LIVERPOOL will be faced with thousands of empty seats and freezing conditions in tomorrow night’s Europa League clash with Anzhi Makhachkala in Moscow.
UEFA have banned Anzhi from playing in their home city of Makhachkala in the Russian republic of Dagestan due to security concerns so only the most dedicated of their supporters will embark on the 1,000-mile trip north to the capital.
The 28,800-capacity Lokomotiv Stadium, which they are using to host their European fixtures, was half empty for last month’s 2-0 win over Young Boys in Group A.
Attendances have been boosted by fans from the Moscow clubs and even Zenit St Petersburg turning up simply to voice their disapproval at Anzhi’s presence in the capital and cause trouble.
Guus Hiddink’s players have had to contend with racist and nationalist abuse as well as fireworks being thrown on to the pitch.
Trouble at their Europa League qualifier against AZ Alkmaar back in August led to around 80 arrests and Anzhi striker Fedor Smolov didn’t hold back with his criticism of the troublemakers.
“If a person lacks culture, he acts accordingly,” he said.
“The provocations were staged by some low-lifes, who only know how to drink beer and swear in front of women and children.
“Is there a way to deal with them? There is a European example where people are banned from visiting the games of a team for one, two or three years.”
The authorities have taken measures to try to ensure there is no repeat of those ugly scenes tomorrow night and a heavy police presence is guaranteed for the Reds’ visit.
In a bid to keep rival Russian fans out, tickets for the match haven’t gone on sale in Moscow.
Anzhi supporters with fan club membership have been forced to make an appointment and show their passport in order to buy a ticket for the visit of Brendan Rodgers’ men.
An Anzhi spokesman explained that the move was aimed at preventing “destructively minded people from the football hooligan subculture” from getting into the stadium.
Anzhi’s rise from also-rans to title contenders since billionaire Suleiman Kerimov bought the club in January 2011 has created resentment.
When Russia played Serbia at the Lokomotiv Stadium three months ago, Yuri Zhirkov was booed by the home fans simply because he plays for Anzhi.
That’s partly explained by jealousy at the club’s financial power but also a general sense of hostility that exists in the country towards the ethnically diverse southern region which is dogged by unrest and terrorism.
Anzhi’s former Blackburn defender Chris Samba said: “We are unpopular because people can’t understand how a club that won the second division three years ago are now title contenders.
“But there are billionaires everywhere. Look at Manchester City. Did they achieve something? Yes, they became champions. What about Chelsea? Did they become a big club? Yes.
“People have to accept that we are here and we are going to fight to stay where we are.”
Anzhi do play their home league games in Dagestan, but Hiddink's players and staff live and train on the outskirts of Moscow – flying into Makachkala on the eve of matches and then returning to the capital after the final whistle.
Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Anfield a fortnight ago courtesy of Stewart Downing’s stunning strike ended Anzhi’s 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Since then they have been knocked off top spot in the Russian top flight following a 2-1 defeat to Rubin Kazan.
They bounced back by beating Krylya Sovetov 2-1 to progress to the quarter-finals of the Russian Cup and on Sunday they ran out 3-1 winners in the league against Terek Grozny. Hiddink’s side currently trail leaders CSKA Moscow by one point.