Liverpool travel to Slovenia for the third of their group stage fixtures having drawn the first two games of their Champions League campaign. While the Reds have had issues scoring of late, their problems at the back are well-documented and they have failed to keep a clean sheet thus far in the competition.
Maribor are the lowest seeded team in Group E but the Slovenian champions are no pushovers especially on home turf. Despite being hammered by Sevilla on the last match day, a draw against Spartak Moscow will have given the home side hope for a shock result against Liverpool.
Last Time Out
Rudar Velenje 1-2 Maribor (PrvaLiga)
On Friday night, Maribor continued their unbeaten start to their domestic season by winning away against third-placed Rudar Velenje. The home side took the lead in the first half through John Mary but they were pegged back in the second, eventually ceding their lead to a Jasmin Mešanović goal. Half an hour later, Damjan Bohar put the champions ahead for the first time in the game. A late sending off for Josip Tomašević ended any hope of a comeback for the home side.
The Purples remain two points behind Olimpija Ljubljana in second and well clear of the rest of the sides in the league with both teams looking increasingly like they’re in a class of their own.
Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United (Premier League)
On Saturday lunchtime, Liverpool took on their greatest rivals Manchester United at Anfield for the first time this season. Despite their recent free-scoring form, Mourinho set Manchester United up to defend in a low block which certainly contributed the eventual result. With both sides playing cautious football made it a very underwhelming spectacle in the event.
This wasn’t through lack of trying from home side, though: 19 shots and over 60% possession make it seem like a one-sided match. Once again, The Reds weren’t clinical in front of goal and this match will go down as a wasted opportunity.
Liverpool are now in 8th place, only 2 points behind fourth-placed Watford but nine points behind league leaders Manchester City. With the draw, Manchester United remain in second place, two points behind their cross-city rivals who thrashed Stoke 7-2 later that day.
After resting Marcos Tavares and Valon Ahmedi in Friday’s league match, Maribor should have a fully fit side for their Champions League game. Darko Milanič should start both Tavares and Ahmedi in their usual forward positions and those two will be the main attacking threats for the Slovenians.
Sadio Mane is out for up to six weeks with a hamstring issue and joins Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana on the injury list. Loris Karius, the first choice goalkeeper for European games, should return to the starting XI in place of Simon Mignolet. Trent Alexander-Arnold and perhaps Daniel Sturridge, could get another shot in the line-up in place of Joe Gomez and Firmino as this game presents an opportunity for Jurgen Klopp to rotate his side.
Key Battle: Marcos Tavares vs Dejan Lovren & Joel Matip
To have a good chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, Liverpool need to pick up six points against Maribor. Their defensive mistakes in the first two games, have put extra pressure on the side to perform in what should’ve been relatively comfortable matches.
In spite of Liverpool’s dangerous attacking three, then, this match is likely to be won or lost at the opposite end of the pitch. With Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Mo Salah leading the line, Liverpool will get plenty of opportunities to score in the match. However, the manner in which the Merseysiders’ back line deal with Alex Tavares will be crucial to them getting a win.
Where will the creativity come from?
With the loss of Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane out for a long stretch, Liverpool may struggle to break down a Maribor team who will sit deep against them. Philippe Coutinho, although clearly a creative force, tends to play more of a role in Liverpool’s attack from a deeper position in the midfield three. With Sane out of the equation, though, the Reds cannot really afford this luxury and will keep him in the front three. Much of the onus, then, will lie at the feet of Emre Can and Georgino Wijnaldum to break through the lines and bring their forwards into the game.
Maribor upsetting the odds?
Shocks in the Champions League aren’t unheard of but for Maribor to get a result against a 5-time European champion will be a huge scalp for the Slovenians. The Purples have upset the odds before, managing a draw against a Chelsea side that looked invincible back in 2014-15, and have slowly grown into a better side over the years. Whilst unlikely, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that they have a chance, especially at home.
PREDICTION: Maribor 1-2 Liverpool
It is likely that Liverpool will find their first win of the group stage in Slovenia but it may not be a comfortable one. Given the fragility of the Liverpool defence, it becomes of question of whether or not Klopp’s side can outscore their opponents. Being away from home, Liverpool will do well to maintain a shutout against Maribor.
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