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Zenit St Petersburg vs Liverpool

Rory Fitzgerald

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The Russian League is currently in their Winter break, but its more like a holiday than break. Consequently, the Liverpool games for Zenit will be their first competitive games since the league broke on 10-Dec-12. They have played mini-tournament with 3 other teams in Abu Dhabi during January and also some friendly games in January. In total they will have played 6 games since the beginning of the Winter break and our game.


Zenit are the current Russians champions for the past 2 years but currently 3rd in the league and 3pts behind Anzhi (2nd) and 5 behind CSKA Moscow (43) though with a game in hand on each. Their record is P18 W11 D5 L2. They qualified for the Europa League by dropping out of the Champions League after picking up 7 points and finishing behind AC Milan (8pts) and Malaga (12pts).


Interesting piece of information is that the Russian League used to allow 6 non-nationals on the pitch but have increased this to 7 this season. Hulk and Witsel were bought for a combined fee of £64mln. The club captain, who is also the national captain, Denisov and Kerzhakov were sent to train with the reserves though Kerzhakov quickly backed down.


Possible team.





Anyukov Alves Lombaerts Hubocan


Witsel Denisov Shirokov


Hulk ................................. Danny





Malafeev had been vying with Akinfeev for the Russian No. 1 jersey and won the battle for Euro 2012. However, after the tournament he announced his retirement in order to spend more time with his 2 children. His wife died in a suspected drink-driving accident. Story here




RB should be filled by Anyukov who is Russia's right back and very attack minded. With Hulk tucking in from the right, he'll supply width. In the Euro12 qualifiers, he was the defender with the most assists.


CB is a fight between Lombaerts (Belgian international though behind Kompany & Vermaelen), Bruno Alves who was previously at Porto and Luis Neto who was recently bought from Siena. He is 24 and hasnt been capped by Portugal so I wonder if he would be put in against us for his first game.


LB is probably going to be taken by Hubocan who is a left sided CB. Their 1st choice LB, the Italian international Criscito is touch & go for this game as he is currently injured. He was due to go to Euro12 but was pulled from the squad as investigations into match-fixing could have seen him summoned by the prosecutor at any time. Skrtel plays with Hubocan at international level so hopefully he can highlight ant possible weaknesses.





Prior to the arrival of Witsel, the midfield trio was Denisov, Shirokov and Zyryanov. This was the Russian trio in Euro12 when they played some lovely football through midfield and took the Czech's apart. Witsel initially replaced Denisov when he was banished to the reserves but lately its been 35 year old Zyryanov to be left out.


- Denisov: He's a one-club man so far being at Zenit for 11 years and was recently club captain. However, he was banished to the reserves after demanding more money following Hulk & Witsel's transfers. City, Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool were reportedly looking at him following this falling out.


- Shirokov: Recently won the Russian version of the FWA Player of the Year award for 2012 and also voted best player in 2012 by the coaches of the teams in the top division. Here is a tasty finish from him in Euro 2012 vs Czech Rep.

. Also, here is an enjoyable read on him and his maverick ways Went missing for 2 mths then faked a broken leg


- Zyryanov: Now 35, he is most at risk from Witsels arrival. He made the Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament and his understanding with Shirokov & Denisov was a key foundation to their UEFA Cup win in 2008 and 2 league titles in recent seasons. Like the keeper Malafeev, tragedy has touched his life. His wife committed suicide and took their 4 yr old daughter with her when she jumped from the balcony of their 8th floor apartment





LW: Danny is a Portugese play maker and their No.10 that took over the captaincy from Denisov when he was sent to the reserves. He moved to Dynamo Moscow for EUR 16mln in 2005 and then Zenit paid EUR 30mln for him in 2008. He missed Euro12 with a serious knee injury that kept him out for 6-7mths. He traditionally starts on the left but from reading about him, he is more likely to come inside and let Criscito overlap when he plays. If Hubocan plays LB, I think he wont be as comfortable as Criscito attacking from bits I've read.


RW: Hulk is unlikely to play up top alongside Kerzakov, rather a bit deeper and more withdrawn out on the right. His modus operandi is to cut in on his left foot and smash the ball towards goal. If we are bringing Glen Johnson then we might deploy him at left back and use his right foot inside given Hulk's propensity to cut inside.


CF: I really like Kerzhakov. His movement is excellent and apparently he generally drifts to the left which probably compliments Hulk coming in off the right and also create space for Danny. He's also the top scorer in the Russian league this season. Hopefully Skrtel can provide insight to our back line on how he likes to play.


Hopefully our resident Russian, Gary Wolf will be around in the coming days and he can shed some local insight on how Zenit could set up and how they have been playing this season.




The stadium has a capacity of 21,000 and the surface is grass - as opposed to the Luzhniki stadium which is artificial. They are planning to move to a new 62,000 seater stadium in 2015 which will be one of the stadiums for the 2018 World Cup Graphic of new stadium here


The weather is forecast to be dry but with temperatures of about -2 to -5 with only a gentle breeze. You know yourself on a cold day that if there is rain and a sweeping wind, the temperature can feel a couple of degrees colder so hopefully those conditions remain mild, still, it looks cold


Spoiler (Some other bits and pieces)
The league normally ran from March to November of each year until 2010 but 2011-2012 was a transitional season and the current season of 2012-13 is the first season under the new regime of July to May as the league tries to move towards a more traditional 'season' in line with other European Leagues though they break between December to March.


