Breaking Down Liverpool's Champions League Group Stage Opponents
So now we know, Liverpool’s first return to the Champions League in five years will see them face Real Madrid, FC Basel and PFC Ludogorets Razgrad in Group B of European football’s premier competition.
It’s an exciting draw for the Reds as they are pitted against the current holders and 10-time winners, a lively Swiss outfit who have caused problems for the elite before and some newcomers to the competition who have a wonderful back story.
Here’s the lowdown on the three sides.
Who? The record 10-time champions of Europe, current Champions League holders, 32-time La Liga winners and possessors of some of the greatest talents to ever play the game—including the most expensive player in the world in Gareth Bale, no less.
Previous record against Liverpool: Poor. As pointed out by @OptaJoe, Real have lost all three of their European Cup/Champions League meetings with Liverpool, all without scoring a goal.
3 - Liverpool have won all three of their European Cup/Champions League games against Real Madrid (six goals scored, none conceded). Easy.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 28, 2014
Alan Kennedy’s strike in Paris beat them in 1981 final, Yossi Benayoun scored the winner in the Bernabeu in the first leg of a second round game in 2009, and then the Reds hammered Real 4-0 at Anfield in the return, with Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard (twice) and Andrea Dossena (remember him?) getting on the scoresheet.
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti, the manager of AC Milan when they famously collapsed against Liverpool in the 2005 final in Istanbul, but also the man in charge when the Italians gained revenge for that loss in the Athens final two years later.
Danger Man: Take your pick, there’s loads, but the man who stands out above all others is of course Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese ace scored a stunning, and record, 17 goals as Real powered to the title last season, whilst he was recently seen scoring twice as he led his side to European Super Cup glory in Cardiff.
One of the true greats of the modern game, he’ll be in for a rough reception at Anfield given his Manchester United ties, but that isn’t likely to faze him.
The Lowdown: Well no-one ever said Liverpool’s return to the Champions League was going to be easy!
In facing the holders, the Reds have surely been handed the toughest possible draw, but the club’s fans will doubtless be delighted to see their team rubbing shoulders with the European elite.
Getting anything from either game will be a hugely difficult, but it’s going to be fun watching them try.
Who? The Swiss Super League holders and winners for the last five years, and perennial Champions League group stage contenders.
Basel achieved one of the standout results in their history when they beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in the group stage last season, but despite also beating the Blues at their St. Jakob-Park home they could still only finish third in their group.
Previous record against Liverpool: Reds fans don’t have fond memories of Basel.
In the pair’s only previous Champions League meetings in the 2002/03 season, the Swiss took a point from Anfield in a 1-1 draw before a vital final group-clash against the Reds at St. Jakob-Park, where the home side flew into a 3-0 half-time lead.
Liverpool came roaring back in the second period and scored through Danny Murphy, Vladimir Smicer and Michael Owen, but on a night when they needed to win to progress, the 3-3 draw wasn’t enough and they were knocked out.
Manager: Former QPR, Swansea and Leicester City boss Paulo Sousa turned up at the club this summer.
The Portuguese never faced Liverpool as a manager during his time in England, but he is one of a rare breed of players to win back-to-back Champions League titles, with Juventus in 1996 and then Borussia Dortmund a year later.
Danger Man: Mohamed Salah impressed so much in those aforementioned Chelsea games that the Blues signed him, and so now the goals need to come from elsewhere.
Twenty-six-year-old midfielder Shkelzen Gashi was signed from Grasshopper this summer and already has four strikes in six games.
The Lowdown: Liverpool would have been looking at Pot Two with a great amount of fear as the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus lurked within, but in getting Basel they’ll certainly be pretty happy.
The Swiss have always proved to be tricky opponents for English sides, but Brendan Rodgers will doubtless feel that his team can get the better of them at Anfield, opening up the possibility of a draw in Switzerland being a decent result depending on the circumstances.
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
Who? The winners of the Bulgarian A Group for the past three years, Ludogorets play their home matches at the 8,000 Ludogorets Arena in Razgrad, but will switch to Sofia for the Champions League.
After beating Luxembourg’s Dudelange and Serbia's Partizan Belgrade to reach the playoff round, they astonishingly beat Steaua Bucharest on penalties after a 1-1 draw on aggregate, with defender Cosmin Moti forced to go in goal for the shootout after a red card for goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov.
Moti scored one penalty and saved two to send Ludogorets through, as you do.
Previous record against Liverpool: There isn’t one.
This is Ludogorets’ first season in the group stages of the Champions League proper, and although they’ve never faced an English club before, they did beat PSV Eindhoven and Lazio in last season’s Europa League, before losing 4-0 on aggregate to Valencia in the last 16.
Manager: Georgi Dermendzhiev is in his first season in the top job after three years as assistant to Stoycho Stoev, who was sacked in July.
Given his side’s heroics so far, he’s started well.
AMAZING: Ludogorets centre-back Cosmin Moti scores his own & makes 2 penalty shoot-out saves to qualify for the CL! pic.twitter.com/Vp4Xh6qFGR— BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) August 27, 2014
Danger Man: Moti, of course.
The Romanian defender had the whole of the continent watching in disbelief as he performed miracles against his fellow countrymen from Steaua, and if Liverpool get a penalty in either match against the Bulgarians then whoever’s taking it won’t want to see him don the gloves.
The Lowdown: Liverpool might have waited five years to get back in the Champions League, but for Ludogorets this competition will represent a glorious ending to a lifetime’s ambition.
Just last month Ludogorets were in nearby North Wales beating Welsh Premier League side Connah’s Quay Nomads 7-0 in a friendly, but now they’ll be gracing the Anfield stage with nothing to lose.
Liverpool will feel as though they should be getting six points from their group’s whipping boys, but as Moti and his teammates showed in their playoff, you really can’t rule anything out in the Champions League.