Liverpool face stiffest challenge yet in Europa League
Usually, when Liverpool face a big game against a big team, you're nervous but that's balanced out by the hope of a really big win. It's worth the risk. Not sure today is going to be the case.
Liverpool face a team that is on a 13- match unbeaten run, and is leading the Russian League. That means a lot more than it used to. They come is with some serious star power, and run by a manager who's already given Liverpool problems in the past, and that's when they were much stronger. Best part, Liverpool will be tackling this beast with mostly the B-side or possibly wear first teamers. Good times? You wonder.
Pepe Reina still won't make the bell, so Brad Jones gets to build off his solid performance at the weekend. Though Reading didn't come armed with Samuel Eto'o. The defense in Europa has seen Glen Johnson flip back over to his favored right with Jack Robinson coming in on the left. But with Enrique finally fit (or so we're led to believe) I'd have to imagine he's going to start. Carragher and Coates should give Skrtel and Agger a break before the Derby on Sunday, but dealing with someone like Eto'o and the giant Traore....well, you kind of fear for Carragher, don't you?
Two of the three in midfield pick themselves, with Henderson and Shelvey usually getting the start. Allen could go as this is at home and the next game is only half a mile away, and that's usually when Rodgers sends out more regulars than he normally might. If not Allen, it's hard to see who could fill that role (though Henderson possibly could, if you squint real hard). Sahin to find more form? Suso ahead of them both? He probably needs rest.
Up front, it'll be Downing-Suarez-Assaidi. Both Suso and Sterling have to be protected as much as they can be, and Downing seems to always get a look in this competition. No one wants to see Joe Cole, but it could happen. If they want to give Suarez a breather you could see a no-forward/false #9 look with Pacheco, but I heavily doubt it. Again, three games in a week at home (essentially) isn't quite the same as just three games in a week. So Suarez probably starts.
Behind that menacing front line for Anzhi is the real weapon in Mbark Boussoufa, a Moroccan international who can play anywhere from each wing to behind the striker. He's kind of what makes this team go. You'll also remember Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea, who will either line up on the left wing or left back.
We'll find out just how seriously Rodgers is taking this competition tonight, I think. A loss at home ends this try. If Rodgers sends out something resembling a first-choice team to try and get a result, we'll know he doesn't just want to capitulate. Even a draw would leave Liverpool needing to beat Young Boys at home and then probably Udinese in Italy to progress. Hard, not impossible. If Rodgers picks mostly the kids and just hopes for the best, we'll know what's really up.
Before, I wanted this competition taken seriously. But considering the shallow pool of the squad's depth and now age, I'm not as positive on that. But it's still Liverpool FC, and Liverpool FC don't just meekly take their exits out of competitions. So what the fuck, go for it.