Rating the Liverpool Players in 1-0 Win Against Anzhi Makhachkala
The Reds dominated large spells of the first half without managing to find a route to goal, but a half-time switch brought quick rewards for Brendan Rodgers' men.
Stewart Downing, moved to left-back from the right side of the attack, cut in off the flank and hit a fine strike with his weaker foot into the far corner for what was ultimately the only goal of the game.
Anzhi, in truth, were disappointingly negative at Anfield, rarely breaking forward in numbers until late on in the game as they chased an equaliser, which they didn't deserve. Indeed, only some bizarre refereeing—ruling out a perfectly fine Daniel Agger goal and denying Oussama Assaidi a clear penalty—prevented the scoreline from taking on a more respectable look.
For Liverpool, they will go into the Merseyside derby in good spirits having won their fourth game in the last six matches and having kept three clean sheets in a row.
Here are the player ratings for Liverpool's victorious men on the night.
Goalkeeper: Brad Jones
With Pepe Reina still struggling with his groin injury, Brad Jones continued to deputise in goal for the Reds.
And, for a second game in a row, Jones kept a clean sheet.
Anzhi were not the most aggressive attacking team and Jones had little to do in the first half, but his handling of aerial balls was exemplary and he also distributed the ball quickly and simply whenever possible.
After the break, the Russian side came forward more and had a few shots at goal, but Jones' stops were routine, save perhaps for the quick grab he made from a Samuel Eto'o shot from inside the area.
Again though what stood out was his clean taking of the ball in the air and even his organisation and talking to his defence, which we haven't heard too much from Jones before.
An impressive performance from Liverpool's second 'keeper, given the little he had to do.
Brad Jones: 7/10
Full-Backs: Andre Wisdom and Glen Johnson
Liverpool went with a first-choice back line, which meant Glen Johnson (left) and Andre Wisdom (right) as full-backs.
Johnson was effective in rampaging forward in the first half, combining several times with Oussama Assaidi and, in particular, Luis Suarez as he made his marauding runs down the flank to enter the penalty box.
Twice Johnson made room for a shot; one was hit straight at the keeper and the second time he failed to connect with the ball, feeling he was fouled in the process. He probably wasn't, but they were further examples of his excellent full-back play all season.
Johnson was substituted at half-time.
Wisdom, on the opposite flank, continues to offer complete contradiction to the fact that he has played just six games at the professional level.
His composure on the ball, ability to read the game, understanding of when to hold his position and when to break forward simply continues to impress.
The Liverpool academy graduate is set for a fantastic career at Liverpool and it would be a huge surprise to see him lose his place at any point in the near future. Against Anzhi he made seven interceptions, one clearance, one tackle and completed 90 percent of his passes.
Andre Wisdom: 7/10
Glen Johnson: 7/10
Centre-Backs: Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger
After a sticky start to the season from Liverpool's centre-back duo, in particular Martin Skrtel, the Reds have shored up at the back and kept three clean sheets in a row.
Skrtel and Daniel Agger were a strong pairing, as they gave away very little for much of the game and put in a few excellent blocks and challenges, particularly a sliding block from the Dane and a stretched clearance inside the six-yard box from the Slovak.
Agger was perhaps unlucky to have a goal ruled out and be booked, while he also went close with a first-half strike from range.
Martin Skrtel: 7/10
Daniel Agger: 8/10
Central Midfielders: Steven Gerrard and Nuri Sahin
With Joe Allen rested, Nuri Sahin and Steven Gerrard paired up in the centre of midfield for the Reds. The two did well for most of the game in retaining possession and keeping the rhythm of the match going, especially in the first hour.
Sahin was the best passer of the game for the Reds, completing a very impressive 95 percent of his 75 attempted balls—though as a caveat to anybody relying too heavily on statistics, remember that one of Sahin's "successful" passes almost cost the Reds a goal as he put Skrtel under pressure.
Gerrard was the deepest of the two on many occasions in the first half, and he seemed to enjoy the extra space he was afforded—but he wasn't quite able to link play as he wanted further forward when Sahin sat in.
One header which drifted wide of goal might have put the seal on Liverpool's win.
Steven Gerrard: 7/10
Nuri Sahin: 7/10
Attacking Midfielders: Stewart Downing, Jonjo Shelvey and Oussama Assaidi
Liverpool played a fairly attack-minded trio in the line behind the centre-forward, and the three had somewhat contrasting fortunes against Anzhi Makhachkala.
Jonjo Shelvey got another run in the central attacking role and did manage to get involved in some of the Reds' build-up play and link up several times with Luis Suarez.
However, it simply wasn't quite happening for the youngster and he was a little off the pace all night, with his first touch not up to his best and the one good chance he had, a first-time shot from the edge of the box, ballooned well over the bar.
Stewart Downing had what could best be described as an anonymous first half, as he stuck to the touchline and rarely ventured infield. Credit where it is due: he chased back about 70 yards to the right-back zone during one Anzhi counterattack where Liverpool might otherwise have been outnumbered.
At half-time Downing was switched to left-back—and promptly came up with the only goal of the game, cutting infield onto his right foot before scoring from 25 yards. Thereafter he was solid in defence, but contributed little to breaking forward, despite a lot of space in front of him that Glen Johnson had made good use of earlier in the game.
Oussama Assaidi was the left-sided forward and had another lively match for the Reds.
Assaidi was the most inventive and thrusting player in the Reds' line-up, always looking to run at two or three defenders and attack the gaps behind the back line. His two-footedness allowed him to dart down the flank or cut inside, and on more than one occasion he set up shooting chances for his teammates.
Stewart Downing: 7/10
Jonjo Shelvey: 6/10
Oussama Assaidi: 8/10, man of the match
Forward: Luis Suarez
This wasn't one of Luis Suarez's finest matches.
The Uruguayan was heavily involved in the Reds' build-up in the first half and was looking set to give Chris Samba one of his toughest tests since leaving the Premier League. However, as is on occasions the case with Suarez, he let his frustrations with the game get the better of him and faded in the second half.
Thankfully for Liverpool perhaps, he was not buzzing about the whole pitch the entire match—he should remain fresh and energetic for the derby match at the weekend.
A yellow card for back-chatting the referee and a drilled effort wide with his left foot were the low and high points of the game.
Luis Suarez: 6/10
Substitutes: Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen
Raheem Sterling came on for Liverpool at the break, playing from the right side of the attack. His pace caused a few problems for Anzhi on the counterattack, but he wasn't really able to get into the game on a regular basis and his control let him down at times.
Joe Allen made an appearance in the second half to steady the midfield ship in place of Jonjo Shelvey and did his usual job of maintaining possession and holding his position in the middle of the pitch.
Perhaps surprisingly, Brendan Rodgers did not opt to rest a third player as the game wound down.
Raheem Sterling: 6/10
Joe Allen: n/a
Unused subs: Peter Gulacsi, Jamie Carragher, Jordan Henderson, Suso, Samed Yesil.