With the Champions League draw held on Thursday, Liverpool were drawn with Real Madrid, FC Basel and Ludogorets Razgrad in Group B. Jack Lusby gives an overview of these opponents.
A five-year wait ends this season, with Liverpool returning to the Champions League following an extended exile.
The incredible success of Brendan Rodgers’ side last season secured a return to Europe’s upper echelon; the Ulsterman has previously stewarded the side in the Europa League but this season brings new territory.
Liverpool have been handed a prime draw, joining Real Madrid, FC Basel and Ludogorets Razgrad in Group B.
But who are the Reds’ Champions League adversaries? Here is the definite overview of the three sides.
Nickname: Los Merengues
Stadium: Santiago Bernabeu, 85,454 capacity.
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
55-year-old Italian Ancelotti is one of the most decorated managers to feature in the Champions League this season.
Having featured as a midfielder for Parma, Roma and Milan in his playing career, Ancelotti’s first management job came with Serie A side Reggiana in 1995.
Ancelotti has since taken charge of Parma, Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, PSG and now Real Madrid; the bullish Italian has won three Champions League trophies in his managerial career.
The 2013/14 season was a stand-out endeavour for Los Merengues, with Ancelotti’s side winning La Decima, the club’s 10th victory on Europe’s highest stage.
Defeating Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the Lisbon-held final, late goals from Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled out Diego Godin’s opener.
On the domestic stage, however, Atletico were the victors, with Real finishing third behind their Madrid rivals as well as arch-enemies Barcelona.
Arguably the best player in world football at this current juncture, Ronaldo joined Real from Manchester United in 2009, in a deal worth £80 million.
Despite Real’s reputation as a squad of Galacticos, Ronaldo is by far and away the club’s star attraction, and the forward demands both the ball and the opponent’s attention at all times.
Last season, the 29-year-old scored 39 goals and made a further 11 assists in 36 appearances between La Liga and the Champions League.
Welsh forward Bale is no stranger to the Liverpool squad, having joined Real from Spurs and the Premier League in 2013.
The rise of the 25-year-old in the past few years has been phenomenal, and Bale can be considered perhaps the most complete player in world football that isn’t Ronaldo.
The Real No. 11 scored 15 goals and made 12 assists in 27 La Liga appearances last season.
Real new boy Rodriguez joins Los Merengues following a glittering World Cup with Colombia, wherein which the forward won the tournament’s Golden Boot, with six goals.
These displays earned Rodriguez a £71 million move to La Liga, and the 23-year-old will hope to pin down the No. 10 role behind Karim Benzema and alongside Ronaldo and Bale.
Last season, for Monaco, Rodriguez scored seven goals and made 11 assists in 33 Ligue 1 appearances.
Last Meeting vs LFC:
Champions League 1st Knockout Round Second Leg, 2008/09, Anfield. Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid (Torres 16’, Gerrard 28’(pen), 47’, Dossena 89’)
Nickname: The RotBlau
Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, 38,512 capacity.
Manager: Paulo Sousa
Former Portugal defensive midfielder Sousa joined Basel for the 2014/15 season following management spells in England, Hungary and Israel.
Sousa played for Benfica, Sporting CP, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Parma, Panathinaikos and Espanyol throughout a long and successful career.
In management, Sousa was famously involved in the turmoil at QPR under Flavio Briatore, and will hope for more success at Basel.
Under Murat Yakin in 2013/14, Basel once more won the Swiss Super League title, for the fifth consecutive season. The club also reached the final of the Swiss Cup, losing out to FC Zurich.
In terms of the Champions League, last season Basel reached the Group Stage, where they faced Chelsea, Schalke 04, and Steau Bucharest.
The RotBlau were unfortunately edged out of their group and relegated to the Europa League, where they reached the Quarter Finals, losing out to Valencia, 5-3 on aggregate.
— FC Basel 1893 (@FC_Basel) February 28, 2014
33-year-old striker Streller is a Basel veteran, having played with the club for over a decade throughout two spells.
The most recent has seen Streller become a central figure in the Basel first-team, and serves as the club’s primary goalscorer.
In four games so far this season, Streller has scored three goals.
Another seasoned professional within the Basel squad is former Inter man Samuel, who joined the Swiss club on a free transfer this summer.
Having also appeared for Roma and Real Madrid throughout his career, Samuel brings a wealth of European experience to Basel.
At 36 years old, the club will be hoping the centre-back can add a mature outlook to the side’s defence during this season’s Champions League.
Last Meeting vs LFC:
Champions League Group Stage, 2002/03, St. Jakob-Park. Basel 3-3 Liverpool (Rossi 2’, Gimenez 22’, Atouba 29’; Murphy 60’, Smicer 63’, Owen 85)
— SkySportsCL (@SkySportsCL) August 27, 2014
Nickname: The Eagles
Stadium: Away fixtures for the Champions League to be held in Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia, 43,230 capacity.
Manager: Georgi Dermendzhiev
Former Bulgarian defender Dermendzhiev enjoyed spells with Slavia Sofia and Yantra Gabrovo as a player, whilst the 59-year-old has managed Sliven and now Ludogorets.
In 2013/14 Ludogorets successfully defended their A PFG title, edging rivals Litex Lovech by one point.
When it came to Europe, the Bulgarian side reached the Europa League Round of 16 knockout phase, losing out to Valencia following a valiant run.
Incredible. Ludogorets quality for CL after their centre back makes two penalty saves!! https://t.co/JBljQtsXf8
— Footy Vines.com (@Footy_Vines_) August 27, 2014
The current star player for Ludogorets is Moti, who dragged the Bulgarian side throughout the play-offs with two saves and a goal in their 6-5 penalty shoot-out win over Steau Bucharest.
No surprise there?
Moti is a centre-back.
Whoever the opposition was to be, this is the stage that Liverpool and their fans have dreamt of re-joining ever since their fall from grace prior to Rodgers’ arrival.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 28, 2014
Here we go. #UCL
— jon flanagan (@jon_flan93) August 28, 2014
— Simon Mignolet (@SMignolet) August 28, 2014
Steven Gerrard's latest Instagram post: pic.twitter.com/62vK9aMKpm
— LFC Fans Corner (@LFCFansCorner) August 28, 2014
Luckily, the group handed to the Reds is a fairly negotiable one, whilst the trip to Real Madrid will be a tantalising encounter made even more interesting given their previous encounter in the Champions League.
Perhaps most importantly, no long away trips await Liverpool, who now will face two fixtures a week throughout the season.
The Champions League is back, enjoy the ride.
How do you feel about Liverpool’s chances in the Champions League following the draw? Let us know in the comments below.