Liverpool face a rare dead rubber on Thursday as they head into their final Europa League group stage game having already qualified in top spot.
Union SG vs. Liverpool
Europa League | Lotto Park
December 14, 2023 | 5.45pm (GMT)
The Reds wrapped up a place in the last 16 at home to LASK last month and are presented with an opportunity to rest key players as they round off Group E in Belgium.
Union SG are the hosts in midweek and we can expect a heavily-rotated Liverpool team to come up against them, with a huge clash in the Premier League around the corner three days later.
These are the 10 things you need to know ahead of Union SG vs. Liverpool.
1. Team news
As you might expect, there were some younger faces in training on Wednesday as the Reds prepared for their trip to Belgium.
Tom Hill, James McConnell, Calum Scanlon, Kaide Gordon and Lewis Koumas all joined the senior squad at Kirkby to get ready for the dead rubber, and all of them will be hoping to feature on a European stage for Liverpool this week.
There is little Jurgen Klopp to lose in giving them the opportunity to showcase their talents, and perhaps a lot to be gained down the line from the experience.
2. Opposition form
Thursday’s opponents are in good domestic form and currently sit at the top of the Belgian Pro League with a six-point gap between themselves and second-placed Anderlecht.
They have lost just one of their last 12 games in all competitions, winning 13 of their last 17 to head into the fixture with plenty of confidence despite their underdog status.
3. A genuine dead rubber
It is rare that Liverpool are able to play a competitive fixture with no consequence, but that is exactly what awaits them this week.
The Reds secured their spot in the last 16 of the competition thanks to their 4-0 win at home to LASK, meaning they will bypass the additional play-off round that takes place in February.
4. Changes to come
Klopp took part in a live Q&A session at Anfield on Monday night, during which he revealed had “no clue” how the side will look against Union SG but that we can certainly expect tweaks.
Liverpool have successfully navigated Group E with a ‘midweek’ iteration of their first team, but given that the result holds little significance to the Reds we can anticipate even more senior players to be rested.
5. Family reunion denied
He would have been unlikely to feature anyway given that Liverpool have already progressed, but Alexis Mac Allister‘s injury will prevent him from sharing the pitch with his brother on Thursday.
The midfielder caught up with his sibling, Kevin, prior to the reverse fixture back in October before coming off the bench to compete against him in the second half.
Their father, Carlos, admitted it was “possible” he would shed a tear seeing the pair lock horns at Anfield, but he unfortunately won’t get that chance again this week.
6. Group not dead yet
While Liverpool’s Europa League fate is sealed, there is still a glimmer of qualification hope for our opponents in Belgium and something for them to play for.
Union SG can sneak into the knockout rounds if they beat the Reds and if Toulouse lose to LASK, provided they overturn the goal difference of two between the sides.
Should both sides be tied by that metric, it would then go down to goals scored and then away goals scored. It feels unlikely, but not quite impossible!
7. Opportunity for youth
The opportunity for rotation means Klopp can give minutes to those on the periphery of the team, but there will also no doubt be youngsters knocking at his door.
Full-backs Conor Bradley and Luke Chambers are among a host of prospects with a realistic chance of being involved in the final group game, with Jarell Quansah almost certain to start having impressed when called upon in the Premier League this season.
8. A home from home
On paper, Union SG are the hosts on Thursday evening, but they won’t be playing at their usual venue when the Reds come to town.
The club confirmed earlier this year that they will play their Europa League fixtures at Anderlecht’s Lotto Park, as they have done in previous European campaigns.
The stadium holds a capacity of 21,500, as opposed to just 9,400 at Union SG’s home in Stade Joseph Marien.
It is a ground Liverpool last visited as European champions back in 2005, when a lone Djibril Cisse goal was enough to secure a group stage win over Anderlecht.
9. Referee watch
As is often the case in Europe, we will be greeted by a fresh set of officials when the Reds take to the field on Thursday evening.
Israel’s Orel Grinfeeld will take charge of proceedings at Lotto Park, with assistance from Roy Hassan and Idan Yarkon from the touchlines.
Gal Leibovitz is the fourth official, while Ziv Adler and Roi Reinshreiber look after VAR duties.
10. Follow along with us!
As always, This Is Anfield are here to bring you live, biased commentary of proceedings as the Reds bid to end the Europa League group stage on a high in Belgium.
Our matchday liveblog will be available to access from 5pm (GMT) ahead of kick-off at 5.45pm, see you in the comments!