#Liverpool begin their first Champions League campaign for five seasons at home to Bulgarian champions Ludogorets tonight, hoping for a much needed victory ahead of what are expected to be tough assignments against holders Real Madrid and current Swiss champions Basel. Real host Basel in the other game in the group, scheduled to be played at the same time.
The five times champions of Europe (their famous comeback against Milan in 2005 still remaining fresh in many supporters' memories) last played in the group stages in 2009-10 when they disappointingly finished only third in their group and ended up playing in the Europa League. They will hope for better this time so a win tonight seems crucial to their chances.
Their early season domestic form has been patchy at best, with two wins and two losses, the latest being a disappointing 1-0 reverse to Aston Villa at Anfield. They currently sit only 8th in the early Premier League table, already six points behind high flying leaders Chelsea. Balancing domestic matches with European evenings will be a fresh challenge to manager Brendan Rodgers , but he would have hoped for a more solid start than he has had in the league so far.
Their opponents have been labelled as the underdogs in Group B, but their pedigree deserves respect. In Bulgaria they have won the last three league titles and took the league and Cup double last season. In Europe they made the round of 16 in the Europa League last time out, beating PSV Eindhoven and Lazio on the way, and have already had to battle past Steaua Bucharest to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in their history. Their victory over Steaua was sealed via a dramatic penalty shoot out and indicated a degree of resilience.
The Reds have a few injury problems going into the game, with regular first teamers Glen Johnson, Joe Allen, Martin Skrtl and Daniel Sturridge all still out, so are likely to persevere with most of the team that faced Villa.
The likely exception is Raheem Sterling who is expected to replace the suspended Lazar Markovic, as a result of the red card he was given whilst playing for Benfica in the Europa League semis last season. New signing Adam Lallana should start again up front with Mario Balotelli, but Rodgers may opt for one of either Rickie Lambert or Fabio Borini if he decides to opt for a slightly different formation. #FootballLudogorets may start with recent acquisition Milan Borjan in goal who is a Canadian international, as first choice keeper Vladislav Stoyanov is suspended. Their front three of Slovenian international Roman Bezjak, Dutch under 20 player Virgil Misidjan and the Brazilian Marcelinho could cause Liverpool some problems at the back. Bezjak in particular could be a goal threat, as evidenced by his 20 goals in all competitions in 2013-14.