Them Bulgarians Again – Looking Ahead to Liverpool v Ludogorets

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“Them Scousers again”, reads the title of the excellent book sent out to Liverpool fan club members for the 2014 season. Aptly back in the Champions League, the club are celebrating half a century of battling against the finest teams the continent has to offer. A league win in the 1963/64 season saw Liverpool enter the competition for the first time since its inception in 1955, beating the memorably named Icelandic team Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur 11-1 over two legs in the preliminary round. Roger Hunt settled into the competition with ease, scoring a total of seven goals as Shankly’s Reds reached the semi-finals, and despite being knocked out at this stage by Italian side Internazionale thanks to Sandro Mazzola’s goal at Anfield, the club took to Europe like ducks to water.

Look ahead to Ludo

Fifty years later we see a Liverpool side struggling to adapt to a different type of competition, but one which they’ve also managed to master in years past.

In a wholly unconvincing campaign, a visit to the Bernabeu is being uncharacteristically held up as their best performance so far. A team of players who are confusingly of out of favour when it comes to league selection stifled Real Madrid’s latest crop of Galacticos on their own patch, coming away with a famous 1-0 defeat…

At home we’ve seen the team struggle to overcome a well organised Ludogorets Razgrad side who are in the group stage of the competition for the first time, as well as the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo being applauded off the pitch at Anfield as the entire ground submitted in awe to Real Madrid’s forty-five minutes of football prowess.

A defeat away at FC Basel added Liverpool to the Swiss side’s list of English victims, leaving the club with little room to manoeuvre in the final two fixtures of the group in which they face Basel at home, but first travel to Sofia to take on Ludogorets.

If the Bulgarians were organised at Anfield, then they might pose an even stiffer test on home soil, even if not in their home stadium. The match will be played at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia, which lies just over 170 miles from their home in Razgrad. Their own Ludogorets Arena is currently being expanded to meet UEFA standards required to accommodate European fixtures, such is the confidence in their future success.

Ludogorets currently lie second in the Bulgarian league behind CSKA Sofia, with whom they drew 1-1 in the game prior to this Champions League clash. Spanish midfielder Dani Abalo leads their goalscoring charts with five, with tricky attackers Wanderson and Virgil Misijan just behind him on four. For more information on the club, head over to the two previews which featured on the Anfield Index site prior to the first game:

As well as these, be sure to listen to the informative and entertaining Champions League preview podcast hosted by Marco Lopez.

When it comes to Liverpool, the manager needs to pick a side which gives the club a chance to progress to the next round. The persistence with below-par performers has seen Liverpool win just one of their last seven games in all competitions, with perhaps the best showing coming from a group of so-called back-up players in the aforementioned game in Madrid.

Defeat could see Liverpool head into the last game against Basel looking to goal difference column in order to qualify, and that’s only if the other two teams aiming for second place fail to get anything from their remaining games against Real Madrid. Liverpool’s desperation in the league is at risk of being replicated on the European stage –  a stage on which the club should play a leading role rather than a bit part.

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