Liverpool v Besitkas: Sturridge relishes Euro debut
It may not be the Champions League, but Daniel Sturridge is optimistic about Liverpool's Europa prospects
Liverpool early hopes of reaching the Champions League final were comprehensively dashed when they failed to make it out of the tournament's group stage, and so tonight they find themselves in the less glamorous environs of the Europa League.
Turkish outfit Besitkas are the visitors to Anfield for the first leg of their tie and for Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge the game has a special significance.
"It is my European debut with Liverpool and I'm looking forward to it," said the 25-year-old. "I've waited such a long time to play this game, it has been very difficult for myself to sit out and watch all those games we have played in the Champions League without being part of it, very, very hard."
Sturridge was injured early on in the season and spent five months recovering from thigh and calf problems. In that time the Reds were dumped out of the Champions League after a miserable run of results in which they failed to beat Basel and Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets.
That's all behind them now, however, and Sturridge is determined to help Liverpool emulate Chelsea in 2013. The Blues exited the Champions League at the group stage – having won the tournament the previous year – but put the disappointment behind them to go on and lift the Europa League trophy.
"Sometimes you don't get the results you need, you don't always get what you want," Sturridge told reporters. "But that doesn't make us any less determined in the Europa League. It is not a joke to us, believe me, it doesn't mean we are any less serious. We want to win it, we want success."
For that to happen, Sturridge needs to form an effective strike partnership with Mario Balotelli. The Italian arrived at Anfield last summer and the pair worked well together in August, combining to help Liverpool cruise to a 3-0 win against Tottenham.
Then Sturridge got injured and ever since the Reds have struggled up front. But the England forward believes he and Balotelli can rejuvenate Liverpool in the second half of the season. "I enjoy playing with Mario, I think he's a great guy," said Sturridge. "I get along with him [and] I feel we can have a successful partnership."
In tonight's other Europa League clashes, Liverpool's Merseyside neighbours, Everton, travel to Switzerland to play BSC Young Boys, while Tottenham host Italian side Fiorentina at White Hart Lane.
It will be Tottenham's 42nd match of the season and the first of six games in 17 days (including the League Cup Final against Chelsea on March 1) but manager Mauricio Pochettino struck a bullish note ahead of tonight's clash.
"All the squad are fit and we are in a very good way," he declared. "It's important to manage the squad and always analyse after the games each case and each player, and after to be clever and select the best player to play in each game."
Meanwhile in Glasgow, Celtic host Inter Milan with manager Ronny Deila predicting his side – unbeaten in their last eight matches – face the biggest test of their season against the Italian giants. "We will get a lot of answers tomorrow – how good are Celtic right now and how good are we individually," said Deila on Wednesday.
"We have a very exciting squad, we have many young players who are just at the beginning of their careers and these matches are important to improve and to show what level you are at."