By Christopher Boulay
Europa League resumes Thursday, with Liverpool set to face Anzhi Makhachkala in what may be as close to a must-win as a club can get this early in the campaign.
The Reds are in third place in Group A, with three points, behind both Anzhi and Udinese on four points. A win could help put the club back in control of the group, while a loss – coupled with a Udinese win against Young Boys – would put the Reds into a precarious position with only three matches left.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has some important decisions to make to the squad, as the attack is considerably thinner without Fabio Borini. With the Merseyside derby on Sunday, many of the first-team players may be unavailable, which could open up opportunities for players such as Samed Yesil and Adam Morgan to make their way into the starting 11.
Jonjo Shelvey may play a significant role in the match, as he had a successful start to the Europa League campaign. His goal in the 3-2 loss to Udinese helped him into a tie for first place in the tournament’s total goals scored.
Pepe Reina was ruled out for this match with an injured hamstring, and he also may not be available for Sunday’s battle with Everton. These leaves Brad Jones with the potential ability to have an extended role in the first team. His first opportunity came on Saturday, as he and the Liverpool defense earned a clean sheet against Reading. Additionally, that was the first home win of the year for the club in the Premier League.
However, the match against Anzhi will be anything but easy. Led by Dutch manager Guus Hiddink, the Russian side looks to make a deep run in the tournament. Former Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o leads the squad, and could be a potentially dangerous attacker in the match. Liverpool’s defense, as well as Jones, will need to be on its game.
However, the club will be without French international Lassana Diarra due to a knee injury.
The Reds likely need to score early to take the pressure off of the defense. Anzhi’s attack may prove difficult, possibly giving the club its most difficult challenge yet in the tournament. However, a strong performance from Liverpool may not only help keep pace with the stronger teams in this pairing, but it could better facilitate a run throughout all competitions.
Liverpool-Anzhi will be televised in the USA on Fox Soccer at 3 pm. Liverpool supporters in the greater Boston Area can go to The Phoenix Landing in Cambridge to watch the match.
Liverpool v Anzhi
When: Thursday, October 25, 1505 ET/2005 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Europa League Match: Anzhi 2-0 Young Boys, Liverpool 2-3 Udinese
Projected Anzhi Starting 11
GK: V. Gabulov
DEF: Samba, Zhirkov, Agalarov, Jucilei
MID: Shatov, Carcela-Gonzalez, G. Babulov, Boussoufa
FW: Eto’o, Traore
Subs from: Dzhenetov, Joao Carlos, Tagirbekov, Agalarov, Logashov, Lahiyalov, Smolov
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Robinson, Coates, Carragher, Wisdom
MID: Shelvey, Henderson, Sahin
FW: Assaidi, Morgan, Suso
Subs from: Gulasci, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Johnson, Flanagan, Carragher, Allen, Gerrard, Sterling, Coady, Cole, Yesil, Downing, Suarez
Interact: What’s your projected lineup and final score prediction? Comment below.