The dust has barely settled on the carnage of last season and the glamour of the World Cup and already the first game of Liverpool’s new season is almost upon us. On July 29th Liverpool will play the first leg of their Europa Cup qualifying tie against FK Rabotnicki of Macedonia.
|Landmarks of Skopje|
After a look at Wikipedia I can confirm that FK Rabotnicki were formed in 1937 and a member of the Macedonian Premier League since Macedonia became an independent country. They made it to the third qualifying round of the Europa League last year. If they were to beat Liverpool it would be some achievement as they have never gone further than the third round in a European campaign. The first team squad appears to be made up of Macedonians and Brazilians, and one Croatian. They play in Skopje, which is the capital of Macedonia and is famous for being an important town in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. At various points in history Skopje was destroyed by three earthquakes and the plague. The town’s population of Macedonian Jews was deported to Treblinka in 1943.
While we may not know much about FK Rabotnicki, Liverpool will also have an unusual look to their side that takes the field next Thursday. With many players not yet returning for pre-season training following their World Cup exertions, plus the comings and goings that accompany any change of manager Liverpool’s first competitive game probably won’t give many clues for the season ahead. Roy Hodgson has discounted using most of his senior players on the advice of the “sports scientists” so some of the younger players who make up the squad at the training camp in Switzerland can expect to play. Hodgson today stated that Sotirios Kyrgiakos will play the next warm-up in the centre of defence and expects to pick his new Serbian striker Milan Jovanovic. If all goes well they are in line to play on the 29th. Other senior starters will probably be (the great!) Lucas Leiva, Alberto Aquilani (providing he recovers from another injury) and David N’Gog. Phillip Degen has been told he can find a new club so he won’t play. This leaves vacant spots at right back, left back, one in central defence and two or three midfielders depending on what formation he decides to play. I would expect Diego Cavalieri to play in goal and Daniel Sanchez Ayala to build on his man-of-the-match performance against Grasshoppers and continue at centre-half alongside Kyrgiakos. The rest of the defence will probably be Martin Kelly and Stephen Darby in the full-back positions. The midfield may include David Amoo and Nathan Ecclestone although there may be a place for Thomas Ince.
|The most interesting quotes from Hodgson have alluded to the fact that it might not be such a bad thing if Liverpool don’t go through to the next rounds of the Europa League this year. Hodgson is quite rightly placing the Premier League at the top of his priority list and with this in mind he is not going to play many of the senior players in this game. The Europa League is a competition that Liverpool should enter with the intention of winning. As the top seeded team they should expect to make it to the final at the very least. But whether they want to is another matter. It will be hard to get excited about away games in Macedonia when in previous years they have enjoyed the comfort and glamour of the San Siro and the Bernabeu.|
I would hope that who ever Roy picks for his first game of his first season as Liverpool manager would give their all and want to win this game. After talking about the “disenchantment” that surrounded Liverpool after last season’s dismal performances maybe some of the young players getting a chance to make a name for themselves in this game would be good. After the departures of Albert Reira and Javier Mascherano, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the disenchantment went with them.