Liverpool vs Ludogorets: Five talking points prior to the Champions League meetings at Anfield

The Reds return to the Champions League with a group stage tie against Bulgarian opposition

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Liverpool are back in the Champions League.

For the Reds and those who've been going to Anfield for years, it will feel like a natural reunion.

However the team they play on Tuesday night will not be so familiar - Ludogorets are making their first appearance in the Champions League group phase.

Liverpool are fully expected to make a strong start against their unfancied Bulgarian opponents, but heading into the match, there are a few questions to be answered by Brendan Rodgers' side.

Here, we take a look at the key talking points prior to the match at Anfield...

 

1. Pressure on Balotelli...

He's just two games into his Liverpool career, but after all the fanfare of his arrival, the pressure is quickly increasing on Mario Balotelli to show he was worth the gamble. The focus on the Italian has been increased due to the injury to Daniel Sturridge, which has left the £16m purchase as Brendan Rodgers' main attacking threat. Balotelli has endured a torrid time at Anfield, being sent off and being substituted despite starting from the bench during his visits there as a Manchester City player. A 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa at the weekend didn't improve matters. He'll be hoping things improve against Ludogorets.

mario-balotelli-2.jpg
Mario Balotelli in training

 

2. Will the Sterling gamble pay off?

Rodgers opted to start Liverpool's outstanding player of the season so far on the bench against Aston Villa. The 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa led to accusations it was the wrong call - but that will only become clear at Anfield on Tuesday night. Having played 180 minutes for England during the international break and playing a starring role in the opening games of the season, Rodgers will hope the 19-year-old comes back fresh and better than ever. If he doesn't, it was arguably a bad move to give him just 30 minutes at the weekend. Rodgers has said "he will certainly play on Tuesday night."

455373092.jpg
Sterling comes off the bench at the weekend

 

3. If Liverpool get a penalty, who will try and stop it?

Romanian centre-back Cosmin Moti shot to fame during the play-offs by saving two penalties in their shoot-out against 1986 European Cup winners Steaua Bucharest. He found himself between the sticks after goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov was sent off in extra-time. Stoyanov is suspended for the game at Anfield, and with deputy Ivan Cvorovic injured, Ludogorets signed Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan on Sunday to go straight into the squad to face Liverpool. If Borjan were to befall an injury or red card during the game, it's likely Ludogorets would look to Moti once more.

moti.jpg
Cosmin Moti celebrates his match-winning efforts

 

4. Bulgarian opponents...

Ludogorets are only the second Bulgarian team to reach the group stage of the Champions League. The first was Levski Sofia, who Liverpool have met twice before, back in 2004. Liverpool won both those Uefa Cup meetings. Although this is their first competitive visit to England, Ludogorets drew 1-1 with Everton in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Goodison Park in 2012. Ludogorets are in unpredictable form so far this season, having won seven of their 15 games in all competitions so far this season.

 

5. Liverpool inexperience...

Liverpool have not played in the Champions League since the 2009/10 season and the return of the Reds to Europe's top-table is very welcome. European nights at Anfield are the stuff of legend. But under such expectancy, will the players crack? Due to a combination of Liverpool's long absence and numerous young players, there is a lack of Champions League experience among those who could feature on Tuesday night. Simon Mignolet, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Joe Allen, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jon Flanagan are among those to have never walked out to that anthemic music.

Comments