3:05pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2 (or Fox Sports Go and Fox Soccer 2 Go apps)
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Palace (a); 3-2 Spurs (h); 0-0 Everton (a)
Besiktas: 3-2 Bursaspor (h); 0-1 Kayserispor (a); 2-1 Rizespor (a)
Previous European matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Basel (h); 2-2 Ludogorets (a); 0-1 Real (a); 0-3 Real (h); 0-1 Basel (a); 2-1 Ludogorets (h)
Besiktas: 1-0 Spurs (h); 2-2 Asteras (a); 2-1 Partizan (h); 4-0 Partizan (a); 1-1 Spurs (a); 1-1 Asteras (h); 0-1 Arsenal (a); 0-0 Arsenal (h)
Liverpool: Gerrard 2; Balotelli, Henderson, Lambert 1
Besiktas: Ba 5; Töre 3; Kavlak, Özyakup, Tosun 1
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL)
Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Ibe Henderson Allen Moreno
It's probably safe to assume that despite a massive, massive league match in the race for a Champions League place on Sunday, Liverpool will start a full-strength XI. Which means there are only a few possible changes from the side we saw at Crystal Palace.
With Markovic suspended for the next four (!!!) European matches, the midfield and defense seem fairly certain. Can, Skrtel, Sakho. Ibe, Henderson, Allen, and Moreno. Gerrard's still out and I assume Rodgers still sees no reason to shift Can into midfield and bring Lovren or Johnson into the side.
The front three is less predictable. Is Sterling fit after missing the last two matches? Does Coutinho need a rest after starting every match since December 9 – 17 matches in 63 days? That's a lot. And it's shown in the last few difficult fixtures against Everton, Tottenham, and Palace.
Still, if I had to guess, I'd assume Sterling will be used as a substitute, if at all – one of the few saved for Southampton – with the same front three we saw at Palace. I guess there's a small chance of Sturridge and Balotelli paired up front, with either Lallana or Coutinho in behind, as we saw in the second half of Saturday's match, but I suspect that'll also be a "break glass in case of emergency" situation. Or Lallana could play as the right wing-back, as he did after substitutions against West Ham and Palace. But, again, I'd be surprised. Rodgers rarely springs surprises, at least not when Liverpool are in a decent vein of form.
Often the third of the three big clubs in Turkey, Besiktas are currently top of the Super Lig, a single point ahead of Fenerbahce and two ahead of Galatasaray.
In lieu of attempting to preview a team I've seen all of twice this season, I'll direct you to this excellent write-up from Bass Tuned to Red. The short version: underwhelming statistics, but strong at both ends, converting more chances and conceding fewer goals than you'd expect. Which suggests we'll see a very cagey first leg.
Besitkas almost always play some variant of 4-3-3: usually 4-2-3-1, sometimes 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1. I wouldn't be surprised to see the more defensive 4-1-4-1, an XI something like Gonen; Kurtulus, Franco, Gülüm, Ramon; Kavlak; Töre, Hutchinson, Sosa, Sahan; Ba. Out-and-out defensive midfielder Uysai is also an option, most likely in place of Canadian Atiba Hutchinson. Gonen is Besiktas' back-up keeper, with club captain Zengin out injured, but its not as if Gonen – 26-years-old, with 10 appearances this season and two caps for the Turkish national team – is inexperienced.
Besiktas have a few players you've heard of. We'll mention and then quickly move on from Demba Ba, for fear of provoking traumatic memories and/or bad trip acid flashbacks. As Bass Tuned to Red wrote, Jose Sosa – formerly of Atletico Madrid, among others – is also an important player, their version of Coutinho. More specifically, last season's Coutinho: the most advanced in a midfield three, the primary chance creator and assist maker. You'll also probably remember attacking midfielder Kerim Frei from Fulham, most often used as a substitute (as he was in his two previous appearances against Liverpool). And then there's Besiktas' manager, Slaven Bilic: former Everton and West Ham player, Croatian manager, and all-around enjoyable character.
With the first leg at Anfield, it's imperative that Liverpool perform well tomorrow, to have something to take to Turkey in a week's time. A side that's as defensively strong as Besiktas isn't going to give you much opportunity in Istanbul, so Liverpool needs to make its own opportunities on its own ground.
At the same time, two-legged ties are rarely won in the first leg, but they sure as hell can be lost. Liverpool have to strike a balance between taking the game to Besiktas and not leaving themselves open at the back, not doing anything stupid. But this season's been all about finding a balance, and Liverpool seem closer than ever to doing so.