Liverpool return to the Champions League after a 5 year absence with a Group B fixture against Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad. The Mereysiders have faced Bulgarian opposition 8 times previously, but this is Ludogoret’s Champion’s League debut. The club is only 13 years old – their rapid rise funded by a wealthy owner.
Liverpool have started indifferently, with 2 victories and 2 defeats – losing at home to Aston Villa on Saturday. The blow of losing star player Luis Suarez to Barcelona was softened by reinvesting his £75m sale fee. However, new signings Lazar Markovic and Emre Can are unavailable, as are Glen Johnson, Joe Allen and Martin Skrtel. Daniel Sturridge is sidelined with a hamstring injury, leaving £16m striker Balotelli to lead the line.
Ludogorets are in similarly unpredictable form, having won 7 of their 15 games in all competitions so far this season. A keeper crisis leaves them without their first choice stopper Vladislav Stoyanov following his red card in the play-off qualifier, so they must rely on 23-year -old Georgi Argilashki, but the Bulgarians are otherwise injury-free. Roman Bezjak scored 20 goals for Ludogorets last season, and Liverpool’s backline will see him as the main threat.
Cosmin Moti, the heroic defender who filled in between the sticks and saved two penalties as well as scoring his own in the shoot-out victory over Steaua Bucharest, will return to his usual position at centre-back.
KICK-OFF: Tuesday, 7.45pm
Raheem Sterling is Liverpool’s top scorer this season, with 2 goals.
Sterling has also averaged a pass accuracy of 80% so far this season.
Ludogorets’ stadium only holds 6,000 people, meaning their Champions League home games are played at the national stadium in Sofia.
Ludogorets’ record transfer fee is just £1.5m.
Defender Cosmin Moti saved two shootout penalties against Steaua Bucharest, standing in after Ludogoret’s keeper was sent off, to send his team into the group stages of the Champions League.
Liverpool to win: 1.20
Ludogorets to win: 15.00
TV: Live on ITV1 at 7.45pm.
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