Liverpool’s Champions League group stage campaign comes to an end on Wednesday evening when they face FC Midtjylland in their final Group D match at the Arena Herning.
The six-time winners have already secured their place in the last 16 as group winners with a game to spare, whereas Midtjylland will finish bottom of the group regardless of what happens on matchday six.
A sense of normality is beginning to resume for Liverpool, who returned to winning ways in the Premier League on Saturday in a match which also saw the return of a couple of injured players and 2,000 fans to Anfield.
Those lucky enough to get tickets were treated to the champions’ biggest win of the season as they swept Wolverhampton Wanderers aside in style, keeping pace with Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the pile.
Sitting at the top of their Champions League group is also beginning to become normal for Liverpool now, with their 1-0 triumph over Ajax on matchday five ensuring that they will win their group for the third time in the last four years.
With Midtjylland also unable to finish any higher or lower than their current position of fourth, Wednesday’s match is effectively a dead-rubber – something Jurgen Klopp will no doubt welcome given the relentless schedule and injury problems he has had to contend with recently.
Rotation is expected, but whichever XI takes to the field will still be desperate to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first team to ever lose to Midtjylland in the Champions League proper.
There are still plenty of motivating factors beyond that too, not least the fact that this Liverpool team could become the first one to win as many as five of their six group games in the club’s Champions League history.
History bodes well for them having won their final group game in each of their last three campaigns by a 10-0 aggregate scoreline, and if they continue that trend on Wednesday then they would also become only the third English club to win all three of their away Champions League group games without conceding a goal.
Victories at Ajax and Atalanta BC so far in Group D mean that Liverpool could also win three consecutive European Cup or Champions League away games for the first time since September 1984 – a remarkable statistic considering they have lifted the trophy twice and reached three more finals in that time.
Even so, Liverpool know that they can afford to focus fully on Premier League duties for the rest of the year now, and Midtjylland may therefore sense an opportunity to catch their illustrious visitors cold.
While Brian Priske’s side cannot even salvage Europa League football after Christmas and are consigned to finish bottom of Group D, their motivation will be claiming a major scalp in Liverpool – a result which would rival their 2015-16 win over Manchester United as one of the greatest in their history.
The Danish champions lost their opening four games of the group, but finally picked up their first ever Champions League point by drawing away to Atalanta on matchday five.
That result also helped Liverpool to wrap up top spot with a game to spare, and the English champions will be wary of a side that made things difficult for them in the reverse fixture at Anfield.
On the domestic front Midtjylland have overcome a slow start to the season to now lose only one of their last 10 Superliga games, rising to the top of the table as a result.
A 2-0 triumph at Vejle on Saturday ended a three-game winless streak across all competitions, but at home they have only won one of their last four – including defeats in both Champions League group games.
Even so, the hosts will go into Wednesday’s game with nothing to lose and, up against what is sure to be a much-changed Liverpool side, they might just fancy their chances of ending their campaign on a high.
FC Midtjylland Champions League form: LLLLD
FC Midtjylland form (all competitions): WWLDDW
Liverpool Champions League form: WWWLW
Liverpool form (all competitions): DWLDWW
Klopp is expected to ring the changes for this dead rubber, with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane among those in line for a rest.
Diogo Jota was surprisingly left out of the starting lineup for the win over his former club Wolves, suggesting that he will start in Denmark having scored four Champions League goals already this season – including the opener in the reverse fixture.
Liverpool’s ability to rotate is still hampered somewhat by a lengthy injury list which includes the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Alisson Becker, Thiago Alcantara, James Milner, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The latter is close to returning from a knee injury which has kept him sidelined for the entire season so far and, if possible, Klopp may view Wednesday’s game as a perfect opportunity to hand him some minutes from the bench, but it may come just too soon.
Alisson is also not far away from a return but will not be risked here, with new number two Caoimhin Kelleher having kept back-to-back clean sheets in his two games filling in.
Liverpool’s injury problems mean that Klopp has had to use Andrew Robertson and Georginio Wijnaldum even more than he would have liked this season, and so both could be due for well-earned rests after starring at the weekend.
Fabinho may also drop out, with the likes of Kostas Tsimikas, Rhys Williams, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino among the fringe players hoping for a chance.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita may start as they continue their recoveries from injury having both come off the bench at the weekend, while young centre-back Billy Koumetio could also be involved.
Midtjylland, meanwhile, have a clean bill of health as they welcome Liverpool to Denmark.
Pione Sisto is set to start having scored five times already this season, while former Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Anders Dreyer is not far behind in the goalscoring stakes.
FC Midtjylland possible starting lineup:
Hansen; Cools, Sviatchenko, Scholz, Paulinho; Anderson, Sisto, Oneyka; Dreyer, Kaba, Mabil
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold, R Williams, Koumetio, Tsimikas; Jones, Henderson, Keita; Jota, Minamino, Origi
We say: FC Midtjylland 0-2 Liverpool
Liverpool’s win in the reverse fixture at Anfield was far from plain-sailing and, with so many changes expected from Klopp for this match, on paper it looks like an even tougher test.
At one stage it looked as though this game might take place in Dortmund so Midtjylland will be delighted to be able to welcome such illustrious visitors to Denmark, but we are not expecting them to come away from this match with anything as they too begin to focus on bigger priorities elsewhere
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