Zenit St. Petersburg will welcome Liverpool to the freezing cold of Russia when the pair meet for the first leg of their Europa League Round of 32 clash.
The Russian giants come to the competition after being eliminated from the group stages of the Champions Leagu, and will be looking for a much stronger performance here. However, against a team with the known quality of Liverpool, it'll be no easy task for Zenit in this one.
Brendan Rodgers' side won through to the knockout rounds after just progressing on top of Group A, with only goal difference keeping them from slipping down to third place.
With a frustrating season in the Premier League likely to end in nothing but a mid-table finish, the Europa League is therefore the Reds' best chance at success in 2013. So expect this one to certainly carry some feeling in it from both sides at the moment.
Who will triumph in the first of the two legs here in this Europa League clash? Read on for a full preview and prediction including live stream, TV info and more.
Date: Thursday, February 14, 2012
Venue: Petrovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Start time: 12:00 p.m. EST (5:00 p.m. British time)
Live Stream and TV Info
According to Live Soccer TV, the match will be available for viewing on ESPN Deportes, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Soccer 2Go throughout the United States.
ITV4 will cover the match throughout the United Kingdom.
The season so far: Zenit St. Petersburg
Following some big moves over the summer transfer window at the start of the season, Zenit St. Petersburg were expected to be big players in both the Russian Premier League as well as the UEFA Champions League throughout the year.
And whilst they were drawn into a hard group for the Champions League (with AC Milan and Malaga), they were expected to show more than they did in the group stages—bowing out in third place despite winning their last two matches in the competition.
Within the RPL, Zenit currently sit in the third spot at the moment—five points behind CSKA Moscow—as the competition takes a three-month winter break.
The club aren't in the greatest form domestically speaking, winning just once in their past four matches and just twice in their past seven at home.
Yet, having said that, they have a very strong squad in 2013—featuring the likes of Hulk, Axel Witsel and Danny—and are certainly no easy-beats here.
The season so far: Liverpool
As mentioned before, Liverpool come into this round of 32 fixture having won through at the top of Group A in the Europa League, but didn't show a great deal of confidence and fluid football in doing so.
They didn't win a single game by more than one goal and lacked the consistency that has somewhat plagued their entire year under Rodgers.
In the Premier League, the story has been no different.
The Merseyside club have not won three matches in a row all season long and have now won just once in their last five league matches. Granted they've played some tough fixtures in there, but their recent 2-0 home loss to West Bromwich Albion showed that this is a team that lacks the clinical edge to beat off lower teams on a consistent basis.
A 3-2 loss to lowly Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup didn't help that either.
The Reds now find themselves in the ninth position on the Premier League ladder—12 points outside of the top four and a massive 29 points off the lead.
They'll be looking to this Europa League clash to try and instill some consistency back into their play and some joy back into the hearts of their supporters—things they know the Merseyside are more than capable of doing on their day this season.
What They're Saying
Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has spoken out in advance of Thursday's clash, warning his club and players of the racism concerns he has about the trip to Russia. The antics of the club's supporters in particular had worried the managing director, so much so that he wrote to UEFA about the matter.
Ayre was quoted via the club's official website (h/t The Guardian):
It's been a major concern for us so I wrote to Uefa very recently expressing our concerns to them—and also to Zenit themselves.
The most we can do is make our feelings clear ahead of the game, and hope that we get an adequate response and adequate support on the night.
The most important thing for our players is that they remain professional throughout this. We certainly won't tolerate that type of attitude or any of those types of incidents from our team so the important thing is that we let them know how we expect them to act if there is an incident.
I'd much rather we take the incident off the pitch and we deal with it. Obviously the referee has a role to play within that. But we'll be briefing our players of what's acceptable and what's not.
Midfielder Jordan Henderson also spoke about the great opportunity that this Europa League match provides to get the club back on the right track.
We just have to keep going, keep our heads up and bounce back from this. We just have to stay positive and think about the next game now which is Zenit. We know the European game is important as well but I think every game is important to be honest.
We will keep improving. We have to play well every week and hopefully we will get better results than against West Brom.
Whilst the Russian champions have had some time off domestic action to solely prepare on this game, it's hard to count out Liverpool from trying to make a statement here—especially given their demoralizing loss on the weekend.
Expect Brendan Rodgers to field an aggressive lineup that will try to shut down the likes of Hulk and Danny in attack and utilize their speed on the wings.
It's hard to see the Reds winning here given just how difficult it would be to play in Russia at this time of the year. A draw isn't out of the equation, with the away goal crucial for the Reds when they play Zenit again at Anfield next week.
Final score: Zenit St. Petersburg 1, Liverpool 1
What do you think will happen between Zenit and Liverpool?
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