Liverpool have kicked off their 2012-13 season earlier than most, as they look to qualify for the Europa League. The Anfield side is going through a period of transition after their recent managerial change, and will look to make Europe’s second-tier competition as a minimum in their second competitive fixture of the pre-season.
The Reds have replaced Kenny Dalglish with Brendan Rodgers, with the new coach bringing with him an optimism amongst the fans and an attacking outlook on the pitch. The Northern Irish manager has the bones of a solid squad to deal with, but will look to add a new face or two to his contingent before the Premier League gets underway on August 18.
The Merseysiders travelled to Belarus for the first leg of this tie, and escaped trying eastern European conditions with a 1-0 win over Gomel thanks to a Stewart Downing strike. The English outfit will look to make home advantage count this time round and put on a show for the Anfield faithful.
A number of team selection issues will be closely monitored by the footballing community. Experienced centre-back Daniel Agger was omitted from the Reds’ match-day squad for the first leg, sparking rumours that Rodgers may well be willing to cash-in on the Denmark international; Manchester City have been linked with a big-money move for the Scandinavian. England international striker Andy Carroll also missed the first game due to injury, amid reports that Rodgers did not want to cup-tie the forward ahead of a return to Newcastle.
Oleg Kubarev’s Gomel side are little known in the European game, and should provide a confidence booster for Liverpool. The Central Stadion side finished third in the Belarusian top flight last term, but on evidence of the first leg do not have sufficient quality to harm their illustrious opponents.
Rodgers and the Liverpool home faithful will be dreaming of a hefty victory in this one and may well get it should they score early. My Europa League free pick is a 3-0 win to Liverpool.