It was an odd arena in which to admire the skills of the best-paid footballer on the planet. A Europa League match, in a neutral ground, on an icy Moscow evening and a dire pitch, with much of the stadium completely empty.
On nights like this, perhaps Samuel Eto'o wonders whether a salary that adds up to almost as much as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi earn between them is worth forfeiting regular Champions League football for. Certainly, the Cameroonian, who joined Dagestani oligarch Suleiman Kerimov's Anzhi Makhachkala project in the prime of his career, did not look that interested in this game, in which his side just about edged a second-string Liverpool with a single Lacina Traore goal.
Neither side looked particularly happy to be here. For Liverpool, there was the irritation of a sappingly long flight just three days before a trip to Stamford Bridge. The few hundred Liverpool fans who had made the long and expensive journey to Moscow were greeted at the stadium not only with footage from the Hillsborough disaster on the big screens, but also news that Brendan Rodgers had left most of his senior squad at home. The Liverpool manager gave starts to Jon Flanagan, Conor Coady, Andre Wisdom and Adam Morgan, and there was also a rare outing for Joe Cole.
For Anzhi, it was a "home" game, but since their native Dagestan is beset by an Islamic insurgency and deemed too dangerous by Uefa, they play European fixtures in Moscow in a half-empty stadium.
The opening half an hour was a turgid affair, with Liverpool failing to threaten, and Anzhi every bit as unwilling to burst into life as they were at Anfield last month. It was the 23rd minute before either side had a chance, with Morgan putting in excellent work on the right before rolling a perfectly timed ball into the box which Jordan Henderson squared into the legs of an Anzhi defender when it would have been easier to shoot. Ten minutes before half-time, Wisdom was dispossessed by Yuri Zhirkov, the former Chelsea winger's ball in found Eto'o, who blasted a shot that looked like it was heading for the top corner before Brad Jones made a fine save. It was the first and last time that the Cameroonian made an impression.
The only goal came unexpectedly in first half injury time from Traore. As both sides seemed happy to head into the dressing rooms at 0-0, the 22-year-old Ivorian picked the ball up well outside the area, flicked it over Sebastian Coates and then lobbed it over the oncoming Jones.
In the second half, Anzhi looked more dangerous, without ever giving the impression of a side that was particularly bothered about the result. Most impressive were the tricky runs down the right wing from the talented Moroccan-Belgian Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez. It was Traore who again had the best chances; an angled header from Zhirkov's cross that went straight at Jones, and a one-on-one run at goal that ended with him placing his shot just wide.
In a largely forgettable game, Liverpool showed flashes of spirit, with Jonjo Shelvey an impressive presence in midfield. Their best chance to snatch a point came when Anzhi's keeper Vladimir Gabulov spilt a long shot from substitute Daniel Pachecho into the path of the onrushing Cole, who should have scored but was denied by the keeper. Cole was substituted immediately afterwards.
Rodgers said after the game he had no regrets about the unfamiliar team he had put out. "The players that are here have been magnificent. They've done really well tonight," he said. "We just got punished for a mistake in concentration."
Anzhi Makhachkala Gabulov, Logashov, Samba, Joao Carlos, Tagirbekov, Ahmedov (Carcela-Gonzalez, 29, Lahiyalov, 90) Jucilei, Zhirkov, Eto'o, Boussoufa, Traore (Smolov, 80). Substitutes not used Pomazan, Gadzhibekov, Agalarov, Burmistrov.
Liverpool Jones, Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Flanagan, Henderson, Coady (Suso, 61), Cole (Assaidi, 77), Shelvey, Downing, Morgan (Pacheco, 61). Substitutes not used Gulacsi, Wilson, Sama, Robinson.
Referee D Borbalan (Sp).Reuse content