Preview: Liverpool vs. Zenit St. Petersburg, Europa League Round of 32

  on

The problem with a turning point, is proving it’s a turning point.  A reversal of their two goal deficit at home to Zenit St. Petersburg on Thursday night and Liverpool's season could finally produce some reward for a club and fan base who are clearly willing to show patience.  But the trouble with the comfortable league win over Swansea, if that's not an oxymoron in itself, is that expectation has now shifted up a gear.

Visiting manager Luciano Spalletti, whose side, unlike Liverpool, are        contenders  for their domestic title, approaches the game knowing one goal would mean Liverpool would need to score four times to go through; an improbable task, regardless of what was achieved against a fledgling Swansea side.

With a set-up strong enough, likely to leave the likes of experienced Russian international Sergey Semak on the bench, Zenit will come to Anfield confident of closing out the tie with the hope of repeating their run as eventual winners over Glasgow Rangers in 2008.  What a difference five years makes for the latter.

Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho will both revert to the role of spectators; the price of performing in Europe already this season for Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively.  It remains unclear if Jamie Carragher will start for what could well be his last opportunity at European level as a player.  Martin Skrtel could take his place against the club he left Liverpool for five years ago last month.  However Rodgers has indicated the Slovakian international is a serious doubt after aggravating a knee injury in training earlier this week.

Fabio Borini’s poor luck with injury continues after dislocating his shoulder against Swansea.  The injury will also fast track the necessity for another operation on the foot injury which kept him out of action between October and his comeback in January.

Liverpool will look to Start Downing and Raheem Sterling to support Luis Suarez who undoubtedly will find himself space and scoring opportunities.

A visiting midfield triumvirate of Axel Witsel, Danny and Igor Denisov will be paramount in ensuring the home side do not dictate the pace of play.  And with Hulk marauding out wide they will be hopeful of creating chances of their own.

While the task is a large one, Liverpool will take confidence from the stand out statistic of last weekend – 35 shots on goal.  No other team in Europe’s top leagues have matched this, this season, and with 22 attempts in the first half alone, it was a clear sign of intent against an admittedly weakened opposition.

Liverpool won’t have 35 attempts tomorrow evening; but it is, as always, whether they take their chances, which they didn’t last week in Russia.  One away goal at any stage would surely leave the tie dead, however if Zenit ‘keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev is pressurised early on and the visitors are on the back foot it is paramount the Liverpool attack exploit any weakness offered.  If they don’t it will mean Liverpool will bow out at this stage of the Europa League for the first time.

Zenit St. Petersburg recently beat AC Milan in the Champions league group stages.  However that is only one win from their last 9 away matches in Europe. 

The poor travellers should therefore expect a heated reception.  Whether that heat and the Liverpool fire power in attack is enough, remains to be seen.