Liverpool vs. Zenit: Defense Still Key for Reds in Must-Win Europa League Clash

Dan Talintyre@@dantalintyreSenior Analyst IIFebruary 21, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: Hulk of FC Zenit celebrates a goal against Liverpool FC during UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between FC Zenit St Petersburg and Liverpool at the 'Petrovski' stadium on February 14, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)
Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Liverpool will know full well the task that sits ahead of them when they welcome Zenit St. Petersburg to town in the second leg of their Europa League clash.

The Merseyside club were outplayed by the Russian champions in their opening leg, giving up two goals to Zenit. Both Hulk and Sergei Semak found the back of the net for the home side, whilst Liverpool were left to rue several missed opportunities to score throughout the match.

And as a result, the Reds now face a huge task in their second leg in order to progress through to the Round of 16. They must score at least two goals just to draw level with Zenit, but the biggest tell could be if the Russian club find the back of the net here—meaning that Liverpool would then need to score another two goals in order to win this match.

Not that they're necessarily short of goals at the moment; just that it's an awfully challenging task that Brendan Rodgers will have to achieve to win here.

Liverpool will no doubt look to attack often and early here—knowing that they have only 90 minutes to try and unlock the Russian club's defense at least twice.

Expect to see Luis Suarez pushing hard for chances, with Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard pressing in behind for any loose opportunities.

Yet whilst that's all well and a much-needed thing for the Reds in this one, they must be incredibly careful not to expose themselves defensively as a result of their attack. Liverpool must understand the potential ferocity that they are coming up against from Zenit, and not give their opponents any chances to further increase their aggregate lead in this match.

Even one goal here would surely end Liverpool's Europa League dream.

Which, given the Russian club's attacking unit, is a real possibility.

Zenit have been held scoreless just once in their past nine matches this season, and boast some of the most dynamic finishers in world football. Hulk and Danny in particular look to be real threats for the home side, and they must not be counted out here despite playing away from home.

Especially if Liverpool are going to push for those much-needed goals.

The Merseyside club need to find the balance between pushing forward and attacking well, without sacrificing anything defensively at the back.

Against Swansea City recently, they showed they are more than capable of scoring goals at will (five in the second half alone), but the Reds have also shown throughout the season that they can be exposed defensively by a quick counterattack or attacking raid.

Liverpool have been outscored by their opponents in the final 15 minutes of both halves this year, and must not allow those type of opportunities for Zenit here.

One goal for the visitors would make this a seemingly impossible task for the Reds, who would need to score four goals then to progress through to the quarterfinals. Which, for all their attacking skills, is certainly not an easy task to do when the pressure is on.

A two-goal lead is not insurmountable for Liverpool, and the Reds will quietly fancy their chances at still pulling off a result here despite the deficit. They just need to be extra careful that in their attempts to do so, they don't allow that one chance to Zenit that could ruin their chances completely.

Thus even with a two-goal deficit, defense is still the key here for Liverpool.

As counterintuitive as that might seem.


Can Liverpool still win this Europa League tie vs. Zenit St. Petersburg? 

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