1992 was a defining year for football. Two footballing giants of the previous two decades fell behind in terms of their pedigree and the decline started with the 1992-93 season. Since 1992-1993, Liverpool have been trying to win the Premier League but have not succeeded. Since that same season, Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda) have not been able to play in Europe (for a multitude of reasons). As Liverpool were finishing runners-up behind Arsenal in the summer of 1991, Red Star Belgrade were winning their only European Cup against Marseille in Bari, Italy. So, when Red Star visit Anfield on Wednesday night to play their Champions League Group C match, it will be a historic meeting between two great clubs who were once similar in stature but are now separated by a huge gulf of wealth and European experience.
Liverpool are not in the best of form, but they are still winning. Still unbeaten in the Premier League, they have seen through an insanely tough set of fixtures in September and have come out largely unscathed. Yes, defeats to Napoli in the last Champions League group game and to Chelsea in the League Cup must rankle, but they are still joint-top of the Premier League and a couple of victories away from last 16 qualification in Champions League. On Saturday night, the Reds beat Huddersfield 1-0 away but boss Jurgen Klopp was not impressed with his side. A side depleted by injuries from the October international break could not impose themselves on the minnows who are yet to win a game in the league. In Champions League, Liverpool need to win their next two games (both against Red Star) to keep themselves in the hunt for last 16 qualification. A win on Wednesday keeps Liverpool in the hunt for that goal but if they drop points against Red Star, then qualifying for last 16 would be difficult.
If Liverpool’s unbeaten run in the league seems like great, then Red Star Belgrade trump them. The Serbian side are alone at the top of the Super Liga after 12 game weeks with 34 points out of a total possible of 36. They have scored 33 goals and conceded just seven. But the domestic story is much different than their continental adventures. It took a miraculous turnaround in Salzburg for Red Star Belgrade to reach the group stages in the first place. The highlight of their European campaign so far is their draw against Napoli in the first game week of the Champions League. For the Serbs, an exit at the Group Stage is almost a certainty and if they can scalp a major European side like Liverpool on the way, it would be a European campaign worth remembering for them. For such an upset to happen though, Red Star will have to play their European games with the swagger they have in the domestic league. In Super Liga, their xG is 2.17, while their opponents’ xG is just 0.83. In the Champions League, including the qualifiers, their xG is 1.18, while opponents’ xG is 1.19.
- The only previous meeting between Liverpool and a Serbian side was when the Reds played Red Star Belgrade in the last 16 round of 1973-74 European Cup, with the Serbians winning both the legs 2-1.
- Red Star Belgrade are however more accustomed to playing in England. Out of their last nine away games against English opponents, they have won only once (D4 L4), against Liverpool in the aforementioned instance in November 1973.
- Going back to last season’s semi-finals, Liverpool have now lost three Champions League matches in four games. Their previous three losses had come in 17 games prior to these four (W8 D6 L3).
- Red Star Belgrade are playing in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 1991-1992. Excluding qualifiers, they have only won one game in major European competition in last eight matches, drawing four and losing three.
- Liverpool are extremely tough to beat at home as the best in Europe have found out. The Reds have not lost in 16 home games in Europe, scoring 39 goals in that time.
Liverpool looked like the lively side from last season for a brief while on Saturday night against Huddersfield – when Roberto Firmino was subbed in late in the second half. He could not add to the goals tally, but his presence did buoy his side up. In the Champions League, however, his presence also means goals – lots of them. In seven home European games, he has scored five and assisted four goals. He is tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for the number of European goals contributed since the start of the last season. Liverpool need their Brazilian striker to keep firing in Europe if they are to clear the group stage.
While much of Red Star Belgrade’s side is new and relatively unknown, Richmond Boakye from Ghana is their primary striker. He has already scored five and assisted four goals in just 12 game weeks in the Serbian Super Liga. With individual xG of 0.59 and close to 4 touches in the opponent’s box per game, he is the primary threat to Liverpool on Wednesday. He is in good form as well, having scored a brace in the league match against Rad Beograd on Saturday. Liverpool would do good to be wary of Boakye’s partnership with Marko Marin – the scorer of the first Champions League goal for Red Star.
For Liverpool, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita will continue to miss out after returning from their international assignments with injuries. Jordan Henderson pulled up with a hamstring problem on Saturday night and may not be risked by Jurgen Klopp. Trent Alexander Arnold and Roberto Firmino should return to the starting lineup, while Fabinho will also hope for a start.
For Red Star there are no reported injury concerns but Boakye. who did not play against PSG, might be brought in the starting lineup at Anfield, especially due to his form.
Last season, before the games against Maribor, Liverpool’s European fortunes seemed doomed. This season too, the loss to Napoli has dampened spirits a bit. A faltering attack is also not helping the Reds. Last season, the away game against Maribor brought life in to Liverpool and their attack. Klopp would be hoping that this game against Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday plays a similar part in this season’s campaign. Given the gulf between the two sides, anything but a dominant win from Liverpool would be considered another disappointment by the German.
Liverpool 3 – 0 Red Star Belgrade