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How Liverpool could line up for Champions League opener against Ludogorets

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Liverpool make their much anticipated return to the Champions League after a painful five year absence on Tuesday night, when they take on Bulgarian side Ludogorets at Anfield.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 15, 2014: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli during training at Melwood ahead of their opening UEFA Champions League Group B match against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Brendan Rodgers Reds’ will be looking to stamp their authority immediately on Group B on Tuesday night and make it known to Europe’s elite that the five time winners are not just back in the competition to make up the numbers.

On paper, Liverpool couldn’t have wished for a kinder start to feel their way back into the tournament and Tuesday represents a game that’s simply viewed as a stonewall three points for Rodgers’ side, if they have any ambitions to progress beyond the group stage, before facing tougher fixtures against Basel and arguably the toughest of them all against the current European champions, Real Madrid.

It’s also a fixture that the Reds can ill-afford to take lightly and one that is the second in four days, but with injuries and suspension to a number of players who would have been involved including Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Lazar Markovic, changes will be far harder to make for the Liverpool boss.

A depleted squad alongside a tough schedule of matches that sees Liverpool play games at the weekend followed by midweek for the next three weeks, could therefore provide routes back into the set-up for fringe players at the club such as Fabio Borini and Suso, and those players will be hoping to be given the nod by Rodgers at some stage throughout that period, starting on Tuesday.

The Team

The game will come too early for both Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel who have missed the last two matches side-lined by injury, and their unavailability means that Rodgers will have to turn to Jose Enrique and Kolo Toure to provide fresh legs, if he chooses against selecting the same back four for the third consecutive game.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 13, 2014: Liverpool's Adam Lallana in action against Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The busy calendar of games over the next few weeks would have been the perfect time to properly introduce new arrivals such as Can to the team. But his absence as well as Allen’s means either Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana – who should have received his first start this Tuesday rather than last Saturday – could take up a midfield role alongside Steven Gerrard’s, and the 34-year-old’s need for careful management makes Lucas Leiva a genuine option from the bench.

Lazar Markovic is suspended for the clash meaning that the Serbian is likely to be replaced in the starting team by Raheem Sterling, who was dropped to the bench on Saturday against Aston Villa.

Mario Balotelli is set to lead the Liverpool attack but it will be interesting to see if that is on his own or in a partnership – with Sterling, Borini and Rickie Lambert all options to play with the Italian.

The Line-up

Brendan Rodgers once again has a number of formations to choose from, with Liverpool looking strong regardless of which one the manager picks to operate with. However, a move away from a two man midfield and a return to the more successful 4-diamond midfield-2 seems the best fit for Liverpool.

For the match, the defensive line should remain the same allowing for the back four to continue to attempt to build an understanding as the uncertainty at the back remains to cause problems.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 13, 2014: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli looks dejected as Aston Villa score the only goal of the game during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In midfield, Gerrard should start but be withdrawn at the earliest opportunity, and he should be joined by Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho, with Adam Lallana playing at the top of the diamond.

That would allow Balotelli to be partnered in attack – Liverpool have looked more of a threat with two strikers this season so far – and Sterling should operate as an unorthodox striker alongside the Italian ahead of both Borini and Rickie Lambert who should continue on the bench.

As a result, Liverpool should look like this for the game:

photo (17)

Subs: Jones, Enrique, Toure, Lucas, Suso, Borini, Lambert.

Alternatively, Rodgers could line his team up in a 4-3-3 formation but the personnel in the team should stay the same. If so, the Reds should look like this:

photo (18)

Subs: Jones, Enrique, Toure, Lucas, Suso, Borini, Lambert.

Opening the European campaign with Ludogorets at Anfield hands Liverpool the perfect chance to begin positively.  The Reds will have to bounce back to defeat once again on Tuesday night however, and Rodgers’ men will certainly have to produce an improved performance if they want to pick up their most attainable three points of the group stage.

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