Euro preview: Meet Liverpool's opponents Anzhi Makhachkala

As Liverpool FC welcome Anzhi Makhachkala to Anfield, Michael Cox uses the Europa League Stats Zone – a FREE version of FourFourTwo's award-winning Opta-powered app, brought to you by Western Union – to check out the rising Russians...Anzhi’s most famous player – and certainly their richest – is Samuel Eto’o, who has a knack of scoring against English clubs in Europe. At Barcelona he relied upon sheer pace in behind defenders, while later in his career (when Lionel Messi became a false nine towards the end of Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge, and then under Jose Mourinho in the treble-winning season at Inter) he became a left-winger.

At Anzhi, however, he takes up a different role – almost as a No.10, similar to the position he’s played for Cameroon on occasion. As his performance on the first Europa League matchday against Udinese shows, he generally receives the ball in deep, central positions, where his fondness for dribbling past opponents isn’t as effective.

Playing ahead of Eto'o as the primary striker is another African, the Ivory Coast U23 forward Lacina Traore, who was linked with a move to Liverpool in the summer. His most notable feature is his height – at 6ft 8in he’s an inch taller than Peter Crouch – and therefore he’s an obvious target for crosses and long balls.

But Traore is more of an all-rounder than you might expect: quick across the ground and intelligent with his movement. His role against Udinese was that of a pure target man, but in the subsequent group game against Young Boys he worked the left channel, dragging defenders out of position and creating space for Eto’o to break into. If he puts in a fine performance at Anfield, Liverpool might revive their interest.

Former Arsenal, Chelsea and Portsmouth midfielder Lassana Diarra is another of Anzhi’s big-money signings. Alhough he was once cast as the new Claude Makelele and is noted for the defensive side of his game, he actually plays with more attacking ambition than his Anzhi midfield partner Jucilei.

The one-time Brazil international sits ahead of the defence to the left and plays short, simple passes, while Diarra has more of a box-to-box role, powerfully connecting the midfield and attack – although, as the Udinese game showed, he’s not the most reliable passer.

Another familiar name is Christopher Samba, who is in great form for Anzhi. His aerial dominance at the back is obvious, although with Liverpool keeping the ball on the ground and likely to play a short, pacy front three, he might not need to make many aerial clearances.

Instead, his height could be more of an asset in the opposition box – in the previous game against Young Boys, Samba won three high balls for headed chances. He generally takes up quite deep positions at corners, near the penalty spot.

The man responsible for delivering those corners will be Mbark Boussoufa, a Dutch-born Moroccan international winger who can play on either flank. He usually concentrates on floating the ball towards Samba – this is especially dangerous with his outswinging right-wing deliveries, although both Udinese and Young Boys defended these well.

Overall, Anzhi will be quite reserved without the ball, probably sitting back and trying to deny Liverpool space in behind the defence. Samba and Joao Carlos are formidable in the air, but less happy against pace. Away at Udinese they concentrated on winning the ball in their own third, while at home to Young Boys they pressed nearer the halfway line – the first approach is more likely at Anfield.

Stats Zone is a free-download app from FourFourTwo and Opta, updated LIVE in-play. The Europa League Stats Zone is brought to you in association with Western Union's PASS scheme, which turns every completed Europa League pass into a day's education for young people around the world.

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