Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists Demba Ba’s return to Anfield, 10 months after he ruined the club’s Barclays Premier League title dream, will not stir up bad memories.
In April last year Ba, then a Chelsea player, capitalised on a slip by Steven Gerrard to race through and score the crucial opening goal at Anfield. Chelsea went on to win 2-0 and deliver a fatal blow to Liverpool’s hopes of ending their long, barren run without a championship.
Ba arrives back on Merseyside as the spearhead of a Besiktas team who are currently top of the Turkish Super Lig, for a Europa League last-32 first-leg tie.
Rodgers accepted Ba, who has scored 13 in 17 league matches and five in four in European games, is a threat but stressed they were only concerned with the present day and now what the Senegal international had done in the past.
“It won’t stimulate any bad memories for me,” said Rodgers. “At the time (last April) he scored a goal, which was a good goal, but he has scored many good goals in his career.
“We just see him as a threat that we will pay respect to but nothing more than that.
“He had a very good period here in England, he is a wonderful player, who has good touch and technique and he scores goals. “He has gone to Besiktas and done well.”
The Turkish side have not lost in the Europa League this season, drawing away at Tottenham but beating them in the home leg, while they lost 1-0 to Arsenal over two legs in a Champions League qualifier at the start of the season.
Rodgers will not underestimate the visitors, whose arrival in England was delayed by several hours because of snow in Istanbul. He faced the inevitable questions about whether the Europa League – and playing on both Thursday and Sunday – would damage their domestic form, which has seen them lose just once in 16 matches in all competitions.
“I am not really thinking about that,” he added. “One of the objectives for us was to win a trophy and you will have seen from the efforts we have put into the cup competitions we want to do everything we can do that.
“This competition is no different, it is one we want to do well in.
“It is a tough game against Besiktas, a team very strong in their own country, with good experience of playing games in this country, but for us it is about taking a lead into the second leg.
“We are very confident in terms of our performance. In terms of the impact further on our focus is really on the next game and the players over a number of games have been absolutely fantastic so we want to continue with that mentality and performance level.”
Having dropped down from the Champions League before Christmas, Rodgers will at least have a new player to call on for European matches in Daniel Sturridge, who has returned to action after a thigh injury in August ruled him out for five months.
That setback meant he missed all of the club’s return to Europe’s elite. The England striker has scored twice in five appearances since his return but Rodgers has been impressed by his all-round game.
“He has been able to go away and reflect on elements of his game and what has been brilliant for me is he has come back in and taken on a real leadership role,” said the Liverpool manager. “You can see him organising at corners and set-pieces, making sure people are doing their jobs.
“He is a top-class talent and it has been great to see his movement and relationship with other players in the system.
“He is a natural goalscorer and his finish against Crystal Palace was an outstanding one, coming over his shoulder.”
Gerrard will be missing with a hamstring problem, while winger Lazar Markovic begins a four-match suspension imposed for his dismissal against Basle in their last Champions League match.
“We are obviously disappointed with the length of the ban – I think everyone would have felt it was very harsh,” said Rodgers. “However, we accept it and unfortunately he will have to serve that and won’t be able to contribute these coming games.”