Hostile Istanbul awaits Reds

2015-02-25 16:15
Liverpool (AFP)

Istanbul - Liverpool must battle a hostile welcome from a 70 000-capacity crowd as they face an injury-hit Besiktas in Istanbul on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

The Reds squeezed a 1-0 win in the first leg last week at Anfield against a tenacious Besiktas side thanks to a late penalty from Mario Balotelli.

But Liverpool, returning to the scene of their legendary 2005 victory in the Champions League final against AC Milan, are under no illusions over the size of the task they face at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul.

Besiktas, who are playing at the Olympic Stadium while their own ground overlooking the Bosphorus is rebuilt, have slashed ticket prices to totally sell out the stadium and avoid the thin attendances that have dogged Turkish football this season.

Its famously fanatical black-clad fans - known for their leftist and anti-establishment tendencies -- should create the hostile atmosphere that for years has struck fear into foreign sides visiting Istanbul for European ties.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers wants a strong run in the Europa League to show his in-form side have firmly put their dismal start to the season behind them.

Meanwhile, European glory would be the perfect end for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard as he bids farewell in his last season with the club.

"We knew there might be a difficult patch early in the season and that probably went on longer than we hoped and expected," midfielder Joe Allen told the Liverpool Echo.

"At the same time we always knew we would come through it," he added.

Still nursing a hamstring problem, Gerrard is unlikely to play on the pitch where he helped Liverpool to their famous 2005 victory, when they triumphed on penalties after recovering from 3-0 down at half-time. Defender Mamadou Sakho meanwhile is also a doubt for the Reds.

Under Croatian coach Slaven Bilic, who played for Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton from 1997 to 2000, Besiktas have impressed in the Turkish Super Lig this season and gave Arsenal a run for their money in a play-off for a Champions League spot in August.

However, the injury-hit side come into the tie off a hugely disappointing 1-0 defeat at the weekend away to Eskisehirspor which saw them surrender top spot in the Super Lig to arch rivals Galatasaray.

"We must forget this match and focus on the Liverpool game," said Bilic, putting the defeat down to fatigue after the tough first leg at Anfield.

"We want to start a new winning streak starting with the Liverpool game," he added.

Bilic is troubled by a string of injuries to key players, including attacking midfielder Gokhan Tore and above all Senegalese striker Demba Ba, the Super Lig's joint top scorer with 13 goals this season.

The former Chelsea, West Ham United and Newcastle United player Ba has been a class act for the Black Eagles all season and Besiktas team doctors have been carrying out round-the-clock treatment to get the key duo fit.

Turkish media said that Ba had responded well to treatment for a side injury and was likely to play. Meanwhile, treatment was continuing to make Tore fit after an ankle injury.

However Swedish defender Alexander Milosevic and goalkeeper Tolga Zengin are expected not to play due to injury.

The two sides also met in the 2007/08 Champions League group stage, with Besiktas winning 2-1 in Istanbul before losing 8-0 away, still the heaviest loss suffered by any club in the competition.

Read more on:    liverpool  |  europa league  |  brendan rodgers  |  soccer

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