Liverpool face arguably their ‘easiest’ match of their Champions League Group C campaign on Wednesday night, as Red Star Belgrade make the trip to Anfield.
Liverpool vs. Red Star Belgrade
Wednesday, October 24, 2018 — 8pm (BST)
Champions League Group Stage (3)
Referee: Daniel Siebert (GER)
Liverpool’s strong but ultimately pragmatic start to the season continued at the weekend, with the 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town not a performance that will live long in the memory.
Premier League commitments make way for the Champions League on Wednesday, with Red Star seen as the whipping boys of Group C.
The Reds’ last-gasp defeat away to Napoli last time out was a tough one to stomach and it means anything other than six points in the back-to-back meetings with the Serbs could be fatal.
Now is the time for Jurgen Klopp‘s side to find another gear, having enjoyed time on the training ground and with key men slowly returning to peak fitness.
Wednesday could be a perfect opportunity for that to be achieved, on what is hopefully another memorable European night at Anfield.
Sadio Mane has returned to full training after breaking his thumb, and the Senegalese could start alongside Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino in what is one of Europe’s most devastating front threes.
Naby Keita is still missing with a hamstring injury and captain Jordan Henderson will also sit out with the same issue.
The skipper will not be ready for Saturday’s visit of Cardiff City.
Trent Alexander-Arnold hasn’t started since the defeat at Napoli, missing out against both Man City and Huddersfield, so bringing him back in at right-back makes sense.
That could mean Joe Gomez returns to his favoured centre-back role, or Klopp may choose to stick with Dejan Lovren alongside Virgil van Dijk.
Fabinho has a good chance of earning just his second start for Liverpool, and his first in Europe, following a promising cameo on Saturday.
Xherdan Shaqiri impressed against Huddersfield, too, and will hope to retain his place, while Daniel Sturridge is likely to return to the substitutes’ bench in place of Firmino.
Left-back Milan Rodic and midfielder Jonathan Cafu are out for Red Star, and Vladan Milojevic may also have to make do without centre-back Vujadin Savic.
The biggest blow is the absence of Marko Marin, however, who has failed to recover from an injury picked up in the 3-1 weekend win over Rad.
This is Red Star’s first time in the Champions League proper, having fallen short of the heights reached in 1991 when they won the European Cup.
They are a powerhouse in their homeland, though, winning last season’s Serbian SuperLiga having won 32 of their 37 matches and losing just once.
Managed by Milojevic since 2017, Red Star have enjoyed mixed results in the Champions League so far.
An impressive goalless draw at home to Napoli was a great result for them, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain, before they were humbled 6-1 away to the Ligue 1 giants.
It was an evening that displayed their limitations, outlining why the Reds are such firm favourites to prevail on Wednesday night.
Arguably their most high-profile player, the unavailable Marin has made 16 appearances for Germany and represented Chelsea in 2012/13.
Striker Richmond Boakye has five goals in as many matches this season, but El Fardou Ben is top scorer with nine in 15.
Did You Know?
Klopp is still unbeaten as Liverpool manager at home in Europe, whether it be in the Champions League or the Europa League.
That’s a total of 14 matches, with 10 victories and four draws in that time and a feeling of invincibility at Anfield restored.
The Reds have actually lost three of their last four Champions League matches, though.
The defeat away to Roma last season was followed by heartbreak in the final against Real Madrid, before Napoli’s late triumph at Stadio San Paolo earlier this month.
Liverpool – Last five results (all competitions)
Won 1-0 vs. Huddersfield
Drew 0-0 vs. Man City
Lost 1-0 vs. Napoli
Drew 1-1 vs. Chelsea
Lost 2-1 vs. Chelsea
Red Star Belgrade – Last five results (all competitions)
Won 3-1 vs. Rad
Won 2-0 vs. Dinamo Vranje
Won 2-1 vs. Zemun
Lost 6-1 vs. PSG
Won 2-1 vs. Mladost
Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, Klopp was wary of Liverpool underestimating their opponents:
“Serbian teams are always well organised—they know how to defend.
“We need to be ready for a really hard fight. We need to fight for every square metre of space. We learned last year that atmosphere can make the difference.
“We have watched three Red Star games—the focus has mainly been on their Champions League games.
“I have no clue which line-up they will choose. It was impressive how they defended against Napoli.
“You can see they are living their big dream.”
TV & Live Blog Info
The match is part of BT Sport’s Champions League show, with coverage starting on BT Sport 2 at 7pm (BST). Kickoff is at 8pm.
Henry Jackson is in charge of This is Anfield’s matchday live blog, bringing you minute-by-minute updates from 7.15pm.