It’s back to international duty for the Reds tonight. After drawing their first two matches in the competition, they now face Maribor in a double header which should really be used to advance their position in the group. On paper it should be a walk in the park for Liverpool, but a trip to Slovenia probably won’t be as straight forward as first anticipated. Maribor showed they are no pushovers at home, with a 1-1 draw with Spartak Moscow on matchday 1 of the competition. However, they couldn’t back it up, as they lost 3-0 away to Sevilla. In league terms, Maribor are comfortably second in the Slovenian first division, two points off top spot but nine points ahead of third place. They’ll likely come out very defensively, which appears to be one of their strengths, having conceded just eight goals in the opening 12 fixtures.
Liverpool Team News
Loris Karius will continue to retain his position as the first choice Champions League goalkeeper. However, we’ve got to anticipate that he’s under pressure having made just a single save but conceding three goals already in this year’s competition. Having received considerable criticism for the part he played in Spartak’s only goal, a strong performance is needed from the German and if he doesn’t come home with a clean sheet, critics will likely be on his back once again.
Joe Gomez is available after missing the Spartak tie through suspension, but Jurgen Klopp may decide to opt for Trent Alexander-Arnold because of Gomez’s involvement with the Manchester United match on Saturday. The rotation policy looks set to be in place until Nathaniel Clyne is fit again. Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip did a solid job of keeping Romelu Lukaku quiet and, providing they’re both healthy, will look to start as a centre-back pairing once again. Alberto Moreno will probably complete the back four having edged Andy Robertson out of contention and made the left back spot his own.
With Sadio Mane out for the rest of the month, Philippe Coutinho will move up the field and join the front three. This will leave the midfield available to be taken up by Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum, as it has done for so many times this season. It’s difficult to tell what is going on behind the scenes, but judging by his first performances on the pitch, it could be a long time until fans are happy to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain given a starting position.
Maribor will almost certainly come out looking to defend for the 90 minutes, meaning that Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah will have to put in a much better showing than they did against Spartak. Coutinho continues to look as though he is carrying the team, whereas Salah gets himself into brilliant position time and time again, only for his poor finishing to let him down. Anything less than a win will not be tolerated by the fans, so there is plenty of pressure riding on the boys up front.
Predicted Lineup: Karius; Moreno, Lovren, Matip, Alexander-Arnold; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Coutinho, Firmino, Salah
Maribor Team News
We can all be forgiven for not recognising many of the Maribor players, but there is one name that will sound familiar. Veteran goalkeeper, Jasmin Handanovic has been playing for Maribor since 2011 and is the older cousin of Inter Milan shot-stopper, Samir Handanovic. He made seven saves against Sevilla last time out and can expect to be busy again tonight.
There isn’t a whole lot of Maribor injury news to report on, except they will be without Marko Suler in the centre of defence. Midfielder Marko Zahovic is expected to be fit once again having spent a spell on the sideline and will likely come back into the starting XI.
Maribor tend to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation and Liverpool will have to be wary of Damjan Bohar on the left side of midfield. Somewhat of a key player, a lot of the attacking movement comes through him and he is the proud owner of Maribor’s only Champions League goal in this season’s group stage. He also has three league goals this campaign as well. They have tended to spread the goals around in the league, with right midfielder Aleks Pihler picking up four. New signing, Jasmin Mesanovic also has four and will probably operate as the lone striker tonight.
Predicted Lineup: Handanovic; Viler, Billong, Rajcevic, Milec; Vrhovec, Kabha; Bohar, Zahovic, Pihler; Mesanovic
Liverpool come into this game under a significant amount of pressure, having drawn five of their last seven matches. Anything less than three points will show that they don’t deserve to advance in this competition and will make it considerably hard for them to do so. While Maribor will set up defensively and prove hard to break down, their defensive frailties should show, allowing Liverpool to get into more goalscoring positions than they did against Spartak Moscow. The Reds should create enough chances to see them run out comfortable 2-0 winners, but it might not be overly exhilarating to watch.