Verdict: Away win by two or more goals
Best odds: 10/11
They may have hoped to qualify for the Champions League as their previously woeful results picked up towards the end of last season, but it was too late and Liverpool will play in the Europa League this term instead. Their journey in the competition begins with a trip to Linz, Austria, where there they will face LASK in the opening round on Thursday.
In the Austrian football landscape, the Red Bull Salzburg team continues to be the dominant force, leaving Sturm Graz and LASK to compete for the title of ‘best of the rest.’ LASK fell short in that race in 2023/24, and it was Sturm who advanced into the Champions League qualifications.
LASK entered the preliminary rounds of the Europa League, where they faced Bosnian team Zrinjski, defeating them 3-2 to secure a spot in the group stages for the third time in their history.
LASK, who have only recently started making an impact in European football, reached the last-16 stage in their Europa League debut in 2019-20 but suffered defeat to Manchester United. In the following year, they couldn’t progress beyond the group stage. Their attempt at Europa Conference League glory in 2021/22 also ended in an early exit at the hands of Slavia Prague.
Considering their current form, LASK may believe they have a chance to outperform some of their Group E rivals, which include Toulouse and Union SG. Securing the second-place spot in the group guarantees a spot in the knockout round play-offs, which wouldn’t be a bad result for this team, unbeaten in their previous seven matches.
On Saturday, Thomas Sageder’s team secured their third consecutive win with a 3-1 victory against Austria Klagenfurt. They have also won each of their last four matches at the Raiffeisen Arena, scoring two goals in each game and conceding just one goal in the process.
Sadeger is facing a significant shortage of players due to injuries for the Europa League group stage. Several key men, including Tobias Anselm, Yannis Letard, and Adil Taoui, are all sidelined with ACL problems.
Winger Lenny Pintor is also unavailable due to a muscular issue, and Keito Nakamura, who had an impressive 17-goal season in 2022/23, departed to join Stade de Reims in France.
One of the notable summer signings for LASK was the loan of Ebrima Darboe from AS Roma, who had previously won the Europa Conference League in the 2021/22 season with his parent club. However, he has only featured in one game for the LASK reserve side due to fitness concerns and is unlikely to start in the upcoming match.
LASK may have a strong record when playing at home, but they will face a significant challenge on Thursday. Liverpool’s impressive six-year streak of successive Champions League qualifications came to an end in the 2022/23 season when they were consigned to the Europa League by Unai Emery’s Aston Villa in a 1-1 draw, effectively ending their slim hopes of a top-four finish in May.
The six-time Champions League winners had been a regular presence in the Europa League between 2010 and 2016, even reaching the final in 2016 but losing to Sevilla. Their fortunes obviously turned with the arrival of Jurgen Klopp at the helm and, they are currently considered the bookmakers’ favorite to win the Europa League and lift the trophy at the Aviva Stadium at the end of the season.
Liverpool extended their winning streak to four matches over the weekend by coming from behind to triumph away to Wolverhampton Wanderers by 1-3, solidifying their position in third place in the Premier League. Having gone down to a Hwang Hee-chan opener in the first half, they responded magnificently through Cody Gakpo, Andy Robertson, and what was eventually given as an own-goal by Hugo Bueno, as the Wolves defender deflected a shot by Harvey Elliott into his own net.
The Merseysiders are on an impressive 16-match unbeaten streak in competitive fixtures as they strive for a return to the Champions League, either through a top-four finish or by winning the Europa League, which would add another continental honor to their rich collection.
Captain Virgil van Dijk is now available for selection after serving a two-game domestic suspension. However, his first deputy Trent Alexander-Arnold is still dealing with a hamstring issue and may not be fit in time for the trip to Austria. Midfielder Thiago Alcantara has experienced a setback in his recovery from a hip problem, and he is also expected to miss the upcoming match.
In Alexander-Arnold’s absence, Joe Gomez is likely to take on his duties on the right defensive flank, with young Jarell Quansah possibly keeping his place beside Joel Matip for this game, ahead of Ibrahima Konate.
Klopp is expected to wring changes to his lineup. He may consider giving summer signing Ryan Gravenberch his first start, as well as talented young winger Ben Doak, with the possible need to manage the fitness of Mohamed Salah in mind.
While LASK and Liverpool have never faced each other in competitive matches before, LASK Linz has only managed to avoid defeat in one of their previous four meetings with English teams. They held Tottenham Hotspur to an exciting 3-3 draw at home during the 2020-21 group phase.
Leaving history aside, there probably isn’t too much realistic hope for the home side to avoid defeat against this kind of opposition. Even if he rests some of his key players, Klopp will surely want them on the bench, just in case there’s any doubt about the outcome after an hour.
Verdict: Away win by two or more goals
Best odds: 10/11
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!