The Reds have endured an eventful start to their continental campaign. After beating Gomel and Hearts to reach the Europa League group stages, they defeated Young Boys in Switzerland before suffering a disappointing home loss at the hands of Italian side Udinese.
Those two group games yielded an astonishing total of 13 goals, but Brendan Rodgers’ side will perhaps be hoping for a more straightforward evening at an Anfield his week.
This article takes a closer look at Liverpool’s opponents on Thursday night, discussing exactly what they can expect when they face one of Europe’s fastest-rising sides.
Anzhi’s Rise to Prominence
Three years ago, Anzhi Makhachkala were a decidedly average Russian second division side.
Now, however, they are one of the top teams in the country. Their promotion of 2009 was followed by a revolutionary change of ownership: Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov purchased the club in 2011 and immediately set about transforming their fortunes.
His investment has attracted the likes of Yuri Zhirkov, Lassana Diarra and, most notably, Samuel Eto’o, who signed a three-year deal worth an astronomical $86 million tax-free.
Anzhi ultimately finished fifth in last season’s extended Russian Championship, and were just five points off a Champions League place, capping off a monumental rise to prominence that has seen them emerge as one of European football’s major players, both on the pitch and off it.
Domestically, Anzhi are on fire.
Just one defeat in their opening 12 league games has seen them assume pole position in the Russian Premier League, where they are also the division’s highest scorers thus far.
Their impressive league standing is largely thanks to a seven-game winning streak that the side are currently enjoying, with their most recent victory coming over last year’s second-placed side Spartak Moscow.
Continentally, their form has been equally impressive. An immaculate record throughout three qualification rounds saw them through to the group stage, where a draw in Udinese and a home win over Young Boys sees them lead the pack in Group A.
In short, Anzhi Makhachkala are in great form. Liverpool will be coming up against a side not only filled with talent, but also with an abundance of confidence.
Players to Watch
The obvious name that springs to mind here is Samuel Eto’o.
The Cameroonian forward has 14 goals already this season: seven in the league and a further seven in Europe. But he has also enjoyed a great deal of support from new signing Lacina Traore.
Ivorian Traore measures in at 6'8", even taller than former Red Peter Crouch, and has helped himself to six domestic goals and a further four continentally so far this season.
In terms of supplying their star strikers, Mbark Boussoufa has been leading the way with eight assists in 11 league games. Whether playing on the wing or just off the striker, the Moroccan has impressed this term and will certainly be a cause for concern to Liverpool’s defense.
While the Reds may have had previous experiences with the likes of Diarra and Zhirkov, it would appear that the less familiar names such as Traore and Boussoufa could pose the biggest problems come Thursday evening.
How will Liverpool fare against Anzhi Mackhachkala in the Europa League?
Record in England
Anzhi are, in fact, yet to face English opposition in a competitive action, something that is perhaps less surprising considering they were only founded in 1991.
Their only previous European outing came as a result of finishing as runners up in the 2001 Russian Cup, where they faced Rangers at a neutral venue, succumbing to a closely contested 1-0 defeat.
Thus the trip to Merseyside will represent Anzhi’s first venture onto English soil, but don’t expect the Russian’s inexperience to hold them back.
Their impressive form this term, as well as the obvious quality that they possess in their playing squad, will make Anzhi a tough test for the Reds, and Liverpool will need to rely on more than just home advantage to see them through.
But with Rodger’s men buoyed by the confidence of a first home league win of the season last weekend, it’s looking incredibly difficult to separate the two sides ahead of Thursday’s big game.
However if the likes of Luis Suarez can continue to produce the form that has seen him bag four goals in his last four outings for the Reds, then Liverpool may well atone for the loss to Udinese and begin their climb back to the top of Europa League Group A.
But what do you guys think of Liverpool’s chances?
Comment below with your thoughts on Anzhi Makhachkala and the challenge that the Reds will face, as well as your predictions ahead of Thursday night’s eagerly anticipated encounter.