Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is likely to rest a few first team regulars for the visit of Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, with the short trip across town to play rivals Everton scheduled for this weekend. However, the former Swansea City manager will be aware he faces a dangerous opponent in the Russians, who are on a four-match winning streak and lead the Russian Premier League. The last time they lost was back in August - a 0-1 defeat to CSKA Moscow.
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The Reds continue to struggle, both domestically and in Europe, as new manager Rodgers looks to revive the Anfield club's fortunes with limited financial support. The visit of Anzhi takes on added significance for Steven Gerrard and his men because of the defeat in the previous UEFA Europa League group stage game - a 2-3 home loss to Italian club Udinese.
Indeed, this could be a pivotal round of matches in Group A, with Anzhi on four points and the Reds and Udinese on three each. The Italians travel to Switzerland to play BSC Young Boys and should, as they will be expected to, return with all three points, the back-to-back games against the Russians almost become must-wins for Liverpool. Certainly, they cannot afford to lose either game, considering Young Boys must next travel to Italy to play Udinese.
Liverpool will be buoyed, however, by the fact they have just won their first home game, in the Premier League, this season. Teenage sensation Raheem Sterling's first ever goal for the club gave them a 1-0 win over newly promoted Reading on Saturday and Rodgers was justifiably pleased with the youngster's contribution, as was captain Gerrard.
The question now is... can the team carry forward that success and mental boost?
In Anzhi, Rodgers faces one threat in particular - Champions League-winning Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o. The 31 year old is still as prolific a goal scorer as his Barcelona and Inter Milan days and has 14 goals in 19 appearances this season. More pertinently, he has seven goals in eight European games, meaning the Reds will have to work overtime to keep the African star out.
The Russians, meanwhile, come into this game on the back of a stunning run of form. The club have won their last four games, across all competitions, and are unbeaten in their last 12. In that period, they have scored 28 goals and conceded only 10 times.
Liverpool are certainly higher calibre opponents than they regularly face in the Russian league but Rodgers would do well to treat Anzhi with the utmost respect.
"Anzhi are a strong unit, a big team as in big players. We have swapped and changed things around in Europe before this season but we are looking at this as a very important and hard game, and will probably go a bit stronger than we have done before. We are at home and we put the onus on ourselves to win against tough opposition," the Reds' assistant manager Colin Pascoe explained.
- Last Five (most recent first): W D L W W
- Last Match: Liverpool 1 - 0 Reading
- Last Five (most recent first): W W W W W
- Last Match: Anzhi Makhachkala 2 - 1 Spartak Moscow
Liverpool: Rodgers has taken to resting key players for Europa League games this season but considering that backfired against the Italians and he faces tough opposition in Anzhi, expect the Northern Irishman to field a strong team.
Gerrard and Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez are therefore likely to start; the latter because the club still has no other recognised senior striker in their ranks. However, the Reds' goal scoring hero from the weekend, Sterling, is likely to be given a break, as he continues to get used to the physical demands of top-flight football. Turkish midfielder Nuri Sahin may be given a game and Welshman Joe Allen rested for the trip to Everton. Also expect fringe players Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson to get starting berths.
The big blow will be the absence of Spanish international goalkeeper Pepe Reina, Italian striker Fabio Borini and defender Martin Kelly. This means Australian Brad Jones continues in goal and youngster Andre Wisdom will likely come back into the squad at right back, after an impressive performance on debut against Young Boys.
Probable Line-Up: Jones; Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Enrique; Henderson, Sahin, Shelvey; Downing, Suarez, Assaidi
Anzhi Makhachkala: Manager Guus Hiddink knows the English Premier League well, after leading Chelsea to the 2009 FA Cup in his brief spell as caretaker manager for the Blues. The Dutchman's problem will be the injury to former Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra, who tweaked his knee in the weekend game. However, the good news is the club has no other player worries. Hiddink will look to defenders Christopher Samba (Blackburn, 2007 - 2012) and Yuri Zhirkov (Chelsea, 2009 - 2011), both of whom have sizeable Premier League experience, to lead the line.
Probable Line-Up: Gabulov; Agalarov, Samba, Tagirbekov, Zhirkov; Jucilei, Shatov, Carcela-Gonzales; Bousouffa, Traore, Eto'o