Predicted Liverpool lineup vs Besiktas: Balotelli to partner Sturridge up front?

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Liverpool begin Europa League action on Thursday night when they host Turkish league leaders Besiktas at Anfield. Ben Twelves takes a look at the team selection options available to Brendan Rodgers ahead of the clash.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 18, 2015: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson leads his squad during a training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 1st leg match against Besiktas JK at Melwood Training Ground. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • Gerrard ruled out
  • Late test for Sterling
  • Toure and Ibe return to squad

Having continued their impressive form with another strong performance and result at bogey ground Selhurst Park, Rodgers’ Reds return to Anfield for the opening of an extremely important Europa League campaign.

The competition has an extra incentive with the prize of Champions League football alongside the handy £5 million jackpot, and with Liverpool needing to fully explore every avenue possible in order to return to Europe’s elite tournament, the Europa League certainly has to be taken seriously with only the Premier League of more importance.

Rodgers’ men enter at the last-32 stage – the place they were knocked out at in their last Europa adventure two years ago after an away goal defeat to Zenit St Petersburg – and the Reds face a tough challenge to improve on that feat against Slaven Bilic’s team, who are unbeaten in the tournament and sit at the top of the Turkish Super Lig table with 15 wins from 20 matches.

The commencing of the demanding European schedule and potential impact on Premier League form makes the juggling act in front of the Liverpool boss a tough task, and with testing matches against Southampton and Manchester City either side of the Europa games, Rodgers has some difficult decisions to make with his team over the two legs.

 

The Team

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 9, 2014: Liverpool's Lazar Markovic walks off dejected after being shown a red card against FC Basel during the final UEFA Champions League Group B match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Lazar Markovic is now suspended for the clash having been handed a “very, very harsh” four game ban – in the words of the disappointed Liverpool manager – for his red card against Basel in the earlier Champions League campaign, and the Serbian – who will at least remain fresh for upcoming Premier League fixtures – joins Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard as the latest absentees from the Liverpool squad.

Raheem Sterling is also touch-and-go for the match as he continues to struggle with a foot injury, and he will undergo a late fitness test ahead of the match with Rodgers set to make a late decision on the 20-year-old’s inclusion.

MADRID, SPAIN - Tuesday, November 4, 2014: Liverpool's Kolo Toure in action against Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

However, the Reds welcome Jordon Ibe back to match-day involvement after the youngster missed the weekend victory against Crystal Palace due to being cup-tied, and Kolo Toure too, with the Ivorian available again having returned to training on Monday following a hugely successful African Nations Cup trip.

Despite options wearing thin, an element of rotation is undeniably needed with the most important fixture of the league season to date coming up on Sunday.

A small dip in performance level over the last two fixtures following 17 consecutive starts could see Philippe Coutinho considered for a rest, along with Liverpool’s second most used outfield player, Martin Skrtel, but Daniel Sturridge is fit and in line for his third consecutive start.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 31, 2015: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia in action against West Ham United during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Should the Brazilian magician be given the night off, Adam Lallana could be handed the chance to build on his assist and goal in the last two matches and Mario Balotelli, who looks to have turned a corner, will be hopeful his increased productivity in the last two matches persuades the Reds boss to play him from the start on Thursday.

 

Liverpool Lineup

Rodgers could make two changes to his side and that should see Jordon Ibe re-enter the starting XI for the suspended Markovic and Coutinho rested, allowing for Sterling – should he bit fit to play – to regain his place in the attacking midfield duo alongside Adam Lallana.

Those switches could see the Reds line up like this come kick-off time at Anfield:

Besiktas Sterling In

Alternatively, the Liverpool boss could choose to rest Skrtel and select Toure to replace the Slovakian for the evening. Should Sterling fail to recover to in time, the match does present the perfect chance to reignite the much anticipated Sturridge-Balotelli striking partnership.

In a slightly adjusted shape, those changes would see Liverpool’s XI look like this:

Besiktas Balotelli Sturridge

It will be a tricky challenge over the two legs against the Turkish giants for Liverpool and with the competition of significant importance for obvious reasons, the Reds will have to translate their upturn in form domestically to the European stage to stand any chance of progressing, starting on Thursday night.

Pick your XI below:

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