Liverpool travel to Moscow to face Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday (5pm GMT, live on ITV4) looking to consolidate their position at the top of their Europa League group.
The Reds have recorded two wins and one defeat from their first three matches of the group stage and currently lead the way on six points, two clear of Anzhi and Udinese and a further point ahead of Switzerland’s Young Boys.
Brendan Rodgers’ side triumphed when they welcomed Anzhi to Anfield two weeks ago, a superb strike from Stewart Downing enough to separate the sides in a match that Liverpool could well have won by a greater margin.
The result was, however, one of just two victories in Liverpool’s last seven matches in all competitions. They are winless in their last three and were grateful for a moment of magic from Luis Suarez to secure a point in a 1-1 draw at home to Newcastle at the weekend.
Liverpool are currently 12th in Premier League, a position that Rodgers knows is unacceptable for a club of Liverpool’s stature. Keen to avoid injuries that could further hamper their prospects, he looks set to leave Suarez and Steven Gerrard at home rather than risk them in Thursday’s match.
A victory away to Anzhi would all but confirm Liverpool’s place in the knockout stages, but Rodgers clearly does not want to risk injuries to his key players, especially Suarez, for whom he has little cover. Suarez’s absence could see Germany U19 international Samed Yesil given another opportunity to impress, although Adam Morgan will also be pushing for a starting berth.
Rodgers is likely to persevere with a number of the players who have received good playing time in the Europa League so far this season, including the likes of Downing, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey and Sebastian Coates. Oussama Assaidi has impressed with his speed and trickery, although the lack of quality in his final ball has seen him fail to trouble the Premier League starting eleven.
In contrast to Rodgers, Anzhi coach Guus Hiddink has employed near first-choice sides in the Europa League, yielding the benefits with comfortable qualifying round victories over Honved, Vitesse and AZ. Four points from the opening three group stage matches is a decent return, but Hiddink was frustrated by the manner of the defeat to Liverpool two weeks ago and will be keen to make amends in the return match.
Anzhi performed poorly at Anfield, struggling to string more than a couple of passes together for much of the first half and rarely managing to supply star man Samuel Eto’o with any more than scraps. A more defensive formation did not seem to suit Hiddink’s charges and he is likely to partner Eto’o with the giant (203cm) Ivorian striker Lacina Traore on Thursday.
The return of Brazilian midfielder Jucilei will bring a little more energy and invention to the centre of the park, while Hiddink will also hope to get more from Mbark Boussoufa, who leads the Russian league in assists but was largely anonymous at Anfield. Former Chelsea and Portsmouth midfielder Lassana Diarra again looks likely to miss out through injury.
Anzhi have a formidable record at home so far this season, winning 12 out of 13 and drawing the other. In the Russian league their home matches are played in Machachkala. But UEFA have prevented them playing European matches in the violence-plagued region and home Europa League ties are therefore staged in the Stadion Lokomotiv in Moscow. They defeated Young Boys 2-0 in their only group stage home match to date.
Defeat at Anfield was followed by another loss away to Rubin Kazan in Anzhi’s next match but they have since recorded two straight victories, including a 3-1 win over Terek Grozny on Sunday. They are currently second in the Russian League, just a point shy of leaders CSKA Moscow as the season reaches its half-way point.
Anzhi Makhachkala v Liverpool Betting Tips Advice
Anzhi played poorly in the first match between the sides, but will take a more attack minded approach this time around, providing Eto’o with the necessary support to offer a more consistent threat to the Liverpool defence.
With home advantage on their side and against a Liverpool team likely to be weakened by the absence of two key players, Anzhi can be expected to emerge victorious on Thursday.