Sport

Liverpool's struggle to Europa League glory

Michael Botsford

Liverpool's Europa League journey takes them to Russia as manager Brendan Rodgers's struggling side takes on free-spending Anzhi Makhachkala.

Anzhi Makhachkala's Samuel Eto'o (R) vies with Liverpool's English midfielder Stewart Downing during their Uefa Europa League football match at Anfield in Liverpool. (AFP)

Anzhi 's big money signings have turned the formerly minor club into a major player in Europe.

Liverpool has been winless in the three games since their last Europa League match, where a Stewart Downing goal gave them a 1-0 win at home to Anzhi.

The obvious threat for Anzhi is former Inter and Barcelona player Samuel Eto'o, purportedly the highest paid footballer in the world. Regular Liverpool center backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel will be tasked with stopping him.

However, Liverpool may be tempted to field 1.96m Sebastian Coates in central defence, on Wednesday despite his relative inexperience, to counter the potential aerial threat of 2.03m striker Lacina Troare.

Close behind Liverpool and Anzhi is Udinese and Young Boys, who have four and three points, respectively. If Udinese win and Liverpool don't, the Italians will move ahead of them.

Continue fighting
In Group B, leaders Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone will be looking at the game against Portugal's Academica – bottom of the group with one point – as a chance to bounce back from a loss to Valencia at the weekend, the club's first defeat for 23 games.

After the Valencia match, Simeone said "We continue fighting to be on top. This will not stop anything". The reigning champions should have two-time Europa League top-scorer Radamel Falcao in the team, despite the forehead injury he got against Valencia.

Elsewhere in the group, Plzen hosts Hapoel Tel-Aviv.

Fenerbahce have relied on their away form to take them to top of group C, and are at home to AEL Limassol, who has just one point from its three games. Marseille host Borussia Monchengladbach. Both teams have four points.

Newcastle can secure qualification from group D with a win at Club Bruges. Second-placed Bordeaux host bottom-of-the-group Maritimo.

Inter Milan striker Diego Milito said this week that the team are a "united group which goes beyond any nationality". The team is currently top of the AP Global Rankings, and having beaten Juventus at the weekend will go into its group H match against Partizan Belgrade full of confidence, after nine consecutive victories.

Difficult period
In contrast, for Partizan anything but a win and a first goal in this year's tournament would make progression to the next round extremely unlikely.

Russian side Rubin Kazan, top of the group with seven points, travel to Azerberjani club Neftchi, struggling with one point from the first three games.

Lazio must win their home match against Panathanaikos to maintain pole position in group J, but come into the match on a bad run, including a 4-0 defeat to Catania on Sunday.

Midfielder Stefano Mauri said after the loss "We've got an important run of games now, I hope there's no after effects. We have to get out of this situation with good performances and results, immediately."

He added "We have to dig in to overcome this difficult period. This shock has to serve as a lesson to us. Also because I don't think it's possible to play worse than we did."

Looking to usurp Lazio are Tottenham, with three points, and Maribor with four. The London club hosts the Slovenian PrvaLiga winners, and both could eclipse Lazio's five points. Panathanaikos have two points, could also move into first place with a big win.

In group F, bottom-of-the-group AIK Solna host Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, and Dnipro travel to Napoli, hoping to secure qualification with a fourth win.

Former-Champions League regulars Lyon lead group I, and take its 100% record to Athletic Bilbao. Second-placed Sparta Prague go to Hapoel Kiryat Shmona. – Sapa-AP

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