COLIN PASCOE admits Liverpool must nullify the threat of “world class” Samuel Eto’o at Anfield tonight if they are going to get their Europa League campaign back on track.
The assistant boss knows the Reds’ new-found defensive resilience will face a stiff examination at the hands of Anzhi Makhachkala’s Cameroon international striker.
Eto’o, whose £350,000 per week wages make him the highest paid player on the planet, has already plundered 14 goals in 19 appearances so far this season.
The predatory instincts of the 31-year-old, who joined the Russian big-spenders in a £23.7million deal from Inter Milan a year ago, has helped fire Anzhi’s stunning start to the campaign.
Guus Hiddink’s side are two points clear in their domestic league on the back of a club record seven successive wins and have also set the pace in Group A. Their only defeat in 21 games in all competitions this term came away to CSKA Moscow back in mid-August.
“Eto’o is world class,” said Pascoe.
“He is fantastic and is a household name.
“He is a threat we have to deal with but we’re lucky to have good defenders like Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. I’m sure they will let him know they’re around.”
Since billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov took control of Anzhi in January last year, they have spent more than £110million in transfer fees on the likes of Eto’o, former Brazil left-back Roberto Carlos, ex-Chelsea defender Yuri Zhirkov, former Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra and ex-Blackburn centre-back Christopher Samba.
Carlos is now retired and works alongside Hiddink as the club’s sporting director, while Diarra misses the trip to Anfield due to injury.
By finishing fifth in the league last season, Anzhi qualified for Europe for only the second time in their history.
Budapest Honved, Vitesse Arnhem and AZ Alkmaar were beaten home and away without conceding a goal in the qualifying rounds. In the group stage, they followed up a 1-1 draw away to Udinese with a 2-0 victory at home to Young Boys.
With their seemingly unlimited resources, Pascoe expects them to become an established Champions League club over the coming years.
“They have some very good players and a great manager,” he added.
“As well as Eto’o, there’s Samba at the back. He’s a big lad and he’s a threat from set-plays.
“Look at the money they’ve spent, there’s only one way they are going to go and that’s Champions League. The money is just unbelievable.
“They have dominated the Russian League so far this season. They’ve played 12 domestic league games, won nine, drawn two and only lost one. They’ve lost one out of 21 games overall and they are unbeaten in Europe so we know it will be very tough.”
Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat to Udinese on matchday two ended a 13-game unbeaten European run at Anfield going back nearly three years.
It left Brendan Rodgers’ side third in Group A on three points, one adrift of both Udinese and Anzhi, who lead the way on goal difference.
With tough trips to Russia and Italy to come, victory tonight is vital if the Reds are going to progress to the knockout stage.
Liverpool have struggled defensively in the competition so far having conceded three times in both of their group matches. However, Pascoe takes heart from the fact they go into the game having kept back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League.
Rodgers’ No 2 admits last Saturday’s first home league win of the season against Reading has given everything a lift and now he wants momentum to be maintained.
“The performance against Reading was right up there,” he said.
“We dominated the game, kept a clean sheet and created plenty of chances. We were unfortunate that we didn’t get more goals and we’re just missing a little bit of luck in the final third.
“We’ve been solid at the back and we need to keep that going. Anzhi are a good side and will be tough opponents but it’s very important we get that win.”
With Pepe Reina still hampered by a hamstring problem, Brad Jones will continue in goal. The Australian shot-stopper, who shone on his first league start for the Reds against Reading, is keen to stake a claim for more regular action.
“For me, it’s about getting opportunities,” he said. “It’s difficult to compete with someone if you are not out there playing.
“I’m grateful for this chance to play and show what I can do. Hopefully I can justify being given those chances. It can only be good to have competition.
“I haven’t played two games on the bounce yet, so I’m not going to be saying that I should be playing every week. But if I can do well and give the manager a headache, then great.
“Anzhi will be strong but whoever we’re playing against doesn’t particularly bother me. It’s always the same idea when you go out – you don’t want to concede.
“Eto’o is a fantastic player and has been for a number of years and you know you have to be on top of your game, but you have to do that every day in training anyway with the likes of (Steven) Gerrard and (Luis) Suarez. It’s just a case of ensuring you concentrate and do the right things.”
Jones has watched Anzhi’s progress under Hiddink, who managed the Socceroos to the 2006 World Cup, with interest. The 65-year-old former Real Madrid boss took over in Dagestan back in February after a spell in charge of Turkey.
“You get a reputation by achieving what he has achieved,” Jones said.
“Everywhere he’s been he has been successful. He was involved with the Australian national team and everyone speaks highly of him back home.
“He has certainly proved what he can do in any league and any country, he has always achieved something. He is very experienced and I’m sure he will have his side ready for us.
“This season has started a lot better for Anzhi. The manager has constructed more of what he wants and you can see that in their league position. Anzhi are probably the strongest team in the group given the money they have spent.”
With Sunday’s trip to Goodison on the horizon, it’s a big week for the Reds but Jones insists there is no chance of the derby acting as a distraction tonight.
“Everyone is concentrating on Anzhi,” he added.
“Once we get that out of the way the excitement will build ahead of Sunday.”
Highest paid players in world football
1. Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi Makhachkala – pictured) £16.2m
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint Germain) £11.7m
3. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) £11.2m
4. Yaya Toure (Manchester City) £10.5m
5. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) £10.1m
6. Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua) £9.7m
7. Fernando Torres (Chelsea) £8.7m
8. Dario Conca (Guangzhou Evergrande) £8.6m
9. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) £8.5m
10. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) £8.1m
Annual salary only – not including sponsorship etc. Source: MARCA, September 4, 2012