Maribor vs Liverpool Champions League preview: Klopp's men aim to end draw sequence in Slovenia

ShareClose Comments
The Reds will not disrespect their unfamiliar Champions League opponents, who come from a little-known area that boasts a large history

The procession was typically elaborate, a convoy of convertibles driving through a split sea of onlookers — some simply curious, the majority waving small Nazi flags.

It was April 26, 1941, and Adolf Hitler visited the annexed Maribor to deliver a demand to "make this land German again" as he cruelly expelled Slovenes to Serbia, Croatia or concentration camps.

The city that hosts Liverpool in the Champions League on Tuesday night — the second largest in Slovenia — experienced terrible suffering following both World Wars, the latter leaving 47% of it in ruin through bombing by the Allied forces, before an economic crisis hit following the secession from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Maribor fans

But by 2012, Maribor, home to the oldest living grapevine in the world, was a European Capital of Culture — a status held by Liverpool four years earlier.

And one of the facets its population of over 95,000 is most proud of is their football club of the same name, which is the most successful in the country.

Maribor are the only Slovenian side to compete in the group stages of the Champions League and in their previous home match against an English club, they held Jose Mourinho's Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in 2014-15.

Mohamed Salah, now at Liverpool, was an unused substitute at the Ljudski vrt stadium for that encounter.

In the reverse fixture, which saw the Blues smash in six unanswered goals, Dominic Solanke — now a Red too — made his professional debut as a 73rd-minute substitute for Oscar and became the youngest player to do so in the tournament for the Premier League champions.

Dominic Solanke Chelsea

He is likely to be involved in the matchday squad at Maribor's ground this time around, which has a capacity of 12,702 — 7,798 fewer seats than the Main Stand at Anfield — and was used as a graveyard for centuries prior to its first use for football in the 1920s.

Located on the left bank of the river Drava, it hosted the Under-17 European Championship in 2012 and Thomas Lemar, who featured in the tournament for France, was a transfer target for Liverpool this summer.

Maribor's manager, Darko Milanic, is a former defender who captained Slovenia at Euro 2000 and retired at 32 due to injury. That was the same number of days he spent at the Leeds United helm in 2014 after failing to win in six games.

This is the 49-year-old’s second spell in charge of Maribor, with whom he has won 11 trophies.

Maribor

Maribor are on a 14-game unbeaten run in league play but have won just one of their eight previous matches against English clubs, beating Wigan Athletic 2-1 in the 2013-14 UEFA Europa League group stage.

When the draw for this year’s edition was made, Jurgen Klopp said of these opponents: "In this moment, you don't know a lot about them. A lot of people would underestimate them — we will not."

And he echoed those sentiments on Monday as Liverpool flew into the city. "It doesn’t happen too often anymore that everything is completely new and that was the case in this preparation, but it's easy for us to prepare and analyse them," he told the club’s official website.

"We know about them and it's not a big difference to other preparations.

Klopp

"They fought really hard for this Champions League campaign — it's their ninth Champions League game or something like this for them already. They are very experienced and a really good footballing side — a classical top team of their league. They're usually champions or second fighting with Ljubljana.

"They are really experienced and confident — they've had one good result, one not so good result against Sevilla, but even in that game they had their moments and against Moscow they could have won.

"They're a good side and so don't think about the name, don't think about the league, don't think about anything else — just respect the opponent.

"They are really able to hurt each team, but we cannot ignore that we are the favourites. We cannot say it's not like this, but it's at their home ground."

Liverpool training

Article continues below

Liverpool's only previous fixture against Slovene opposition came in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup first round, when they drew 1-1 with Maribor's rivals Ljubljana before registering a 3-0 victory at Anfield.

Another stalemate on Tuesday night would not be palatable, however, given Klopp's men have only won one of their last eight games despite turning in good performances. 

Sevilla and Spartak Moscow were both gifted a share of the points by Liverpool in Group E's previous matchdays, and having created so much but converted so little recently, Maribor will be hoping the visitors don't finally click at their expense.

Next article:
Booed PSG boss Emery: We wanted to give confidence to our fans
Next article:
MLS transfer news: The latest rumors and trades in Major League Soccer
Next article:
Transfer news & rumours LIVE: Madrid to offer £100m plus Bale for Hazard
Next article:
Cavani hails 'good reaction' as PSG bounce back in style after Madrid defeat
Next article:
Gabriel Jesus' friends & family denied re-entry to UK over visa issues
Close