Sinful Anfield prepares for Anzhi

Posted by guest on October 24, 2012, 03:30:59 PM

It’s a rarity for Liverpool to feel that deadly sin of envy at Anfield on a European night. Usually it is them on the receiving end as the kick-off draws near.

Barcelona gasped as the Kop slowly became a mass of red, particles joining together minute-by-minute to create a heaving mass; Internazionale looked on as scarves were held high under the burning glare of the floodlights; PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid, Olympiakos, all captive audiences as 40,000 people perform You'll Never Walk Alone, the perfect practice for the victory song that would follow 90 minutes later.

Liverpool have had little to be envious of in European competition over the past decade. But now the last notes of Zadok the Priest have departed the Anfield night sky and the giant plastic football in the centre circle waves no more, sin falls amongst the Kop like Satan did from his lost Paradise. The Europa League might not possess a lot of things, but it does have something Liverpool covets: Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao, Diego Milito. Goalscorers.

That's not to say Luis Suarez is not a goalscorer. To claim a player who averaged more than a goal every game over the course of an entire season, albeit in the Dutch Eredivisie, is contentious; so too when the Uruguayan has seven already this season. The issue with Suarez, and Liverpool in general, is that he usually does it alone.

The club's striking options have transformed from barren to nearly non-existent over the past few months; Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy wanted to leave, Andy Carroll wanted a chance. Two got their wish, one didn't. The trio's replacement, 21-year-old Fabio Borini, is out until February with a broken foot, and Liverpool have one fit senior striker in the squad – one that might be better as the right prong of Rodgers' attacking trident.

The envy started a minute into the second half of Liverpool's game with Udinese. Antonio Di Natale, 86 goals for the Bianconeri the three seasons previous, received the ball 35 yards from goal. He sent it to the left wing, spun and sauntered into the box unmarked. The ball was good, the finish was better. Suarez has been capable of similar in a red shirt, but Di Natale has done it consistently for years.

Di Natale is goalscoring royalty, the sort of player Liverpool fans were desperate for as this summer's transfer window edged nearer to closing; a player who would offer his services to Suarez after the latter had slalomed through a labyrinth of limbs, leaving behind his balance and sanity. Borini could be that player, but not without time and a fully-healed foot. As the Kop emptied out that night, there would have been more disappointment over the fact Di Natale wasn't a Liverpool player more than the 3-2 defeat itself.

Envy will abound this week too when Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala visit. Those begrudging glances could be cast towards their billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov for bankrolling a club from oblivion to the top of the Russian Premier League within two years; instead, they will cast towards the jewel in his crown. The signing of Samuel Eto'o from Internazionale served notice to Europe of their intentions: they have a bulging bank balance, and they're not afraid to use it.

The personalities of Eto'o and Di Natale could not be more different. While Di Natale has stayed loyal to Udinese, Eto'o left Internazionale when Anzhi fluttered their diamond-encrusted eyelashes towards him. He certainly didn't join the club for his hidden love of thousand-mile commutes on match day. But he, like Di Natale, knows how to score frequently. He has scored 20 league goals in 32 games so far for the Russian side, a meagre add-on to the bevvy of goals he's enjoyed at Mallorca, Barcelona and Internazionale. Simply put, he is a goalscoring legend.

How Liverpool could do with one of those right now. With Fabio Borini injured and the Merseyside derby on Sunday, Brendan Rodgers' strike force is blunted even further for the Europa League tie. Though Suarez may reside on the bench as he did against Udinese, Rodgers has a dilemma in the shape of Samed Yesil. The 18-year-old German striker looks a cut above at international youth level and impressed on his debut against West Brom in the Carling Cup, but the defensive partnership of Christopher Samba and Joao Carlos is strong. Playing Suarez, with a season-defining game just three days away, would be folly.

But if Liverpool harbour intentions of qualifying, they need to win this game with trips to Moscow and Udine ahead. To win, they must score. In Samuel Eto'o, Anzhi already have the advantage in that department – and that's before considering 6' 8" Ivorian youngster Lacina Traore, who has scored seven in 12 in his debut season. Rodgers' plan will involve not allowing either to have a sight on goal, but it only took one from Di Natale.

It is usually Liverpool who provide the iconic forward to these European nights: Keegan, Dalglish, Rush, Owen, Torres. But what those five had was someone to share the burden, something Suarez is yet to enjoy the benefit of. It might be some time with Sterling, Suso, Yesil and Borini still raw. Until then, he must struggle on; until then the Kop will sin, their post-match Europa League applause tinged with envy. Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.


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