Liverpool v Besiktas: Match preview

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Liverpool start their Europa League campaign with a last 32 clash with Besiktas on Thursday night.

The Reds disappointed in the Champions League before the turn of the year and managed just five points in Group B from six games with their only win coming against Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad.

It was an under-par effort from Brendan Rodgers' side, however since they drew 1-1 with FC Basel at Anfield and were demoted to the Europa League, they have improved significantly.

In their last 16 games, Liverpool have lost just once, coming via extra-time in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

The Merseyside club top the current form table from six games in the Premier League with 14 points and summer signings have really began to adapt to Rodgers' style of play.

Besiktas have been in frightening form this season and Liverpool could not have asked for a more difficult side to entertain over two legs.

Slaven Bilic's outfit lie at the summit of the Turkish Super League and topped Group C in the Europa League, unbeaten in six games and defeated Tottenham Hotspur in Istanbul as well as managing a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane.

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Lazar Markovic misses the clash after being slapped with a four game ban following his red card against Basel in December. The Serb flung out an arm at Behrang Safari in the must-win game, however barely touched the Swiss international and has been harshly treated by UEFA.

Liverpool will likely leave it late until they decide the fate on Raheem Sterling. The 20-year-old has missed the Reds' last two matches with a foot injury and will be desperate to get back to action but Rodgers won't want to rush him back too quickly.

Captain Steven Gerrard will once again remain side-lined with a hamstring injury with his comeback date still unknown.

Balotelli to be given nod

Mario Balotelli hasn't had the greatest of careers on Merseyside. After making a £16 million move from AC Milan last August, the Italian has just three goals to his name with just one of those coming in the Premier League.

The majority of the time, the 24-year-old has operated as a lone striker and looked uncomfortable on his own and has begged for a strike-partner.

Daniel Sturridge has made a welcomed return from his five-month absence due to injury. His performances has been decent but on Saturday during the Reds' 2-1 win against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fifth round he looked back to his best when playing alongside Balotelli.

The two had an excellent understanding for one-another and caused the Palace defence all sorts of problems. It was an encouraging effort from the pair who seemed to enjoy each others presence and will look to continue their form in this game.

Ibe back on the wing

Jordan Ibe was cup-tied for Saturday's FA Cup game after appearing from Derby County when on loan in the Midlands, but has been added to Rodgers' European squad after being recalled in January.

The youngster has made two appearances against Everton and Tottenham and has shown why he was recalled early. Ibe was top-class in both games and put in efforts that were well above his age. He was electric when playing out wide causing problems for Bryan Oviedo and Danny Rose in both clahses and has become a very exciting prospect for the Reds.

Alberto Moreno has made the position of left wing-back his own and there seems no reason why he will lose his place. The Spaniard constantly looks to surge at defenders with the ball at his feet and is solid when he has to help out at the back.

Lallana in 'the hole'

Philippe Coutinho was quiet for a second successive game against Palace and looks badly in need of a rest after starting every game since Liverpool drew 1-1 with Basel.

Adam Lallana has not played as much as he would have liked this term but has began to show his form he did at Southampton last season. He was lively at Selhurst Park and has a good understanding with Balotelli, as shown when the two combined against Spurs.

Allen to shine again

There's no denying that I have been one of Joe Allen's biggest critics this season.

However, the Welshman impressed in Saturday's win against Palace in the centre-of-midfield. Allen was everywhere on the pitch, making excellent tackles and made a large number of interceptions.

As well as his defensive duties, the former Swansea City man was good on the ball - he spread it with purpose and picked the correct pass on most occasions. After being dubbed 'the Welsh Xavi' early in his Anfield career by Rodgers, Allen finally produced why he has had the tag placed on him.

Jordan Henderson will once again skipper Liverpool in the absence of Gerrard. The Wearside native has grown into one of the most important players in the Anfield dressing room and became a real leader. When Gerrard is not in the side, Henderson takes the responsibility with ease and plays with passion.

Skrtel to match Ba

Demba Ba will be looking to cause Kopites more heartache in this tie. Ba took advantage of Gerrard's slip when representing Chelsea last season and all but threw away any chance of Liverpool winning the Premier League.

The man who will be marking the Senegal international will be Martin Skrtel and it will be an entertaining clash to watch. Skrtel loves when he has a top striker to mark, as shown when up against Diego Costa, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke this season.

Emre Can has become a cult hero at the Merseyside club in recent weeks and will start on the right of the three centre-backs. The German has been superb form and looked so confident when playing at the back, winning tackles with ease and using the ball with plenty of purpose.

The final centre-back will be Mamadou Sakho.He was impressive against Palace on Saturday and got the upper hand with Yannick Bolasie often and got out of trouble well in difficult situations.

Mignolet to be targeted

After a difficult period, Simon Mignolet is back to his best. On Saturday, he was targeted at set-pieces by Alan Pardew's men however the Belgian took to the task boldly, collecting and punching the ball confidently.

Liverpool will dictate play at Anfield and it's likely that Besiktas will not see much of it. When the Turkish outfit do have opportunities, a lot will come from set-pieces and Mignolet will have a bull's-eye placed on him.

Will Liverpool beat Besiktas this evening? Post your score predictions in the comments below!

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Demba Ba
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