A crowded month plows on, and despite concerns about fatigue and their ability to keep up momentum in the midst of a number of contrived controversies, Liverpool have continued their season rescue effort into the final week of February. Winners of four straight in all competitions, they're poised to make a charge at the top four in the Premier League while also being well positioned to advance to the semifinals of the FA Cup and, with the right result tomorrow, the final 16 of the Europa League.
Progress tomorrow isn't yet secured, but a late Mario Balotelli penalty last Thursday means that they don't need much from the second leg. Under Brendan Rodgers they haven't ever been conservative, but tomorrow affords an opportunity for Liverpool to show the maturity and savvy that the manager and his squad have crowed about as the good results have come with increasing frequency over the last two months.
If they do advance it will be over a very good Besiktas side, one that played their hosts close in the first leg. They didn't deserve much more from the match than they got, but, along with their supporters, they gave a good account of themselves at Anfield and will have plenty of belief that the tie is far from over. Any lingering doubts may have been compounded over the weekend, however, as they unexpectedly dropped three points at Eskisehirspor on Sunday, leaving them a point behind Galatasaray and just one ahead of Fenerbache in the Super Lig race.
As was touched on earlier, they also have significant worries about their two best attacking threats in Demba Ba and Gokhan Tore, neither of whom is a certainty to make the matchday squad tomorrow. That would be a massive boost for Liverpool in a match in which the hosts need at least one goal; Ba and Tore represented nearly all of the threat going forward in the first leg, and while Slaven Bilic's side are capable to winning without them, they'd be at a clear disadvantage if they can't play. Against Eskisehirspor, Bilic made four changes in total, dropping Atiba Hutchinson and Tore to the bench with Ba left out completely.
Lovren Skrtel Toure
Manquillo Can Allen Moreno
Besiktas may have injury concerns, but so too do Liverpool. The English club's injury list grew significantly today, with news Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho, and Glen Johnson had all been left out of the traveling squad and would not be available on Thursday. Jose Enrique, Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Brad Jones, and Jon Flanagan remain sidelined with no set date for when they return to action, though Gerrard at least is targeting being fit enough for the bench on Sunday against Manchester City. Lazar Markovic serves the second of his four-match European ban.
While it might be nice to see Emre Can get the night off, the lengthy list of injuries means that's unlikely. That so many of those injuries are in midfield, though, could mean he moves up the pitch to play alongside Joe Allen with both Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure given starts alongside Martin Skrtel. Meanwhile, it's one of either Jordon Ibe or Javi Manquillo at wingback on the right, and while the 19-year-old is the preferred option at this point, he might also benefit from starting on the bench after a string of consecutive starts and with a weakened midfield there's a case for Rodgers choosing the more conservative option.
The front three could again take a number of different shapes, though with Coutinho out the realistic options seem limited to three of Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, and Mario Balotelli. After featuring in the second half at the St. Mary's, Daniel Sturridge is probable to start here, and Raheem Sterling seems a lock to be included as well. That leaves the third spot up for grabs, and just as a depleted midfield makes the case for a more conservative wingback selection, it could mean Rodgers looks to use the depth he does have by playing a second striker. Step up, Mario?
Kickoff is set for 6:00PM GMT/1:00PM EST on Thursday, with ITV 4 providing coverage in the UK and Fox Sports 1 airing the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with any breaking team news, team sheets when they’re released, and live coverage tomorrow including full viewing options and post-match reactions. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SB Nation account and join us for it.