2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Crystal Palace (a); 1-2 Chelsea (h); 0-1 Real (a)
Ludogorets: 1-1 CSKA Sofia (a); 2-0 Lokomotiv Plodiv (h); 0-4 Basel (a)
Previous CL matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Real (a); 0-3 Real (h); 0-1 Basel (a); 2-1 Ludogorets (h)
Ludogorets: 0-4 Basel (a); 1-0 Basel (h); 1-2 Real (h); 1-2 Liverpool (a); 1-0 Steaua (h); 0-1 Steaua (a); 2-2 Partizan (a); 0-0 Partizan (h); 1-1 F91 (a); 4-0 F91 (h)
Liverpool: Balotelli, Gerrard 1
Ludogorets: Marcelino 3; Dani Abalo, Bezjak 2; Anicet Abel, Espinho, Minev, Wanderson 1
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP)
Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Toure Moreno
Markovic Balotelli Sterling
As has become usual, the above XI is more what I'd hope than what I expect. It's obviously not ideal, especially since it predicts Liverpool would start with Balotelli as a lone striker. But it's not as if Liverpool are overflowing with options.
That above XI hopes that Toure starts instead of either Lovren or Skrtel, most likely Lovren if the Real Madrid away match is any indication. It hopes that Gerrard will be rested, which doesn't seem likely for the second consecutive Champions League match, but Liverpool cannot keep playing him as the deepest midfielder considering Liverpool's other issues and up against a side that'll probably spend most of the match counter-attacking. Using both Sterling and Markovic with Balotelli hopes that each's pace and ability to both play wide and cut inside will provide the Italian with more support.
Maybe Balotelli's still injured, in which case it'll probably be Borini up front, as I doubt Lambert's able to start twice in four days. Maybe Henderson's still ill, in which case Can takes his place in a straight swap or Liverpool re-jig the midfield around Gerrard's inclusion. Maybe Rodgers reverts to the 4-2-3-1, with Coutinho or Lallana ahead of two from Gerrard/Henderson/Allen/Can/Lucas. Maybe Lovren and Johnson keep their places, for reasons unknown to anyone but Brendan Rodgers.
We're running out of opportunities to say that "maybe this time will be different from all those other times" and actually mean it, given the plethora of evidence otherwise.
Ludogorets are currently second in the Bulgarian league, five points behind CSKA Sofia, who they drew last weekend. Ludogorets are level on points with Liverpool in Group B, with Liverpool only in third on goal difference and head-to-head result. Ludogorets have scored more goals than Liverpool in this group – three to two – and are averaging two goals per match in the league. At home, Ludogorets beat Basel and gave Real Madrid a fright before succumbing 1-2. They're also unbeaten at home in the league, albeit at a different ground than the one needed for Champions League competition.
Roman Bezjak is Ludogorets' only reported absentee, out with a groin injury. He started as Ludogorets' lone striker in the previous meeting; if he's the only change from that XI (aside from Ludogorets' starting keeper also returning), the lineup will be Stoyanov; Junior Caicera, A Alexandrov, Moti, Minev; Anicet, Dyakov; Misidjan, Marcelinho, M Alexandrov; Younes. However, Espinho started in place of Anicet, Terziev in place of A Alexandrov, and Dani Abalo in place of M Alexandrov in Ludogorets' last match. Which means, unsurprisingly, your guess is as good as mine.
However, they'll almost certainly play 4-2-3-1, they'll look to soak up Liverpool pressure with a deep, well-organized defense and two holding midfielders to congest space in the middle, and they'll look to counter at pace when Liverpool lose possession. It's a template that Liverpool have seen fairly often this season and haven't yet solved, especially when they're away from Anfield.
Liverpool haven't scored in this competition in 270 minutes, since Gerrard's last minute penalty against tomorrow's opposition on Matchday 1, shut out at Basel and in both games against Real Madrid.
Liverpool haven't won in any competition in nearly a month, narrowly beating Swansea in the League Cup in a match that was fairly similar to that against Ludogorets in September. Liverpool haven't lost five consecutive matches in more than 50 years, and that fateful season was the last time Liverpool were relegated from the first division.
And if Liverpool lose tomorrow, they'll be eliminated from this competition, at best finishing third and qualifying for the Europa League (which, given Liverpool's squad, is most likely a bad thing), but more likely finishing bottom of the group.
Liverpool have never finished bottom of its group since the Champions League switched to the current group stage format.