Liverpool vs Ludogorets: Champions League Return “Too Early” for Reds’ Skrtel

Defender Martin Skrtel has returned to training but yet to have match fitness as Liverpool return to the Uefa Champions League for the first time since 2009 at home to Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrads on Tuesday night.

Skrtel is one of two surviving members in Liverpool’s squad from their last game in Europe’s biggest club competition back in December 2009- a 2-1 home loss to Fiorentina- the other being captain Steven Gerrard.

The Slovakian sustained an injury during the 3-1 loss at Manchester City on August 25 and missed the subsequent matches with Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa. He returned to training on Sunday but wont be involved against Ludogorets.

Martin Skrtel Pictured in Liverpool Training on Monday. Image: LFC via Getty.
Martin Skrtel Pictured in Liverpool Training on Monday. Image: LFC via Getty.

Manager Brendan Rodgers said: “Martin has worked very hard. He joined the group yesterday, so he is working well.

“It’s probably too early for this game but after a good week’s training he should be ready for West Ham.

“Apart from that, we’re pretty much the same in terms of injuries.”

Midfielder Joe Allen will also miss the opening Group B tie as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.

With subsequent games against Swiss giants Basel and European champions Real Madrid lying in wait, the Merseyside outfit will look to get off to a perfect start against their opponent, on the back of last weekend’s disappointment in the Premier League.

The ‘Reds’ have not fully justified they have gotten over Luis Suarez’s exit to Barcelona, with their best result so far being the 3-0 win at Spurs before the international break. The defeat at Manchester City and Sunday night’s 1-0 home loss to Aston Villa has refreshed the long-existing debate about the quality of coach Brendan Rodger’s attack in the absence of the Uruguayan, who solely contributed 31 goals to help them finish second last season.

Mario Balotelli had a quiet home debut despite spending 71 minutes on the pitch against Villa. The absence of the injured Daniel Sturridge may have come at a wrong timing, with the club starting a fixture crunch of 5 matches in three weeks.

But several key member of Rodgers’ squad will have the chance to experience the Champions League night for the first time, including in-form winger Raheem Sterling after the 19-year-old was rested for Saturday’s loss.

Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, who made his debut against Villa, will also be involved in the European elite game for the first time, but Emre Can and Lazar Markovic are both suspended.

Ludogorets’ visit to Anfield will be their first trip to England as they make their first appearance in the group phase. The club are only the second Bulgarian team to reach the group stages since Levski Sofia in 2006.

The team produced the most sensational victory in the play-off round when they eliminated Steaua Bucharest 6-5 on penalties, with Romanian defender Cosmin Moti saving two spot-kicks following the sending off of goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov.

They reached the last 16 of the Europa League last season, winning four successive away games against PSV Eindhoven, Chornomorets Odessa, Dinamo Zagreb and Lazio before losing out to semi-finalists Valencia.

Stoyanov is suspended for Tuesday’s game while second choice goalkeeper Ivan Cvorocic is sidelined with a shoulder injury. Coach Georgi Dermendzhiev could now call on the untried Georgi Argilashki.

“It is tough Company, no doubt about it,” said Dermendzhiev. “We have already achieved a lot, but we must forget the Steaua game. It is in the past. Now we are looking forward to the group.”