Liverpool vs. Anzhi Makhachkala: 5 Moves Brendan Rodgers Must Make for the Reds
Liverpool clocked up their first home Premier League win of the season this weekend past after defeating Reading 1-0, and now manager Brendan Rodgers must turn his attention to getting the Reds' Europa League campaign back on track.
The Reds play their fourth consecutive home match on Thursday evening as they entertain Russian big spenders Anzhi Makhachkala, who came fifth in the Russian Premier League last season and currently sit top of the table this year, having lost just once in 12 matches.
In the second home match of the Europa League group stage for Rodgers, he will be anxious to try and pick up victory to boost his team's chances of qualification—but with an away derby match at Everton next weekend looming large, he'll have to balance his team selection accordingly.
Here are five moves Brendan Rodgers needs to make for this coming fixture.
Leave Brad Jones in Goal, Regardless of Pepe Reina's Fitness
In the Premier League at Anfield over the weekend, Liverpool beat Reading 1-0—picking up their second clean sheet in succession in the process.
With Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina injured on international duty, it fell to Brad Jones to keep out the likes of Pavel Pogrebnyak.
This he did as a result of several second-half saves, and he showed good aerial dominance, too, to both claim crosses and punch clear when needed.
Reina could be back in time for the mid-week Europa League clash, but he should not return immediately to the team even if he is available.
Jones has featured in one of the group matches so far, against Young Boys in Switzerland, as well as one of the play-off games against Gomel—and has shown good ability and, importantly, reliability, whenever he has been given his chance this season.
Playing two games in a row would be just reward for the Australian stopper's improved form and also for continuing to work hard when featuring only intermittently for the first team.
In addition, Reina will be required to step back in between the sticks at the weekend against Everton—and it would be unwise to risk further muscle injury in the match that takes place just three days beforehand.
Rest Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Luis Suarez, Daniel Agger and Raheem Sterling
While Jones should be left in the team out of those who started at the weekend, there are several others who need to be given a chance to recharge the batteries.
A match against Everton is always a tense affair where the winning team invariably needs to show plenty of both mental and physical strength, so Liverpool need to rest some key players beforehand.
Midfielder Steven Gerrard played 90 minutes in difficult conditions for England last week before his performance for the Reds at the weekend, so he will likely be grateful of the break before facing Everton.
The same applies to full-back Glen Johnson, who, though is naturally fit and athletic, has been injured a disappointingly high number of times through muscle strains and the like since he joined the club. With Jose Enrique working his way back to full fitness, there should be the chance to rest Johnson for once.
In terms of injuries, Daniel Agger comes into the same category and Rodgers will be anxious to protect his best defender whenever possible—though with Sebastian Coates in increasingly imperious form this season, the decision to leave out Agger is made easier.
The two forwards who combined against Reading to give Liverpool the match-winning goal will also have to be spared—Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. Both might be on the bench, but neither should be facing a difficult 90 minutes of continental football before the derby, which both have the potential to win on their own through creating goal-scoring chances.
Insist That the Possession Side of Liverpool's Game Is in Top Form
Make no mistake about it: Liverpool are facing a very good side in Anzhi Makhachkala.
Being top of the Russian top flight these days is no mean feat; Zenit St. Petersburg, CSKA Moscow and Chechen challengers Terek Groznyi are all very strong opponents. Three other Moscow sides and Rubin Kazan also make for tough opposition.
If Liverpool show signs of the sloppiness in defence that they have in the other two group stage matches, the Anzhi front line could really make the Reds play.
First and foremost, Liverpool have to get the biggest assets of their own game in top form; namely retaining possession and working the opposition the entire width of the pitch.
It might not be a game with too many chances in it so the longer Liverpool have possession, the more likely it is that any good opportunities to score fall to them.
Pick Which Young Striker to Place His Faith in
If Suarez is rested by Brendan Rodgers, then the manager has a pretty big decision to make in his first team line-up.
Fabio Borini is injured and, perhaps Steven Gerrard aside, Liverpool have nobody quality enough to play the false nine role.
So, with no senior forward available, the manager needs to look once more into his Under-21s and beyond and decide which of the young strikers will receive his backing.
Samed Yesil has started a League Cup match for the Reds, Adam Morgan was in the Europa League team early on, and Dani Pacheco has also featured in the role this term—though he is more suited to a withdrawn role or a wide forward position.
Outside chances Michael Ngoo—yet to play for the first team—and youngest-ever Red Jerome Sinclair will hope to be involved in the squad, but it is perhaps unlikely they will get the nod at this time.
Play Two Holding Central Midfielders
With many of the better final-third players likely to be rested for Liverpool, Rodgers will likely need to move to play two holding midfielders to work hard and retain possession for the Reds as often as possible.
In truth, for most games this term Rodgers has gone for two-behind-one in the midfield area, but usually one of these two holding players has been given licence to roam forward.
Against Anzhi Makhachkala that might not be possible, at least until the Reds can gain control of the match and work out when to commit another body 20 metres further forward without exposing themselves to the counterattack.
Jordan Henderson is almost certain to return to the starting XI, so will be one of the holding players, while Jonjo Shelvey should play in the more advanced role.
That leaves one from Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen to partner Henderson, unless yet another youngster—Conor Coady or Yalany Baio being the obvious choices—are to get an opportunity to impress.
Whoever plays, these two controlling players will have a big, big job to do for Liverpool both on and off the ball if they are to be successful in the match.