Red Star Belgrade v Liverpool: The Champions League Preview | The Anfield Wrap

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WE take the name of our opponents for granted. A touch of context is all we require.

Red Star Belgrade have been a background presence in my European football consciousness since as long as I can recall. But I’ve never once paused for thought to consider their name. Why they are dubbed so. I think we — the Cold War kids — used to just intuitively take the name of many east European sides in our stride.

The CSKAs, the Dynamos, the Spartans, the Partisans, the Red Stars. That half of Europe, our Europe, was bathed in a red. A red that we knew to fear, not admire.

Did you know that Red Star Belgrade were formed in 1945? Hewn from the ashes of the greatest conflagration in human history. Intrinsically a product of a nation — Yugoslavia’s — post-war reconstruction.

Communist leader Tito was able to keep Moscow at bay and his fledgling nation fiercely independent, while all around them in the Balkans were Soviet vassals, because he was able to fuse his communism with Yugoslavian nationalism. And Red Star Belgrade were his boys. They were the future.

Did you know that in a recent poll, 48.2 per cent of Serbia declared for Red Star Belgrade? That’s a lot of buy in for one team for one people. Red Star, I now know, were formed by members of the Serbian Anti-Fascist League Youth Movement.

Feverish debate around their naming, had seen some members pitch for “Lenin” and “Stalin” as names for the new sports team. Just think about that. We could’ve been matched up in the group stage of the 2018-19 Champions League with Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Stalin.

“Big night for Liverpool in Belgrade as they take on the tricky Stalin.”

The good Reds against the bad ones.

There’s something so very retro about this fixture, then. Something romantic. I’m wondering if Jürgen Klopp will be channelling Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, and getting luggage filled with baked beans and tinned meat, lest the commies try and poison his lads.

Napoli, who did for us a month ago, couldn’t beat Red Star on their own patch. The Serbian’s have looked to be barely fit for purpose on their travels, losing 6-1 in Paris and 4-0 in Liverpool. But legend has it that, at home, they’re a bit livelier. Which is no good to us right now as, whisper it, but if we don’t win in Belgrade, there’s a big chance we won’t see the knockout phase of this year’s Champions League competition.

Part of me feels we’re being too calm about this game. It’s as must win as it gets in the group stage (well, almost). If we fail, we will find ourselves needing to do something momentous against much tougher opposition in the last two games. And, let’s be honest, Liverpool aren’t yet playing well enough for us to be taking the possibility of momentous for granted.

The battle with Arsenal on Saturday will have drained legs further and Klopp will look to freshen things. Perhaps this is one to bring back Dejan Lovren for. Setting aside the teeth gritting context of a Croatian looking to deliver a blow to Serbian heroes, there’s the tactical option of securing the right-hand side better by moving Joe Gomez into Trent Alexander-Arnold’s berth.

Further forward, the Liverpool manager’s alternatives are limited by the diplomatic exclusion of Xherdan Shaqiri from the squad (yet another subplot with political overtones). Additionally, it seems unlikely that either Naby Keita or Jordan Henderson will have recovered sufficiently from recent knocks to be considered. That leaves Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana as the only midfield or attacking reinforcements available to Klopp.

At least this trip feels like some respite from trying to chase down Manchester City’s relentlessness in the league. I’m in the mood for some vintage Liverpool against “crack” east Europeans.

Up the red army.

Predicted 11: Alisson; Gomez, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Milner, Lallana; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Kick off: 5.55pm, Tuesday

Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain)

Odds: Red Star Belgrade 12-1, Draw 25-4, Liverpool 2-9

For more buildup to the Red Star game, and extensive reaction in the immediate aftermath, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player…

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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo

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