Liverpool looking to liquidate lucky Ludogorets
Liverpool, 28/1 chances to win their sixth European Cup this season, face a tough Group B upon their return to the Champions League (since the 2009/10 campaign), but face new boys Ludogorets Razgrad.
The Bulgarian side will be taking part in this competition for the first time in their 13 year history, and mostly thanks to their defender Cosmin Moti. The Romania international had to put on the gloves in the play-off round, and dramatically denied Steaua Bucharest, the arch rivals of his former side Dinamo, via a penalty shoot-out – saving twice and even scoring.
While keeper Vladislav Stoyanov, who got sent off in that match, is suspended for the Liverpool encounter, it is probable Moti won’t get a chance to follow up his heroic display and wear the goalie jersey again. Instead, Georgi Argilashki is expected to start.
Moti, though, who is the designated penalty taker for Ludogorets, is a 20/1 chance to net anytime and thus further enhance his legendary status at the Bulgarian club, who are 11/1 for victory and 5/1 to get a draw.
It is Liverpool, however, who go into this match as overwhelming favourites to win, odds-on at 2/9. The Reds will still be without star striker Daniel Sturridge, but can rely on newest acquisition Mario Balotelli to score his first goal for the club. The Italian is 4/1 to net two or more.
Brendan Rodgers’ men come into this game on the back of a 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa, but can take confidence in the fact that they have won six out of their eight games against Bulgarian opposition in history. They have never faced Ludogorets, though, who surprised many last term in the Europa League.
Bulgarian league champions for the last three seasons Ludogorets came through their group as winners and undefeated, beating PSV and Dinamo Zagreb home and away. They then saw off Italian capital club Lazio 4-3 on aggregate in the round of 32, before losing out to Spanish side Valencia in the last 16.
This match could see Raheem Sterling (evens to score anytime) return to Rodgers’ Reds line-up, after he was rested for the Villa game.
Northern Irishman Rodgers said: “We have an exciting couple of months and this was a game (verses Villa) I felt we could do that. “If [Sterling] didn’t have international football then it would have been the case.
“He is a big player for us but we have built a squad here where I have to trust all the players but as a team and a squad we didn’t deliver. He will certainly play on Tuesday night [against Ludogorets].”
“This game has gone and we now have to focus on that,” he added. “There is nothing better than to get going again on Tuesday night in a competition we love. Hopefully we can start that competition (Champions League) with three points.”
Absent for Liverpool’s side against the Bulgarians are summer signings Emre Can and Lazar Markovic, who are both suspended, while defenders Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Martin Skrtel are doubts.
Real Madrid and FC Basel represent the other opponents in this group, but the Reds are 3/1 second-favourites to finish top, and odds-on at 2/7 to qualify for the knockout phase.