LFC’s Return to Istanbul

After putting in a gritty performance to fortuitously overcome fellow top four challengers Southampton at the St. Mary’s on the weekend, Brendan Rodgers takes his in-form Liverpool side back to the scene where the Reds’ Champions League triumph ten years ago. This time though, it is for the second leg of the round of 32 of Europe’s second tier competition. With Manchester City at Anfield on the horizon, Rodgers will do well to balance his Europa League ambitions with the more desired aim of a top four finish in the league.

Having seen his side record a fifth successive away clean sheet in the Premier League, Rodgers will be hoping such defensive solidarity will continue in the Ataturk Stadium. A clean-sheet, and the Reds are safely through. With the added advantage of a 1-nil lead, Liverpool can afford to sit tight and counter, hopefully finding that vital away goal to probably put the game beyond Croatian boss Slaven Bilić’s men.

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another resolute performance vs besiktas, please.

Bilić’s will almost be certain to see his compatriot Dejan Lovren line up for the visiting side. The former Southampton defender returned to the side for the first time in two months, and put in a decent yet nervy performance in front of a jeering crowd. Rodgers will hope Lovren can play himself into some form, similar to how Mamadou Sakho returned to the team in January, and it is fairly certain the Croatian defender will line up alongside the ever-improving Martin Skrtel and recent Africa Cup of Nations’ winner Kolo Toure.

This three men back line would hopefully see Emre Can push into central midfield. The German looked shaky when up against Saints duo Filip Duričić and Nathaniel Clyne, almost conceding a very early penalty to the former, but to be fair the German was puzzlingly deployed in an even more unfamiliar left-sided centre-back role and eventually got to grips with the defensive side of the game, especially when Rodgers replaced the awkward stand-in left wing-back Lazar Markovic with a specialist in Alberto Moreno. Can should be given every chance to continue his development in central midfield, even as he continues to impress when filling in in defence.

Joe Allen continued his own resurgence during the victory over the Saints, with his neat passing and pressing helping the Reds to contain the likes of James Ward-Prowse and later on Dusan Tadic, and the Welshman should get another chance alongside Can – if not to hand vice-captain Jordan Henderson a rest. This is highly unlikely though, as Rodgers seems to feel the need to have at least one of his two appointed leaders on the field – the other being the currently injured club skipper Steven Gerrard. Another chance should beckon for the ever-impressive Jordon Ibe at right wing-back, with his defensive display at Southampton highlighting the other facets to his game, and Ibe has not yet put a foot wrong since returning from his loan spell at Derby County.

Along with Henderson, Spanish left-back Moreno should be benched once again. With both Henderson and Moreno’s games reliant on their high levels of energy, Liverpool fans would prefer to have both fully refreshed for the visit of the champions on Sunday. Further, Moreno’s role in this side has increased in importance with this current 3-4-3 formation, as wing-backs provide vital defensive cover as well as necessary width when going forward. In Moreno’s place should be Glen Johnson, seeing that Jose Enrique is still doubtful.

Up front, Daniel Sturridge will surely get another chance to further his efforts towards full match fitness and sharpness. But with that aforementioned match against City in Rodgers’ mind, it would not be surprising to see the Englishman taken off in the second half. The manager might also want to use this game to further experiment with two strikers as part of his front three, with Mario Balotelli getting a start alongside Sturridge, like how Liverpool ended the first leg at Anfield.

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rodgers need a 100% fit coutinho for sunday.

Brazilian magician Philippe Coutinho, fresh from his spectacular Goal of The Season contender, should be given the complete night off, as his performance will be key to any chance of a vital Liverpool victory on Sunday. Like Lovren, Adam Lallana performed below par during the visit to his old club last Sunday, and that is why Lallana should simiarlyl be given another start to allow him to play himself into some form.

Rodgers will hope to come out of Turkey with no injuries and as little fatigue as possible, as well as hopefully creating further positive memories of Istanbul for the Reds – though whatever happens on Thursday night will certainly never be able to even be spoken alongside Liverpool’s impossible triumph in 2005, which incidentally was arguably Gerrard’s greatest moment as a Liverpool skipper. Now though, the form of the Reds has given fans and manager hope that this possible victory in Istanbul will leave the departing legend with another incredible moment, and – either via the league or the Europa League – help further Rodgers’ quest to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

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