several qualifiers.

2020/21 Expectations: They will expect to win the Superligaen again and continue their domestic dominance. Every point they can attain in Group D will be a victory, however, and if they can somehow avoid bottom spot, then they have something remarkable to celebrate.

Any Other Business: Thomas Grønnemark's previous work with Midtjylland earned him a role at Liverpool, where he has been a throw-in coach since 2018. That's perhaps where Klopp got the 'few pieces of information' he alluded to when discussing the Danish side after they were drawn together. Midtjylland also use a data-led approach to coaching and recruitment, not dissimilar to the one that has built Liverpool into one of the best teams in the world.

Also, it's pronounced Mit-chye-lland. Bear that in mind so you can shout at the TV every time a BT Sport pundit messes it up.