Though Liverpool in no way drew the toughest group in the 2009 Champions League draw, the Merseysiders have reason to worry.
With their form inspiring no confidence amongst fans and no fear amongst adversaries, the team could easily see itself bowing out far earlier than anyone would expect from a team that placed second in the Premier League last season.
Group E is in reality a three team group; Debrecen, the Hungarian side who made its way through qualifying by beating Levski Sofia in both legs, has won the Hungarian league four of the last five years and is the first club from Hungary to advance to the group stage of the Champions League in 14 years.
But the side has yet to play on such an international stage and against top quality opponents such as Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard should be able to wreak havoc on the defense, with the Liverpool back four comfortably able to keep the ball under control in the defensive zone.
Lyon and Fiorentina, however, should give Liverpool a run for its money. Lyon, a perennial contender to win the French Ligue 1, finished only nine points adrift of 1st placed Bordeaux last season, and won the league each of the previous seven seasons.
Furthermore, they are still at the top of the league through four games even without premier forward Karim Benzema, who they sold to Real Madrid during the summer transfer session. Most notably, Lyon is demolishing its opponents, winning their qualifying round 8-2 on aggregate.
Liverpool has had trouble against such clubs in the past couple years. Its zonal marking system is under sharp criticism as Liverpool has given up many key goals from set pieces; and, given Liverpool’s propensity for lazy fouls in the wake of Lyon’s speed, Liverpool could easily see its defense ripped to shreds.
Fiorentina, on the other hand, plays classic Italian football. They are a strong defensive club who, while not scoring many goals, can absolutely stifle play. They also have veteran forward Alberto Gilardino, who is proven as a goal scorer for club and country during his nine-year career. Should Fiorentina successfully shut down Fernando Torres, Liverpool could face serious trouble.
Most troubling, however, has been Liverpool’s play in the Premier League. Steven Gerrard has not been his usual game-winning self, giving up the penalty that sealed the deal in a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa and lacking the usual energy and fervor in midfield that Liverpool fans have come to expect.
Called out by Rafa Benitez in mid-week, he still did not play remarkably well for most of this weekend’s match at Bolton. Only in the second half did he reawaken, hitting the crossbar on a volley before firing home only minutes later after Bolton had been reduced to 10 men.
Should Liverpool’s defense—bolstered by the arrival of Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the center and the offensive wherewithal of Glen Johnson on the wing—sort itself out before the start of Champions League play, Liverpool will advance to the knock-out stages and could vie for the Champions League crown.
Otherwise, Liverpool will have a crisis on its hands.