On 17NOV12 they were away to Dynamo Moscow. The game was abandoned on 37mins when a firecracker was thrown at the Dynamo keeper and hit him. He had chemical burns to his corneaa and eyelids and partial loss of hearing. Its believe female fans smuggled the firecrackers in by wrapping them in condoms and putting them 'inside their body'. Both clubs denied responsibility for the incident. Dynamo were awarded a 3-0 win though Dynamo had to play their next home game behind closed doors and Zenit had to play their next 2 home games at an empty stadium as well.


On 17DEC12, a Zenit fan forum called "Landskrona" published a manifesto on its website calling for a team without black or gay players " We are not racists, but for us the lack of black players at Zenit is just an important tradition, underlining the identity of the club."


In response, Hulk recently said "

We are there to play, regardless of colour: you can be black, white, blue or yellow,we are the same. We are all of flesh and blood and if you prick the skin we all bleed . So, that’s it. The differences don’t exist and this prejudice shouldn’t exist. I must say I don’t know these fans, I only know the fans who back the team for 90 minutes, they encourage me and shout my name, so I have a positive view of Zenit fans and I have no problems with them."





Jordon Ibe, Marc Pelosi, and Krisztian Adorjan join the Europa League squad. Joe Cole, Adam Morgan, Nuri Sahin, Daniel Pacheco, and Danny Wilson are removed as they are with other clubs.


I'd prefer a strong line up and have a go at this competition. The next round would be against either Basel or Dnipro and passage there would see us in the quarter finals. No guarantees but increase our chances by playing our best players. I would go with something like this. The areas I'd be uncertain of are starting Borini and let Suarez hit them from the bench if/when they fade and if Shelvey should start.




Wisdom Skrtel Agger Johnson


Downing Henderson Lucas Shelvey Enrique




On the assumption that the Zenit team is something like the one above, I would go with the above. My logic would be;


  • Skrtel is rested and has experience of Kerzhakov. If it is true that Kerzhakov's movement tends to be to drift more towards their left then he would drifting into Skrtel's area of right side of CB.
  • They seem stronger down the right so Johnson could defend Hulk on the inside with Enrique's energy giving Anyukov a headache.
  • Suarez has a good understanding with Enrique. He could play left of center and try get behind Anyukov and expose space that he leaves similar to the way he got behind Sagna at Arsenal (though not from a starting LM position obviously) and could pitch him against Bruno Alves most likely if he is coming in off their right.
  • The area of concern could be that it puts our most inexperienced player in Wisdom up against their experienced captain, Danny.
  • I'm pretty certain we'll need lots of energy and discipline in midfield as they have some technically good players in there and I think that midfield and wide pairing gives us that. Given their midfield, it looks like they will keep the ball moving. It also gives us a chance to 'rest' Allen as there are thoughts that he is over played anyway.
  • Players automatically rested are Carra, Gerrard, Allen, Coutinho, Sturridge and gives us a rested 5 outfield players ahead of Swansea. Only Allen of that lot should travel, it cant do Carra any good to travel and put Coates on the bench.
  • Zenit are well rested and should be champing at the bit and could come at us fast in the opening 20mins but hit the wall in the last 15. Sterling, Borini, Suso and Assaidi are on the bench if we want energy upfront/wide.


PaddyPower price this game as follows;


Zenit win 5/4


Draw 11/5


Liverpool win 9/4


Tough opposition, tough conditions so send out a strong team and look to get an away goal at least as there is a chance of rustiness or even some fading late on given that their last competitive game was 2 months ago.

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Fair play to you for doing these Rory, they're really good. You should put them up on a blog somewhere.


I've never noticed before that Skrtel has the date of his own birthday tattooed on his arm

That's a bit weird. Does he forget it?


Just had the exact same thought, it's kind of sub-narcissism, like tattooing "Martin woz 'ere" on your arm.

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Hopefully our resident Russian, Gary Wolf will be around in the coming days and he can shed some local insight on how Zenit could set up and how they have been playing this season.

Of the recent news, I can add that Hubochan was hit during a practice, may miss the game but they say there's still a good chance he can recover.

One more option for their defence is the newcomer Luis Neto from Siena.

It's common knowledge that Russians are usually struggling in February and March. It can be also the case with Zenit.

On the other hand, noone really knows what Zenit are really like at the moment. Their pre-season games haven't been very impressive, the atmosphere within the team hasn't been ideal since the appearance of Witsel and Hulk.


Still I think that a lot more depends on Liverpool. If we have a proper attitude and the best team, then we have all the chances. If we come to St. Petersburg like we came to Moscow vs Anji, it will be very tough.


BTW. Is anyone from the forum coming? We're arranging a pre-party and an after-party and would be happy to see any fellow Reds who are willing to join.

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Thursday just became more important than Sunday. This is the only competition we are in with a chance of winning.


I dont mind looking forward to Thursdays and writing off Sundays as long as we have something to look forward to cause at the moment we are 12pts off 4th and 13pts off relegation.


There are some top sides in the UEFA, get through this and Basle/Dnipro and we could have a great tie in the Quarters.

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