Liverpool play their fourth Europa League group game of the season tomorrow evening and numerous personnel changes will again be afoot…
The juggling act that is modern squad management relies heavily on identifying games in which key players can be rested with a minimal scope for dissatisfaction should the result be negative.
However, as seen during last week’s League Cup demise, a competition which nearly all clubs pinpoint as prime rotational fodder, a defeat will never be taken kindly regardless of the bigger picture.
The desire to protect star assets Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez in particular, plus the need to nurture and control the fledgling career of the likes of Raheem Sterling, cannot be overlooked but in a results orientated world the gamble in resting your best players is considerable.
The stakes become higher still when wins, even with a first-choice eleven regularly fielded, are incredibly sparse; as they have been this season for Liverpool.
To date Brendan Rodgers has only tasted victory on eight occasions from his 19 competitive games in charge. When considering only two of those have been in the Premier League, and others have come in European qualification matches against FC Gomel and Hearts, the gloomy outlook is further darkened.
Sunday’s 1-1 league draw with Newcastle United again showed promise but eventually required a sensational moment of individual brilliance from Suarez to merely rescue a point. With the best part of two months still to go before the transfer window reopens, there is no quick fix to the situation on offer.
The need to put a sustained run of positive results together is growing and therefore Thursday’s difficult-looking trip to Moscow is not the obvious choice from which to leave a host of established players out.
That’s exactly what Rodgers has done however with no less than ten regular starters not boarding the plane from John Lennon airport this afternoon.
Perhaps, given the Reds currently top the group by two points and also have a Premier League clash against Chelsea on Sunday, it’s an understandable decision on this occasion.
In addition to Gerrard, Suarez and Sterling, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Jose Enrique, Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen have also been spared the 3,000 mile round-trip to freezing Russia. As are recent injury absentees Pepe Reina and Glen Johnson, meaning the bulk of Liverpool’s strongest line-up will be taking no part in proceedings.
In their absence opportunities will again be presented to fringe players such as Jamie Carragher, Sebastian Coates, Jordan Henderson, Joe Cole, Oussama Assaidi and Stewart Downing, all of whom were present when Swansea City ended the Merseysiders defence of the League Cup a week ago.
Lesser-seen youngsters Jack Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Stephen Sama, Conor Coady, Samed Yesil and Adam Morgan are all in a largely inexperienced and untested loooking travelling party.
Commenting on his squad selection, Rodgers has subsequently told reporters: “I have the utmost respect for Anzhi, but because our squad is very thin in numbers and we have a lot of games and young players, I’ve had to look at the games in which I can change the squad around.
“But if you look at the games in this competition, we’ve played three and won two games and have changed the squad around.”
Should Liverpool fail tomorrow and then again on Sunday then the choice of mass changes will no doubt be closely scrutinised.
Given the money billionaire oligarch Suleyman Kerimov has spent on assembling Samuel Eto’o, Lassana Diarra, Yuri Zhirkov, Chris Samba and co, the Russians were very disappointing at Anfield in the previous encounter. Devoid of much attacking intent, it was strange to see one of the games most potent and explosive strikers, Eto’o, drifting around in midfield playing the game at a methodical tempo. There is little doubt Anzhi will be a different proposition on home soil however and given the certainty of a much changed and weakened Liverpool side, it is hard to see a Reds victory. Fortunately, with two more games to follow, including a home match against Young Boys, progress will remain very much in our hands. Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-0 defeat.
Jones, Gulacsi, Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Robinson, Flanagan, Sama, Wilson, Coady, Shelvey, Henderson, Cole, Downing, Pacheco, Assaidi, Suso, Yesil, Morgan.
Possible Starting X1
(4-3-3) Jones, Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Robinson, Henderson, Shelvey, Cole, Assaidi, Pacheco, Downing.
Did You Know?
Due to the dangers in the hostile Russian Republic of Dagestan, where Anzhi Makhachkala are from, their players and staff actually live and train just outside of Moscow and fly the 1600km distance to each home league match. Fortunately Europa League games are played in Moscow due to a UEFA enforced sanction based on the safety issues.
The Europa League group stage fixture between Anzhi Makhachkala and Liverpool will be televised on ITV4 (kick-off 5.00pm).
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