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Champions League Preview: Liverpool's Congested Fixture List

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With just over a week to go until Liverpool kick off their Champions League campaign, we take a look at just how much more congested their fixture list is about to get now that they have six extra matches over the next three months.

"I like this trophy. It looks like it would hurt less if you fell on it than the World Series trophy."
"I like this trophy. It looks like it would hurt less if you fell on it than the World Series trophy."
Liverpool FC
Match Day 1 Saturday, September 13 — Home to Aston Villa (Premier League)
Tuesday, September 16 — Home to Ludogorets (Champions League)
Saturday, September 20 — Away to West Ham United(Premier League)

Liverpool kick off their Champions League campaign with arguably the easiest match they'll have when Ludogorets visit Anfield. Home field advantage versus the obvious underdogs of the group is about as good a draw as you could hope for in wanting to start the group stage with a strong result, and matches on either side of the mid-week game versus sides that finished in the lower half of the Premier League table last season help ensure this isn't too burdensome a stretch. Hammers gonna Hammer, but Liverpool will want to make sure they stay focused during the Villa match and not get too ahead of themselves thinking about their first Champions League match in years.

Match Day 2 Tuesday, September 23 — Home to Middlesbrough (League Cup)
Saturday, September 27 — Home to Everton (Premier League)
Wednesday, October 1 — Away to Basel (Champions League)
Saturday, October 4 — Home to West Bromwich Albion (Premier League)

Though the League Cup tie versus Middlesbrough is closer to the previous run of matches, it's placement in the fixture list just prior to the Merseyside derby might give Brendan Rodgers momentary pause. The manager is expected to run out fringe players and the kids for early round cup ties, but he also wants to win a trophy this year and the League Cup is a quick and dirty way of doing just that. The annual visit from Everton is certainly bound to feature a full strength squad for Liverpool, and Rodgers will want to carefully manage his star players' playing time ahead of his club's first competitive match on the continent in five years. The subsequent home match versus the true Baggies should be a relief after the earlier crush of games.

Match Day 3 Sunday, October 19 — Away to Queens Park Rangers (Premier League)
Wednesday, October 22 — Home to Real Madrid (Champions League)
Saturday, October 25 — Home to Hull City (Premier League)

This is the big one. Real Madrid at Anfield in Champions League is the stuff sales pitches to potential transfers are made of, and sandwiched between an away match to a newly promoted team and a home match versus a team that finished sixteenth last year, Brendan Rodgers can focus on this one pretty single mindedly. Hull had an intriguing transfer window that could make the match more interesting, but it's hard to see Rodgers doing anything but throwing everything they've got at Real Madrid and letting everything else fall by the wayside that week.

Should Liverpool beat Middlesbrough in the League Cup in September, they'll play the next round of the competition in the week following the Hull game.

Match Day 4 Saturday, November 1 — Away to Newcastle (Premier League)
Tuesday, November 4 — Away to Real Madrid (Champions League)
Saturday, November 8 — Home to Chelsea (Premier League)

Probably Liverpool's most hideous stretch of matches during a Champions League week, an away match at St James' Park wouldn't be so terrible if it wasn't followed immediately by a trip to the Bernabeu and a visit from Jose Mourinho's merry band of highly paid stars. There's something to be said for having the squad depth to rotate, and there's something to be said for having players capable of playing three matches in a week if necessary, and on the evening of November 8 we'll find out if those things to be said are positive or negative. But hopefully positive.

Match Day 5 Sunday, November 23 — Away to Crystal Palace (Premier League)
Wednesday, November 26 — Away to Ludogorets (Champions League)
Saturday, November 29 — Home to Stoke City (Premier League)

File under potentially tricky yet least exciting fixtures on this list. Crystal Palace away last year was a disaster we don't need to revisit; Ludogorets away is a match in which Liverpool can manage at least a draw; and Stoke is Stoke and therefore terrible even if it's at Anfield. There's lots of potential for complacency here without high profile opponents to keep players sharp, and as a result there's a huge potential for disaster to befall the Reds if they don't maximize their results.

Match Day 6 Saturday, December 6 — Home to Sunderland (Premier League)
Tuesday, December 9 — Home to Basel (Champions League)
Saturday, December 13 — Away to Manchester United (Premier League)

Liverpool's last Champions League fixture falls smack dab in the middle of two seemingly manageable fixtures. Sunderland at home is exactly the type of match Liverpool should be winning, and although it's tough to imagine where Manchester United might be come December given Louis van Gaal's inauspicious start to the season, the post-SAF world has become a cruel place for the Red Devils and quality teams that have struggled at Old Trafford in the past now have all three points on their minds when visiting the Theatre of Nightmares.

Should Liverpool beat Middlesbrough and their opponent in the fourth round of the League Cup, there will be a League Cup match in the week following the Man United game.

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Tomorrow we'll take a look at some key match-ups in the equivalent fixture lists of Liverpool's group stage opponents to see where their priorities might lie in relation to facing the Reds.