After five long years, Liverpool mark their return to the Champions League with a game against Ludogorets Razgrad at Anfield on Tuesday night.
The Anfield atmosphere on Champions League nights are famous the world over for their passion and fans of the club will be relishing the opportunity to follow their team in European football’s premier competition once again. The Reds have been handed a difficult group alongside Basel and last season’s winners, Real Madrid, and will welcome the chance to have the group’s easiest (on paper) team in their first match.
For Ludogorets, this is their first time in the Champions League and it could not have come about in a more dramatic manner. In the final playoff round of the Champions League qualifiers against Steaua Bucharest, Ludogorets’ keeper was sent off and with no substitutes left, centre-back Cosmin Moti had to go in goal. In the resulting penalty shoot-out, he made two saves and sent his team into the Champions League groups. His actions have prompted the club’s owner to pledge to rename a stand after him.
For the Bulgarian champions, this game will be a test but they will certainly have nothing to fear, for as far they are concerned, they have nothing to lose. For Liverpool, nothing less than a win will suffice.
Liverpool have a number of injuries in their squad just now, most notably Daniel Sturridge – who will be out of action for the next few weeks with a thigh injury. New signing Emre Can is also out for at least a month with an ankle injury and will miss at least three of Liverpool’s European matches. Joe Allen and Martin Skrtel are both doubtful for the game but we will have a more accurate assessment of their situation when Brendan Rodgers gives his press conference tomorrow. Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan are also out through injury. Finally, Lazar Markovic will also be unavailable for selection due to suspension.
Ludogorets have a fully fit squad to choose from and there are no suspensions, aside from Vladislav Stoyanov, preventing any players from making an appearance against the Reds at Anfield.
- This will be Liverpool’s first appearance in the Champions League for five years.
- Liverpool have played against Bulgarian opposition on eight occasions, winning six times and losing the other two.
- The last time they faced a Bulgarian team was in the 2005-06 season when they played against CSKA Sophia in the qualifiers. They won 3-2 on aggregate.
- This is Ludogorets’ first ever appearance in the Champions League and the first time they have played in England.
- Last season, the Bulgarian side reached the last 16 of the Europa League – their first time in that competition.
- They defeated Dudelange, Partizan and Steaua Bucharest on their way to the Champions League.
Sterling has been in fine form for Liverpool so far this season and has cemented a reputation that sees him as one of the top young players in Europe, and nowhere will this be better tested than in the Champions League. In four appearances for the Reds this season, the youngster has managed to score two goals for his club. According to Squawka.com, he has scored these from 10 shots at goal, six of which were on target. He has also managed to create eight chances for his teammates and has made an assist in the process. His passing has been very good as well, averaging an 80% accuracy so far this season. Impressively, Sterling has managed to win 68% of all the duels he has been involved in which is very good considering his small stature. He was rested for much of Liverpool’s loss against Aston Villa at the weekend, playing as a substitute. Ludogorets will surely see him as a threat who has to be stopped.
I will admit that it not has been very easy to find useful performance statistics for Ludogorets’ players and so I have had to settle for Marcelinho’s performances in the Europa League last season. However, he is considered to be one of their more dangerous players and links up well with their strikers as an attacking midfielder. He made 10 appearances for the Bulgarian side in Europe last year and according to Squawka.com, he managed to create 14 chances for his team mates, two of which resulted in assists for him. Similarly to Sterling, the Brazilian was very efficient with his passing during the course of the tournament, averaging an 80% passing accuracy. However, he was only able to win 40% of his duels overall. When you look at this in more detail, you see that he had a 52% success rate when taking on opponents, which could be worrying for Liverpool fans when you take their defensive performances into account. One thing is for sure, Rodgers and his scouting team will have plenty of information on him.
Liverpool suffered a disappointing defeat to Aston Villa at the weekend and will want to make amends. Promisingly for them, Liverpool have only ever suffered back to back defeats under Brendan Rodgers once, Manchester City away and Chelsea away last season. Ludogorets’ owner has reportedly said that his team have nothing to lose and so we can expect them to have a go at Liverpool on Tuesday. However, I do expect Liverpool to prove too much for the Bulgarians and ultimately win the game 2-0.