European football returns this week and in Group E, Liverpool host NK Maribor in the fourth matchday on Wednesday. The last meeting between these two sides ended in Liverpool winning the game 7-0 in Slovenia – their biggest away victory in Europe till date. The Reds must be hoping for a similarly large victory on Wednesday, while the Slovenian league champions will want the result on Wednesday to be much more respectable.
For Liverpool, there have not been many things to cheer in the last couple of months. But the annihilation they meted out to Maribor earlier in October indeed brought a huge cheer among the Anfield faithful. Liverpool are at the top of Group E, at five points. Spartak Moscow is also on five points but with a lower goal difference. A victory on Wednesday can push them on the brink of qualifying for the knockout rounds in the Champions League. But perhaps more importantly, it will start forming a winning streak for the Reds, something they have not put together in the last eleven matches.
After the loss in Slovenia, some experts claimed that Maribor deliberately decided to play aggressively in their home stretch and in the process ended up dishing out a bucketful of goals. Darko Milanic’s side will be keen to avoid such a fate again and away from home, he may set up his team to defend deep. Sitting on one point after three matchdays, Maribor are as good as out of the group stages. A loss on Wednesday will definitely throw them out of the knockout stages. However, Milanic’s first worry will be to ensure that his side come out of Wednesday’s match with their heads held high.
- Before they were held 2-2 at home on matchday one earlier this season, Liverpool’s last six home games in Europe have ended in a victory. They are unbeaten in last eleven European home games (W7,D4), since losing to Real Madrid in October 2014.
- However, the Reds’ form in recent past has been circumspect. While they won emphatically in their trip to Slovenia, earlier in October, but overall, they have won only three matches in last eleven games in all competitions.
- Maribor have lost three of their last seven European away games (W2 D2). However, in Champions League their record is a bit more modest having not won away from home since winning 1-0 at Dynamo Kyiv in September 1999. Since then their away record is D2 L4.
- The Slovenian side have lost on all four of their trips to England, most recently a 6-0 drubbing at Chelsea FC in the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League group stage. The only time they won against English opponents was in 2013-14 when they beat Wigan Athletic 2-1.
Roberto Firmino had all but disappeared after his scintillating display against the same opponents earlier in October. With a simple header against Huddersfield, he returned back to his goal-scoring ways. Like last season, Firmino has shown that he is the best centre-forward that Liverpool have at present. With an xG per 90 of 0.26 and xA per 90 of 0.33, Firmino is more likely to contribute a goal (score or assist) than not. He will be keen to keep scoring goals so that he does not lose his touch again and Maribor presents one of the easier opportunities to do so.
The only hope that Maribor can have on Wednesday is for them to score an early goal and then drop deep. To accomplish this, they need a player upfront who can hold off defenders, bring others into the game, and who has the ability to score goals. Mesanovic ticks all the boxes. He has been scoring quite consistently in the PrvaLiga and his manager will hope that Mesanovic can transfer the same ability to European games.
After both Coutinho and Lovren turned out to be injured before the Huddersfield game on Saturday, it is unlikely that they will feature on Wednesday either. Unless Klopp decides to rest Matip and replace him with Joe Gomez as a centre half, it can be expected that Matip and Klavan will start again on Wednesday. Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will be hopeful of starts in this fixture as well. Of course, Karius will replace Mignolet in the goal as he is the Europe goal keeper for Liverpool this season. In midfield, Emre Can could make a return – possibly at the expense of Henderson. Upfront, it is possible that Klopp rests Mohamed Salah and gives a run to a front three of Sturridge, Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For Maribor, Dare Vrsic could replace Luka Zahovic behind the striker in the hole. After having scored seven goals in last eight domestic games, Jasmin Mesanovic has staked a claim to a starting spot on Wednesday, pushing Marcos Tavares to the side. Defender Denis Sme remains out with a long-term injury.
Despite their dodgy form and despite the tendency/requirement to rotate for such European games, Liverpool should be able to take all three points on Wednesday. Maribor might sit back and make it tough for their hosts to score but that might not be enough to stop the Reds, albeit it might restrict the flow of goals and avoid an embarrassment for Milanic’s side
Liverpool 3 – 0 NK Maribor