Struggling Liverpool faces difficult trip to Anzhi


LONDON (AP) -Liverpool's Europa League journey takes them to Russia on Thursday, as manager Brendan Rodgers' struggling side takes on free-spending Anzhi Makhachkala, whose big money signings have turned the former minor club into a major player in Europe.

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

The obvious threat for Anzhi is former Inter Milan 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 1.96-meter Sebastian Coates in central defence despite his relative inexperience, to counter the potential aerial threat of 2.03-meter striker Lacina Troare.

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

In Group B, leader Atletico Madrid 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 in 23 games.

After the Valencia match, manager Diego Simeone said, "We continue fighting to be on top. This will not stop anything." The defending 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 the top of Group C, and are at home to AEL Limassol, which has just one point from its three games. Marseille host Borussia Monchengladbach.

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 top of the AP Global Rankings after beating Juventus at the weekend, and will go into its Group H match against Partizan Belgrade full of confidence, after nine consecutive victories.

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

Russian side Rubin Kazan, top of the group, travels to Azerbaijani club Neftchi, struggling with one point from the first three games.

Lazio must win its home match against Panathinaikos 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 and Maribor. The London club hosts the Slovenian PrvaLiga winner, and both could eclipse Lazio.

"It's in our hands and that's all you can ask for," Tottenham's Clint Dempsey said. "Everything is still to play for and it's about taking care of business in the next three games."

In Group F, lowly 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 percent record to Athletic Bilbao. Second-placed Sparta Prague go to Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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