Nicknamed the Romantics, even the most whimsical Rabotnicki fan will not believe that the Macedonian top flight outfit stand a great chance of eliminating Liverpool from the Europa League in the third qualifying round.
Only twice in the club’s history have they made it to the first round proper of continental competition, with the likes of Inter Baku and Odense having knocked them out in recent seasons. Ironically, the last time they did reach the main event, they were drawn immediately against another Premier League side, Bolton Wanderers, and were swiftly dismissed.
When Rabotnicki met the Trotters back in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup, they certainly did not prove to be whipping boys, going out only 2-1 on aggregate, and the second placed side in last season’s Makedonska Prva Liga will be aiming to come out of the biggest European tie in their history with similar credit.
The Skopje outfit, who have a strong Brazilian influence in their ranks, will hope to take advantage of a partisan home crowd, a sultry Macedonian summer evening and their visitors’ relative lack of match practice to cause an upset in this fixture.
New Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson showed last season that he will not treat the Europa League with total contempt, steering Fulham famously to the final of the competition, where they were narrowly edged out by a Diego Forlan-inspired Atletico Madrid. In charge of his first competitive game with the Reds, he will want his men to lay down a marker for the remainder of the season.
Hodgson, however, is still trying to get his squad to settle down at present. The Englishman is battling rumours that suggest Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano could be on their way out of Anfield, while he is also trying to plot a successful course towards new additions. Throw in the disruption the World Cup has caused the Pool’s pre-season preparations and suddenly this encounter does not look nearly so straightforward.
Additionally, pre-season has been something of a non-event for the Reds thus far. Only two friendlies have been played, and they have yet to score a goal, losing 1-0 to Kaiserslautern last Saturday, three days after being held by Grasshopper.
With cash seemingly at a premium at the Merseyside club, any opportunity to progress deep into profitable competitions will be considered a priority, but finishing in the top four in the Premier League will be Liverpool’s primary objective this season. There are still a couple of weeks before their domestic season kicks off, allowing Hodgson to examine his players fully in an encounter they could be stretched a little in.