Liverpool’s convincing 4-2 win over Hoffenheim on Wednesday evening assured a place in the Champions League group stages. What looked a tricky tie on paper was safely navigated as the Reds ran out as 6-3 victors on aggregate.
They can now officially say they’re in the Champions League and Anfield will once again become a fortress during midweek action.
For a club with such history with ol’ big ears it’s only their second appearance here since 2009/10 and they’re going to want to make the most of this opportunity.
Team Whispers: Liverpool FC (24.08.2017) | FWTV by FootballWhispers
The Merseysiders could have been given a tricky draw due to the fact they were in pot three. However, on paper at least, the group appears to be one of the kinder ones. Spartak Moscow, Maribor and Sevilla make up Group E along with Jürgen Klopp’s men.
In comparison, Spurs have to go up against Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid while Chelsea’s group includes Roma and Atletico Madrid.
Here, we cast an eye over Liverpool’s upcoming opponents.
Manager: Massimo Carrera
How they qualified: Russian League Winners
European pedigree: 15 times in the Champions League, 20 times in the Europa League
Spartak had a memorable season. It started off when they were knocked out of the Europa League qualifying rounds by AEK Larnaca. Manager Dmitri Alenichev resigned and the Russians appointed Carrera, Antonio Conte’s assistant from his Juventus days, as their interim coach.
He guided them to their first Russian Premier League title in 16 years and has them playing football that’s easy on the eye. As you can imagine, having worked closely with Conte, he’s tactically switched on.
The Russians often use a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system but similar to Liverpool it’s fairly narrow with the full-backs being the ones to offer the width with the wide attackers tucking inside. The deepest midfielder drops in between the centre-backs when they’re looking to build from the back.
However, when the opposition are playing out in deep areas, Spartak adopt what looks like a 4-4-2 style. The two forward players press those in possession looking to push them into wider areas. If they’re beaten, though, and the opposition are building an attack in a central area, the two central midfielders aggressively push on and look to win the ball back high up the pitch.
This can at times leave their defence exposed. Couple that with the fact they usually play a fairly high line and, well, you saw what Liverpool did to Hoffenheim…
Key player: Quincy Promes
Liverpool fans will know all about Promes after the Reds were linked with him in January.
The easiest way to describe him would be to call him Spartak’s very own Sadio Mané. He operates on the either flank but can regularly be found taking up central areas. The 25-year-old is a goal threat from distance and knows how to carve out space in the penalty area.
He’s got quick feet and his direct nature makes him a nightmare to defend against. He’s not a player you want to be isolated against.
Spartak’s biggest defeat in Europe happened against Liverpool back in 2002. Emile Heskey notched a double to go along with goals from Bruno Cheyrou, Salif Diao and Sami Hyypia in a 5-0 rout.
Manager: Eduardo Berizzo
How they qualified: Fourth in La Liga and a Champions League playoff victory
European pedigree: 4 times in the Champions League, 12 times in the Europa League; back-to-back Europa League winners in 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16
It’s been a summer of change for Sevilla. They lost head coach Jorge Sampaoli – who is now the manager of Argentina – and the legend known as Monchi moved to Roma to take over as sporting director in the Italian capital.
They made some typical Sevilla signings though in the shape of Luis Muriel, Ever Banega, Jesus Navas and Nolito and with Eduardo Berizzo at the helm they’ll always be a team to watch from a tactical point of view.
Having only arrived at the club this summer it’s hard to tell how Berizzo will have his Sevilla side playing but it’s anything like his Celta Vigo side it will be a tough match for the Reds.
He sets his team up with a rigorous man-oriented marking scheme defensively, which entails players picking up and intensively tracking opposition individuals whenever they enter their zone.
This aggressive form of defending can be difficult to play through if there is not enough movement off the ball. Fortunately for the Reds they have a front three who are perpetually on the move.
Simon Kjaer had a game to forget over the weekend in their 1-1 draw with Espanyol. If he repeats such a performance in the Champions League things could turn sour very quickly for Sevilla.
Liverpool want revenge for what happened in the Europa League final at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Key player: Steven N’Zonzi
Sevilla have, so far, managed to keep hold of their midfield powerhouse. Despite being linked with moves to Juventus, Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea, no team has managed to convince the La Liga side to part with N’Zonzi.
His time at Stoke City may not have been memorable but he’s matured into quite the player while in Spain. He shields the defence well and makes good use of the ball, but it’s his intelligence which makes him a danger to Liverpool.
Klopp’s midfield can often be bullied and easily manipulated. Give N’Zonzi too much respect and he will dominate the middle third.
Sevilla have a 100 per cent win record over Liverpool. The two sides have only met once in European competition with the Spanish side running out as 3-1 winners.
Manager: Darko Milanic
How they qualified: Slovenian League winners and a Champions League playoff
Fans may remember manager Milanic from an ill-fated spell at Leeds United in 2014. Chairman Massimo Cellino sacked him after just 32 days in charge. However, he fares much better with Maribor and has won five league titles there.
In Europe it’s a different story altogether. To give you some idea, they drew 1-1 with Aberdeen in a Europa League qualifying match last season. This is the third time in their history the Slovenian club have reached the Champions League group stages, after doing so in 1999 and 2014.
Despite being fairly compact in the way they set-up when not in possession, the opposition tends to have a lot of joy in the space between the defensive and the midfeld lines. Roberto Firmino’s clever movement could cause them a lot of problems.
Key player: Marcos Tavares
The 33-year-old striker had somewhat of a nomadic career before he joined Maribor in 2008. He found a home in Slovenia and he’s repaid the club in goals. The striker has 179 goals for the club in all competitions.
The club captain, despite his age, still has running in his legs and once he gets going he’s hard to stop. It’s probably best to not give him time on his left foot inside the penalty area.
They are the only Slovenian team to ever compete in the Champions League group stages.