It’s that time of the week again as domestic football takes a back seat, and the hallowed turfs of English clubs welcome visitors from far and wide. On Thursday, it is the turn of Toulouse – as they head to Liverpool’s infamous Anfield.
Liverpool are a side in fine form on the continent at the moment, winning both of their opening games in the UEFA Europa League – and they’ll be hoping to make it a hat trick of wins in Europe tonight at the expense of the visitors from South France.
Speaking in his press conference on Wednesday, Jurgen Klopp suggested changes are afoot for the European encounter, following their Merseyside Derby victory over Everton on the weekend. Thiago, Bajcetic and Robertson are certainly not available for squad selection – however, Ben Doak, along with Cody Gakpo and Curtis Jones, could be available for selection this evening.
But we know enough about Liverpool and their recent European exploits – so let’s touch on Toulouse, with the help of two club experts. Both well-respected journalists in France, Corentin Dévé and Erwan Harzic have offered their thoughts on Thursday’s clash.Embed from Getty Images
How excited are the Toulouse fans about the trip to Anfield?
‘It’s a historic match,’ insists Harzic. ‘It recalls the great history of Toulouse FC and the clash between the two teams in the Champions League qualifying phase more than 15 years ago. For Liverpool fans, it probably doesn’t remind them of anything – but in Toulouse, it’s one of the two greatest matches in the city’s history, alongside the victory against Maradona’s Napoli in 1986. I think that No other meeting in the world could excite Toulouse supporters so much. Moreover, the president of Toulouse FC is the former Sporting Director of Liverpool.’
It’s a view echoed by Dévé, as he adds that ‘when fans watched the draw, many were hoping for a big team. It’s already an achievement that Toulouse is playing in the Champions League, so we might as well experience great matches. In addition, Toulouse already faced Liverpool in 2007 – and despite the defeat, it remains a great memory in the memory of the supporters. So coming back to Anfield is a privilege, and all the supporters who are coming are looking forward to it, and the others will be singing all over the city.’
How would you describe the travelling fans?
‘First of all, it must be remembered that Toulouse, and the South-West of France in general, are not football regions. Here, rugby dominates the debate,’ Harzic explains. ‘Toulouse FC play very good football and the Stadium is filling up more and more every year. Obviously, the victory in the Coupe de France last year helps a lot, but there is a real hard core of football supporters in Toulouse. Every match, they create a crazy atmosphere in the stadium and they are the ones who will make the trip to Liverpool.’
‘Above all, the Toulouse fanbase has a special history with the European Cup. In 2009, a Toulouse FC supporter and member of the ‘Tolosa Indians’ was beaten and killed by Partizan Belgrade supporters while drinking a beer in town before the match,’ he adds. ‘This event shocked the entire city and even today, the Toulouse fanbase aims to pay him the best tribute possible at each match. Several supporter songs talk about him. His name was Brice Taton and one of the corners of the Toulouse Stadium bears his name today.’
‘The Toulouse fans are very, very good. There were a few difficult years, with less good results and a descent to Ligue 2, in a rather empty stadium. But these two seasons in Ligue 2 allowed the club to reconnect with its supporters. Since then, the atmosphere at the Stadium has always been great, with the Brice corner full for every match. With the victory in the Coupe de France and therefore qualification for the Europa League, it’s even better,’ adds Dévé.Embed from Getty Images
What should Liverpool expect from Toulouse in terms of playing style?
Harzic explains that ‘Toulouse FC are a team that like to have the ball. The defenders are good restarters, and the full-backs are focused above all on keeping the ball, more than on the offensive aspect. In the middle, there are very different profiles with a relay midfielder, a defensive midfielder and an attacking midfielder, all profiles are represented. In attack, it’s a little more complicated, we lost some good players in the last transfer window. The main striker, Thijs Dallinga, is good with his back to goal and can also come down to help the midfield. However, he has not scored much at the start of the season. The other star striker is Zakaria Aboukhlal, he is a Moroccan international who played in the World Cup. It was he who scored the second goal in Morocco’s victory against Belgium. However, Aboukhlal is injured. Toulouse has great difficulty replacing him in attack – and keeps the ball without managing to score.’
With this in mind, Dévé adds that he thinks ‘Toulouse will play a little more defensive than usual. This match at Liverpool is a bonus, they know they are not favorites, and Ligue 1 is important, with a big match on Sunday.’
What can you tell us about the manager?
Harzic goes on to add that ‘Carles Martinez Novell has just arrived in Toulouse. He still has a little trouble applying his style of play, but the team is doing well despite everything. Fortunately, Toulouse were already playing with a somewhat Spanish playing identity, seeking to have possession. It helped him get integrated, but he lacks impact on matches. His changes have rarely been decisive since the start of the season.’
Key players to watch?
Dévé speaks positively of Toulouse’s young goalkeeper, Guillaume Restes. ‘He was promoted to number one this season, and is having a very good start to Ligue 1. He was even called up by Thierry Henry with the France Espoirs team, and is a starter – a great proof of his talent. He risks being challenged quite a bit and can cope in a very big match.’
‘And then there is of course Dallinga in attack, who is a player that I really like. He didn’t score much at the start of the season, but is coming back well. He has good finishing and knows how to be in the right place at the right time. In a rather defensive match for Toulouse, where the attacks will be fewer, he can be discreet but crucial in front of the opposing goal.’
Finally, what are your predictions for the game?
Harzic is optimistic that Toulouse can muster a result at Anfield, expressing that ‘I think Toulouse FC will lose 3-1, but playing beautiful football! At Anfield, Liverpool fans will surely be happy, because they will have won and because they will have seen a great match. I hope they will keep good memories of Toulouse FC.’
Déve is perhaps a little more optimistic, added that his ‘heart sees a 1-1 draw. But in reality, I still see a victory for Liverpool. On the other hand, I think Toulouse will score at least one goal!’