Liverpool will be confident of making a winning start to their Champions League campaign when they host Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad at Anfield on Tuesday (19:45 BST, live on ITV).
Liverpool and Ludogorets have been drawn in Group B, alongside holders and 10-time Champions League winners Real Madrid and the Swiss champions Basel. With Madrid the most likely group winners, Liverpool and Basel are expected to compete for second place.
Brendan Rodgers’ side come into Tuesday’s match on the back of a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday. It was their second loss of a new campaign that has also brought them victories over Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Best Match Betting Odds
2/9 Liverpool (BetVictor, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfair Sportsbook, Boylesports)
11/2 Draw (Bet365, Ladbrokes, Stan James, Paddy Power)
16/1 Ludogorets Razgrad (Betfair Sportsbook)
Villa took an early lead through Gabriel Agbonlahor and generally enjoyed the better of a first half in which Liverpool were flat and disjointed. The second-half introduction of Raheem Sterling injected a little more verve into Liverpool’s attack, but they still ended the match having managed just a single shot on target and a Philippe Coutinho (pictured) effort off the post.
The Reds were very active during the summer transfer window, spending in the region of £120 million on nine new players in the wake of the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona. With both domestic and European competitions to contend with this season, the signings have added depth to the squad. Rodgers now has more options to play around with.
Tuesday’s match will represent the first time in five years that Liverpool have competed in the Champions League – a tournament they have won on five previous occasions. Only Steven Gerrard still remains from the side who defeated Milan in the 2005 final, and a large chunk of Rodgers’ squad have little experience at this level.
Rodgers will be without the injured Daniel Sturridge (thigh), Emre Can (ankle) and Jon Flanagan (knee) for this match, while Glen Johnson (thigh), Joe Allen (knee) and Martin Skrtel (knock) are all doubtful after missing the defeat to Villa.
Ludogorets travel to Anfield on the back of a 2-1 victory away to Botev Plovdiv on Friday. They have made a good start to the Bulgarian season and reached the Champions League group stage by defeating F91 Dudelange, Partizan and Steaua Bucharest in the qualifiers.
The Razgrad-based club have enjoyed a swift ascension up through the Bulgarian football ranks since their founding in 2001. They were promoted to the top flight in 2011, won the league title at the first time of asking and have since defended it on two occasions. The money of businessman Kiril Domuschiev has seen them become a dominant force.
Ludogorets enjoyed an impressive Europa League campaign last season, defeating PSV Eindhoven home and away during the group stage before triumphing over Lazio in the round of 32. They reached the Champions League group stage for the first time by defeating Steaua Bucharest on penalties thanks to star turn in goal from defender Cosmin Moti.
The squad of coach Georgi Dermendzhiev includes six members of the Bulgarian squad selected for the recent Euro 2016 qualifier against Azerbaijan, alongside a large number of other nationalities. Liverpool will have to be wary of last season’s top scorer Roman Bezjak, while Brazilian forward Marcelinho also has the potential to cause problems.
Dermendzhiev will be without suspended goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov, while Stoyanov’s backup, Ivan Cvorovic will also miss out through injury. Georgi Argliashki will deputise. He otherwise looks to have a full squad to pick from.
Liverpool vs Ludogorets Betting Tips Advice
It will come as little surprise to learn that these two clubs have never previously met, while Ludogorets have also never before faced an English club in competitive action. Liverpool defeated CSKA Sofia of Bulgaria on route to their European Cup success in 1981.
Ludogorets are likely to sit relatively deep and look to make things difficult for Liverpool. They conceded just 14 times in 26 matches in the Bulgarian league last season and kept four clean sheets in six group stage matches in the Europa League. They will soak up pressure and look for opportunities to nick a goal on the counter attack.
Liverpool were surprisingly flat in their defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday and will need to perform at a better standard if they hope to begin their Champions League campaign with victory here. Rodgers is still acquainting himself with the capabilities of his new signings, but Liverpool should nevertheless have enough quality to take the three points. The margin of victory is, however, unlikely to be significant.
- Back Ludogorets +2 on an Asian Handicap @ 780/1000 with Ladbrokes. The bet pays out if Ludogorets win, draw or lose by a single goal. Your stake is returned if they lose by two goals.
- Sterling has begun the season in fine fettle and has scored in both of Liverpool’s victories. With Sturridge absent, he is their primary goal threat and can be fancied to open his Champions League account. Back Raheem Sterling to score at anytime @ best odds of 7/5 with Bet365.
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