Brendan Rodgers may not have taken Anzhi Makhachkala lightly when Liverpool traveled to Russia for their last Europa League match, but by leaving his stars at home he at least showed a clear preference to focus on the league with a game against Chelsea three days later. For most, with Liverpool in control of their destiny in Europe no matter how things ended, it was the right call and remained so even after a very winnable match ended in defeat.
This time around, however, things are likely to be different, as victory against BSC Young Boys at Anfield on Thursday would clinch advancement and mean no further points would be needed when Liverpool make a potentially tricky trip to face Udinese in the final game of the group stage. With a need for maximum points, then—not to mention a chance for Pepe Reina to break Ray Clemence's European appearances record—there's every chance Rodgers will put out a very strong lineup this week.
"It is an extremely important game," said Joe Allen, who after being given the last Europa League game off along with Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, and defenders Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, is expected to start tomorrow. "It's a great chance at Anfield to really put pressure on Young Boys, get three points and hopefully put us at the top of the group. We want to go as far in this Europa League as we possibly can and we know Thursday's match is pivotal if we're going to do that.
"Young Boys played quite expansively and open, and at times they caused our defence a lot of trouble, but the positives from our point of view in that game were having gone behind, we came back. To score five goals away from home in a European contest was a massive achievement."
The last time the sides met it resulted in a goal-fest, with a young Liverpool side trading blows with the Swiss club in a 5-3 thriller that saw Andre Wisdom, Sebastian Coates, and Jonjo Shelvey score on the way to a come from behind victory. Whether or not a more experienced Liverpool side will be as leaky at the back—or as accurate in front of goal themselves—remains to be seen, but the potential for goals is certainly there.
And while winning tomorrow might not count as a massive achievement, securing advancement to the knockout rounds would at least represent a minor landmark of a victory for the club in the Brendan Rodgers era. It might not be advancement in the Champions League, or the capture of silverware, or even signal a genuine challenge on the top four or the top of the league. Nonetheless it would represent a significant moment for Rodgers as the club's new manager, and that's likely enough to get him to play a strong lineup despite Swansea waiting on the weekend in the league before a trip to face Tottenham next Wednesday.
"Physically it's demanding," added Allen, touching on the prospect of starting four games over a two-week stretch that began with Wigan on Sunday. "But you try not to think about that. Any footballer wants to play as often as they can. The quicker the games come, the more exciting and more enjoyable the season."