There's two ways to view today's win over the well-moneyed Russian powerhouse (Well-Moneyed Russian Powerhouse opened for Megadeth for a while). On the one hand, you can take the view of those like Nate at Oh You Beauty, who are reserving judgement to see how the first-teamers are affected on Sunday in the more important match at Goodison. You can take the view of F365 that says there's no prep for a big match like winning a big match, which Liverpool did today.
Me? I think I lean toward the 365 view. While having some players play three times in a week is risky, considering the squad and the place Liverpool inhabit there are going to be times when you have to roll the dice a bit. And with all three matches taking place on Merseyside, this is the time to take that chance. Second, I like the precedent that Rodgers sets here. That no matter what the squad condition, the club is in to progress and hopefully win every match they're in. He's not so bullheaded that he would do it to the detriment of the team. But today felt like a time you could get away with fielding most of the first choice, and he did so. And because of the victory, he can save most if not all of them from flying to Russia in two weeks' time. Because Liverpool's progression out of the group won't hinge on that result now.
And besides, who doesn't want more European games to watch?
And Liverpool were full value for it today. While they weren't at their best, they certainly bossed the game over an overly cautious Anzhi side. Yeah, the wonky finishing showed up again. It won't ever not. The match didn't have to be as nervy as it was at the end. But seeing as how the opponent had lost one of their last 22 matches and were a force away from home in this competition, it's a sneaky good result. Even when you consider some of the bizarre decisions Guus Hiddink made.
Anyway, to the bullets:
-Let's start with the sub that eventually ended up helping to win the game. Whether Johnson was hurt or just rested for the weekend, the obvious decision was to bring Enrique or Robinson on. But Rodgers saw that Anzhi were backing off and not going for it, and made the ballsy choice. While I wonder about Rodgers's ability to go to a Plan B, one thing he can't be accused of is not being able to smell blood or not being ambitious. We saw it at West Brom and against United when Liverpool were down to 10. It led to defeat at the Hawthorns, but it saw Liverpool control the game against ManUre and unluckily defeated. I love the "Fuck It" attitude. Certainly wouldn't have ever seen Rafa or Houllier make such a sub, and the very idea of it would have killed Hodgson.
-I was very surprised at how conservative Anzhi were. I know they had some injuries in midfield, but not starting Traore seemed weird. And they've been taking this competition seriously. I know the name Liverpool and Anfield still ring with some menace, but it's as if Guus hadn't watched any recent film. When Eto'o had to drop deep to get a touch, no one was getting beyond him. He needed another forward with him. Maybe Hiddink thought that he could easily get a draw with this which is all he really needed. And I guess they weren't that far away from it. But considering the talent and expense, you'd think they'd always be going for it.
-While he didn't play a part in the goal, this was the good side of Ossuama Assaidi. Not nearly as selfish and blind as he was against Udinese, he was inventive and destructive with almost every touch. In fact, with Suso looking less comfortable on a flank, I wonder if he hasn't played himself into at least an appearance on Sunday.
-The trio of Shelvey, Gerrard, and Sahin left huge gaps in midfield, but luckily it was against an opposition that was hesitant to use it. They won't be so lucky in Russia.
-Wisdom will be a serious contender for man of the match. Strong, confident, unrattled. You can see where his future is in the center with that strength and pace, but he's looking more and more comfy at right back. The whole backline was excellent, with Agger at his commanding best. And that's with the jittery Downing on their left for half the match.
Liverpool sit top of the group, but with the reverse of these fixtures today up next and Udinese returning home, they could be 3rd again after the next match. But a win at home against Young Boys and a draw in Italy should be enough to go through. And that experience can only help.