After defeat at home to Udinese in their last Europa League match Liverpool could do with a positive result when Russian League leaders Anzhi Makhachkala travel to Anfield on Thursday (8.05pm BST).
Poor defending cost Liverpool against Udinese. A 1-0 lead at half-time became a 3-1 deficit by the 72nd minute. Despite Luis Suarez’s lovely free-kick reducing the difference to one, Liverpool were unable to muster an equaliser in the remaining time. That result left the Reds with much to do in their remaining Europa League matches.
This game marks the start of a double header against Anzhi that could be make or break for their chances of reaching the knockout stages. Anzhi and Udinese currently lead the group on four points apiece, with Liverpool a point further back in third.
Swiss side Young Boys are pointless at the bottom of the group. If Udinese score well in their double header with Young Boys and Liverpool are unable to do similar against Anzhi then a group stage elimination looks likely.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers has filled his Europa League sides with a mix of youth and experience, hoping to strike a balance that allows him to rest key players while keeping the team competitive. With the Merseyside derby against Everton coming up at the weekend, he is unlikely to risk many genuine first team players against Anzhi.
The younger players who are selected in his starting eleven on Thursday will be highly motivated having witnessed the ascent of three youngsters into Rogers’ Premier League team following strong displays in the Europa League.
Raheem Sterling impressed with his performances in the qualifying rounds of the competition and has started seven of Liverpool’s eight league matches to date, while Suso and Andre Wisdom have each started three of the club’s four league matches following the 5-3 win away to Young Boys that kicked off the group stage.
The 20-year old midfielder Jonjo Shelvey has also taken well to the Europa League, scoring twice in the win over Young Boys and once more in defeat to Udinese. He made his full England debut off the bench in the recent 5-0 win over San Marino and is knocking on the door of Liverpool’s first choice three-man midfield.
Despite being marshalled by the vastly experienced Jamie Carragher, Liverpool’s defence has been less impressive in their Europa League encounters to date. Six goals conceded in two matches speaks of numerous deficiencies that could well be cruelly exposed by an Anzhi side that features former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o among its ranks.
Eto’o is the most expensive of a number of highly-priced imports bankrolled by Dagestani businessman Suleyman Kerimov, who hopes to improve the image of the violence-plagued region through its football team. The likes of Jucilei, Yuri Zhirkov, Christopher Samba and Lassana Diarra have joined Eto’o in Makhachkala, where they are coached by the well respected Dutchman Guus Hiddink.
After a patchy 2011/12 campaign, things have clicked for Anzhi this season. They currently lead the way in the Russian league, two points clear of CSKA Moscow, and are on a run of 13 matches undefeated in all competitions, 10 of which have been victories. During this run they have conceded just nine times (0.69 per match on average).
In attack, Eto’o leads the way with 14 goals from 20 appearances in all competitions; the giant (203 cm) 22-year old Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore is not far behind with nine goals in 16 since his €18 million move from Kuban Krasnodar. Behind them, Mbark Boussoufa – another expensively procured, at €6.5 million from Anderlecht – leads the Russian league in assists, with eight from 11 starts.
Anzhi’s good form has extended to the Europa League, where a 1-1 draw away to Udinese was followed by a 2-0 home win over Young Boys, with Eto’o scoring both goals. Hiddink has sent out strong teams on both occasions and is likely to do so again for the visit to Anfield, although former Chelsea and Portsmouth midfielder Diarra will miss out through injury.
Liverpool vs Anzhi Makhachkala Betting Tips Advice
Liverpool are best at 13/10 (Bet365, Blue Square, Pinnacle) to win on Thursday, but Anzhi are in excellent form and with a near first-choice eleven are likely to have too much for an under-strength home side.
- Therefore, back Anzhi to win @ best odds of 12/5 with Boylesports.
- Eto’o is in fine nick and on the back of two goals in his last Europa League outing can be expected to be among the scorers against a Liverpool defence that has proved porous in this competition so far. Therefore, back Samuel Eto’o to score at anytime @ 13/8 with Ladbrokes.