Picking the Ideal Liverpool Starting XI to Face Zenit St Petersburg

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2013

Picking the Ideal Liverpool Starting XI to Face Zenit St Petersburg

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    Liverpool will look to put the disappointment of defeat behind them on Thursday as they play the first leg of their Round of 32 clash with Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia.

    A Premier League defeat to West Brom might give Brendan Rodgers a few thoughts about who should be in his side for the journey to Eastern Europe, with a very important league game against Swansea City to follow just a few days later.

    The Europa League has seen Liverpool rotate their squad somewhat this season, with the younger members of the squad as well as some fringe seniors being given a chance to prove their worth in the competition.

    Right now, though, the Reds are into the knock-out stages, meaning one poor performance could spell the end of their involvement in continental competition for another season.

    Here is the side that Liverpool should consider sending to Russia with the aim of bringing back a respectable result for the second leg at Anfield.

Goalkeeper: Brad Jones

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    Liverpool goalkeepers Pepe Reina and Brad Jones have both had runs in the team this season, but the Australian backup did not cover himself in glory in his last appearance against Oldham Athletic.

    He will likely start in goal for the first leg against Zenit and needs to get back to his authoritative best.

    Liverpool will almost certainly be under pressure at various stages of the game in Russia so a strong defence and in-form goalkeeper is a must if they are to still be in the tie for the second leg.

    Jones needs a good performance for both his own sake and that of his team.

Full-Backs: Andre Wisdom and Jose Enrique

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    At full-back, Liverpool's Glen Johnson is a sure-fire starter in the next league game against Swansea despite his recent poor performance against West Brom. He will therefore likely be rested, with Andre Wisdom coming into the team in his place.

    Wisdom can count himself a little unfortunate to have been left out of the team recently, having done a good job in most of his games this season.

    On the opposite side, Liverpool's lack of real options means that unless Jack Robinson has severely impressed in training since the Oldham debacle—from the entire team, not just Robinson—then Jose Enrique should be one of the few to start back-to-back games in the Premier and Europa League fixtures.

Centre-Backs: Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates

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    Two of the players who have suffered the most from recent performances and results are centre-backs Sebastian Coates and Martin Skrtel.

    Jamie Carragher's reintegration into the first team has left the Slovakian on the bench, with Coates not even in the matchday squad most of the time.

    Both should return against Zenit and, quite simply, both have to respond with hugely improved performances if they are to make their way back into the picture over the remainder of the season.

Central Midfielders: Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson

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    In midfield, Liverpool suddenly have a few less options to tinker with. Nuri Sahin has ended his loan spell early, Joe Cole has departed and Philippe Coutinho is ineligible to play in the Europa League.

    Joe Allen should come back into the team in the holding, controlling role, with Jordan Henderson returning central to partner him and bring more energy to the Liverpool midfield.

    Steven Gerrard and Lucas are both too important at present to risk in a Europa League match with a Premier League game only three days afterwards, so they should be left out.

Attacking Midfielder: Jonjo Shelvey

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    Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey was one of the starters who didn't have enough positive impact in the defeat to West Brom recently, but he will likely get another opportunity to impress in Europe.

    Shelvey should play the attacking midfield role again, the position he prefers to play in, and he will have to have a positive impact on the match if he is to keep his place when league action resumes at the weekend.

    The attacking midfielder could be one of Liverpool's key positions in this game in terms of both on-the-ball play and pressing high up the pitch to contain Zenit, so Shelvey will absolutely have to step up his performance.

Wide Forwards: Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini

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    An opportunity to bring in two players off the bench arises in the final third, and both Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini could do with the game time having been reduced to impact players off the bench recently.

    Sterling has been a regular in Liverpool squads all season, while Borini has yet to have an impact after returning from injury.

    Playing the full 90 minutes will be important for his fitness and, hopefully, his confidence—but he needs to show his quality on the ball. A goal would also be a massive boost for a player who has just one in Red so far.

    Sterling has the quality to help Liverpool be a threat on the counter-attack, and he might turn out to be one of the most important players for the Reds in this game.

Centre-Forward: Luis Suarez

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    Liverpool don't have too many options with Daniel Sturridge suspended, and the need for an away goal might force Brendan Rodgers to conclude that starting Luis Suarez could offer more benefits than the potential problems if he doesn't get a rest before the Swansea game.

    Fans might not want to see Suarez make the long journey to Russia, but Rodgers has stated previously that Suarez is often better when he gets into the routine of playing regularly, and keeping him in the starting XI will make Zenit a little more wary, even at home.

    Liverpool should always approach matches with the view that they want to win, but at times it is important to acknowledge a draw—especially a score draw, away in Europe—is a good result to fall back on.

    Luis Suarez, if he plays, will be key in helping the Reds attain that result.