Anzhi vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned in Reds' Europa League Defeat
Brendan Rodgers fielded a very young side in Russia and a change in formation to help them stem the expected tide of Anzhi's attacks and domination of the match, but instead it was actually the Reds who had the majority of control of the game.
Despite this, Anzhi scored the only goal of the match just a few seconds before halftime, with Lacina Traore lifting the ball over first Seb Coates and then Brad Jones for an excellent individual strike.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Liverpool Look Solid Playing with a Back Three
A big part of Rodgers' switch was to start a game with three central defenders, with Jon Flanagan and Stewart Downing acting as wing-backs.
Liverpool looked very comfortable for much of the match with three defenders at the back, with Andre Wisdom and Jamie Carragher occupying the channels either side of Seb Coates.
It aided the team in retaining possession because it offered a quick, easy route for the midfielders to turn back whenever they were pressed high up the pitch, and both Wisdom and Carragher were comfortable stepping into the midfield line when necessary.
It was a momentary lapse of concentration in defence from Coates that cost Liverpool the game in the end, but until the last minutes as the Reds chased an equaliser they remained comfortable in dealing with most of the threats Anzhi threw at them.
Three at the back, whether with five or four in midfield, remains a good option for the future for Liverpool.
Toothless in Attack Without Suarez
As expected, Liverpool left several first-team players behind in England with an important and difficult Premier League match against Chelsea on the horizon.
One of those players was Luis Suarez, the Reds' top scorer for this season and biggest threat by far in the final third.
Adam Morgan got his chance to start up front through the centre, supported by Joe Cole.
The Reds did well in possession and made a few interesting-looking chances on goal, notably in the first half when Henderson had a chance to shoot inside the box, but by and large there was a lack of spark, nobody to help hold the ball up near the Anzhi box and very little indication that Liverpool would actually score.
Suarez remains the only Liverpool player to have scored a goal since the Anfield game against the same opposition.
Impact Subs Have a Decent Effect
Liverpool made three second-half substitutes as they chased an equaliser in Moscow, with firstly Dani Pacheco and Suso coming on in place of Conor Coady and Morgan before Oussama Assaidi also came on in place of Joe Cole.
All three subs improved the link-up play of the Reds' attacking movement around the penalty box and helped keep the ball higher up the pitch.
Suso in particular had a good effect, being happy to dribble past opponents to create space as he was given a run in his preferred central role.
One fine drilled effort was about as close as Liverpool came to troubling the Anzhi goalkeeper, with Cole shooting at the stopper off the rebound.
It's important that Liverpool can bring players off the bench to have a positive attacking impact in games, and even if they didn't get the goal their play might have deserved, it shows that those who came on can affect the flow of matches.
Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Joe Cole
Three rather oft-maligned senior players were handed a start for Liverpool by Brendan Rodgers, arguably in their best positions so that they could have no excuses for not playing well.
Jordan Henderson had a very steady game, distributing the ball well, showing good energy through the centre of midfield and getting into decent positions in the penalty box. A criticism of his performance would be his lack of composure (or confidence?) in front of goal; a wasted chance to score in the first half was compounded by two poor, skied efforts in the second.
He attempted the most passes on the team (75), completing 84 percent of them.
Joe Cole certainly stepped up his game since the disappointment of the League Cup fixture against Swansea City, but still failed to really have a big impact on the Reds' performance.
Cole showed good movement, tried to link up with Morgan but ultimately was not the creative spark that Liverpool needed.
The undoubted star of the trio, and indeed Liverpool's Man of the Match, was Stewart Downing.
He was deployed as a left wing-back and the role perfectly suited him; he had space to attack in front of him and he made use of the fact, driving down the wing and delivering a few crosses in the second half when the Reds got bodies into the box.
Downing also fulfilled his defensive duties, tracking back well and making more than one interception in his own penalty area.
Playing as a wing-back is definitely a role where he can offer something to Liverpool, and he had the biggest impact out of the players who are currently outside the first-team setup.
Conor Coady Adds to List of Youngsters Under Rodgers
Andre Wisdom, Adam Morgan, Suso and Raheem Sterling have all had an introduction to playing for Liverpool's first team in the Europa League, and against Anzhi Makhachkala, young midfielder Conor Coady joined them.
Coady made his debut as the holding midfielder in front of the back three for the Reds, and after an early error where he lost possession in a dangerous area, he settled into the match and looked most assured.
He completed 51 of his 56 passes (91 percent) and made one tackle, one clearance and one interception as he got to grips with the positional side of his game.
Coady was subbed on the hour mark as Liverpool sought to get back into the match but he can be justifiably proud of his introduction to senior football.
Liverpool Likely Only Need a Win in Their Next Match to Progress
A second group-stage defeat isn't ideal, but given the way Group A has progressed, it is more than probable that Liverpool only need to pick up a win at home to Young Boys to get through to the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Currently, Anzhi top the group with seven points, then Liverpool is on six and level with Young Boys. Udinese brings up the rear with four points.
Should Liverpool beat Young Boys at Anfield in their next Europa League fixture (thereby moving to nine points), they will be assured of qualification to the knockout stages if Anzhi take a point or more from their home game against Udinese on the same day.
This would give Udinese a maximum of five points—making them unable to catch Liverpool, even if they beat the Reds in the final group match.
Young Boys could still catch Liverpool with nine if they win their last game and Liverpool lose, but UEFA Europa League qualification is determined by head-to-head results rather than goal difference. As Liverpool would have beaten Young Boys twice, they would progress—guaranteed.
The European adventure looks set to continue for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers.
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