Having booked a place in the Champions League for the first time in five seasons last term, Liverpool travel to Bulgarian springers Ludogorets knowing defeat would likely condemn them to Europa League fare after Christmas, at best.
A home win looks very much on the cards at massive 3/1 odds, considering the Reds are on a four-game losing run in all competitions, winning once in their past seven fixtures.
Ludogorets were incredibly unlucky to leave Anfield without at least a point in September, going down 2-1 following a 90th-minute penalty after equalising moments before.
Premier League strugglers QPR are the only side Liverpool have scored more than once against away from home since that fixture, and forward trio Fabio Borini, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli have contributed just three between them in 35 combined appearances this term.
That’s why boss Brendan Rodgers must play Lazar Markovic, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana in a three-man forward line at the Ludogorets Arena.
Rodgers is out of options, as evidenced by the utter ineffectiveness of Borini during the entire campaign so far, allied with Lambert’s capacity to go missing in games; after opening the scoring in the 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, the England striker didn’t manage another shot on target.
Balotelli will probably miss the match with a groin injury, but would barely warrant a place in the XI if fit.
A forward line containing Markovic, Sterling and Lallana may be a touch on the short side, as the former is the tallest at 5ft9in, but fielding a team full of Lilliputians has never held Barcelona back.
Neither Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta nor Pedro get anywhere near 6ft, with former Reds star Luis Suarez a giant at 5ft11in by comparison, so Rodgers shouldn’t automatically fear Liverpool losing an aerial advantage they’ve been underutilising.
Furthermore, Markovic, Sterling and Lallana can all pass.
The trio’s combined average pass completion stats in the Champions League this term stand at 85.2 per cent, whereas Borini, Lambert and Balotelli’s is a much more disappointing 70.7 per cent.
For a team that aspires to play slick, flowing football, under a coach that follows the same Marcelo Bielsa-inspired school of football thought as former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, that should count for something.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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