Stadion Vasil Levski,Sofia
Wednesday 26th Nov, 2014, 19:45 GMT
Liverpool come into this game knowing that anything other than a win against Ludogorets tonight could see them eliminated from this year’s Champions League. If Liverpool fail to pick up maximum points in Bulgaria and Basel win at home against European champions and already confirmed top of the group Real Madrid, then qualification will be out of reach for Brendan Rodgers’ side. A defeat would cap off a terrible month for Liverpool in which they have lost all four games till date. A much changed Liverpool side put on a spirited display against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the last match week but still lost 1-0. A defeat tonight would be their fifth defeat in a row in all competitions which will represent their worst run since 1953.
Ludogorets were labelled as the minnows before the start of this competition but so far they have been highly impressive at home, beating Basel 1-0 and narrowly losing 2-1 against Real Madrid. They came very close to snatching a point against Liverpool in the reverse fixture in September but were undone by a stoppage time penalty from Steven Gerrard. Anything other than a victory for Ludogorets would mean elimination from the group while Liverpool must match or better Basel’s result against Madrid to keep their hopes alive.
Team news and tactical brief
Tonight’s clash will be the first home match for the Bulgarian champions against an English club and with a trip to the Bernabeu to come next, Ludogorets know they have to win this match to realistically have any chance of advancing from this group. The Bulgarian side have so far looked very strong at home narrowly falling to a 2-1 loss against European champions Real Madrid before going on to beat Basel at Stadion Vasil Levski in Sofia. Ludogorets currently sit second in their domestic league after 16 games. They spread their goalscoring around with five players having scored three or more goals.
Ludogorets became the first Bulgarian team to register a win in the Champions League and they are unbeaten in 12 of their 13 game on their own turf this season. They will be confident that they can pounce on a wounded animal in Liverpool and spring a surprise which could have massive implications for this group going into the final match week. Ludogorets will be without Ivan Cvoroic who misses out due to a shoulder injury but will be hoping top scorer Dani Abalo can continue his fine goalscoring form. Abalo scored the goal in the reverse fixture and has found the net four times in the last five league games. Ahead of him Brazilian striker Marcelinho is another player who will be a scoring threat tonight. Ludogorets will welcome back Yordan Milnev who scored the last gasp winner against Basel but had to miss the last game through a suspension.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-5-1): Stoyanov(GK); Caicara, Terziev, Moti, Minev; Aleksandrov, Anicet, Dyakov, Espinho, Abalo; Marcelinho
After Sunday’s crushing defeat to Crystal Palace, Rodgers will most likely make some changes to the starting lineup. However, injuries will play a major role in the selection. Daniel Sturridge will be out until the New Year and Mario Balotelli did not travel to Bulgaria due to a groin injury. Rickie Lambert looks likely again to start upfront after scoring his first goal for the club against Crystal Palace on Sunday. The former Southampton striker has played only nine minutes as a substitute against Basel in the Champions League but now has to play a key role if Liverpool are to keep their qualification hopes alive. Jordan Henderson, who missed Sunday’s clash with an illness, is likely to return and captain the squad.
The biggest question regarding the squad will be regarding the base of midfield where there will be space for only two of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Joe Allen. Can who was the best player on the pitch against Chelsea before the international break deserves a start as much as the Welshman Allen, who was the one of the few bright spots in Sunday’s defeat. Steven Gerrard is likely to sit out this game as he looked jaded and well off the pace in recent games. Alberto Moreno should definitely replace Glen Johnson in the left-back position with the Englishman moving to his preferred right back role while Rodgers will be hoping Raheem Sterling would rediscover his prime form after an uncharacteristically poor display in the weekend.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-2-1): Mignolet(GK); Johnson, Toure, Skrtel, Moreno; Lucas, Can, Henderson; Lallana, Sterling; Lambert
In the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League, Liverpool found themselves in an identical position in the second group stage with three points after four matches. They still managed to qualify as group runners-up with seven points
Liverpool have lost six of their 12 Premier League games this season. They lost six times in the whole of 2013/14
The Reds’ record in Bulgaria is W3 D0 L1. That solitary defeat came when, as defending champions, they lost 2-0 at PFC CSKA Sofia (1-2 aggregate) in the 1981/82 European Champion Clubs’ Cup quarter-finals
Ludogorets have won nine out of 13 on their own turf this season, including victories in each of their last four home games
Liverpool have not scored in the competition since beating Ludogorets 2-1 at Anfield on Matchday one. They last failed to score in four consecutive European matches in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League
This is Ludogorets’s first home meeting with an English club
Players to Watch Out For
Marcelinho (Ludogorets Razgrad)
The Brazilian is regarded as one of the most dangerous players for the Bulgarian side and has already made a mark by scoring against Real Madrid. He has managed to create several chances for his teammates as well and is a genuine threat for the shaky Liverpool defence tonight.
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Raheem Sterling will be looking to make a mark on this vital game after failing to maintain the high standards set early this season. This could be the ideal time for the Englishman to grab his first Champions League goal.
Ludogorets Razgrad 0–1 Liverpool
Ludogorets and everyone involved with the club would have dreamt of nights like this, against a big club like Liverpool and will have their loyal fans firmly behind them in a glamour tie for them. Liverpool will look to neutralize the early pressure and make sure they don’t concede in the opening half an hour. If they manage to do that then Rodgers’ men should back themselves to wear out their inexperienced opponents and open them up later in the second half to secure a vital win.
Blast From the Past
The two sides last met in September when Liverpool came out on top with a 2-1 win thanks to a Mario Balotelli goal and a stoppage-time Steven Gerrard penalty.