Zenit St Petersburg’s strength poses Europa League threat to Celtic

Zenit St Petersburg come to Glasgow for Thursday’s first-leg clash with the Hoops keeping just one clean sheet in their last five domestic games

BRENDAN RODGERS has warned his Celtic defence not to blow it against Zenit.

Ex-Rangers keeper Neil Alexander reckons Celtic’s clash with Zenit St Petersburg could be the making of Dorus de Vries

Roberto Mancini’s Russian cracks come to Glasgow for Thursday’s Europa League first-leg clash.

Rodgers’ Hoops have kept just one clean sheet in their last five domestic games.

And he’s made it clear more lapses at the back will wreck their Euro bid.

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Rodgers’ assistant Chris Davies said: “The manager has been reinforcing to them the concentration aspect.

Branislav Ivanovic says Celtic have an advantage against Zenit

“It’s so important at this level, when you are facing teams like Zenit it can be about that mental fatigue. You need to concentrate, be switched on and alive, for every single moment of the game. That’s going to be very important on Thursday to ensure we are defensively solid.

CELTIC’S official Twitter account appeared to have a sly dig at rivals Rangers – about the Ibrox side’s Uefa Cup Final loss to Zenit St Petersburg.

Celtic predicted lineup vs Zenit: Simunovic starts, Musonda benched

“You can work on it in training. Domestically we are used to having a lot of the ball, then you come in to Europe and you are not the team with most of the ball.

Zenit added: “We love the cover guys but you’ve used our old badge! Remember what happened to @MailSport when they messed with our badge!”

“It’s something you look at in training and try to help players. The manager has been reinforcing to the players the important of defensive organisation, concentrating on being hard to beat.

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“There’s never usually one thing, it can be a combination of factors. It might be there’s an individual lapse.

“It can happen, it’s about making sure you learn from it and don’t make the same mistakes again.

“Sometimes it’s the opposition showing that  quality finishing,  the chances they wouldn’t normally.

The first leg of the tie will be held at Celtic Park in Glasgow on Thursday evening, and ahead of the match, former Chelsea defender Ivanovic has admitted that Brendan Rodgers’s side have an advantage.

“These are the things we are looking to address to make sure we are defensively sound.”

The Celtic players will be more match-fit than their Zenit counterparts, and the Hoops have to take advantage of this on Thursday evening, especially as the match is at Celtic Park.

He added: “They are a very disciplined team. They have a lot of attacking threats and  their mindset will be balanced, to be honest, because they have a very good team and a very experienced manager.

Celtic have a good team, and although there are injury concerns defensively, the fact that the team are playing competitive domestic football at the moment is an advantage.

“They’ve got good technical players who make good passes and good decisions at the right times, and they have pace, power and quality to counter-attack.

“They’ve also got set-piece quality and the delivery and execution of that.

“So they are an all-round top team and, as I said, a Champions League level team. That’s what we are prepared for and what we need to do is find a way to stop them and hurt them.”

Midfielder Tom Rogic could come back into the side from injury and make his first  appearance since December.

Meanwhile, the one change we are predicting involves Charly Musonda dropping down to the bench and Callum McGregor coming into the side. Tom Rogic may have hoped to have proved his fitness by now but the under-23 game he was set to play in was cancelled, so McGregor giving the midfield more support may be a smart move. 

Davies added: “He’s at that phase now that he’s had a good couple of weeks training.

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But with a number of injuries and Jack Hendry still finding his feet following his January move, Simunovic may well keep his place alongside Kristoffer Ajer at the heart of the defence in the hope that he produces one of his best performances on the night.

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Celtic are back in European action this week as they host Zenit St Petersburg in the first-leg of their Europa League last 32 tie at Parkhead on Thursday.

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Celtic return to European action this Thursday when they host Zenit St Petersburg at Parkhead.

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“To play at Celtic Park will be difficult for us because those supporters are incredible. The crowd will be fantastic for the first match but for us, it’s a great place to play football.”

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If Brendan Rodgers’s side want to progress to the next round of the Europa League, then they have to win at Celtic Park without conceding a goal.

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Mancini told The Daily Record: “Celtic are a great team, with some really good players, and they’ve got a top manager who I know all about.

13/02/18. LENNOXTOWN . Celtic assistant manager Chris Davies previews the side's Europa League Last 32 tie against Zenit St Petersburg.

Celtic have some wonderful attacking players, and the Glasgow giants should be looking to score at least twice against Zenit.

CHRIS DAVIES believes James Forrest could be Celtic’s match-winner tomorrow night against Zenit St Petersburg and allow them to take a massive step towards the last 16 of the Europa League.

Zenit will probably head into the two-legged tie against Celtic as favourites, but the first leg will be key.

Forrest has been on fire this season, especially on the European stage, and is fresh from bagging a hat-trick in last Saturday’s William Hill Scottish Cup defeat of Partick Thistle that keeps Celtic on course for the unprecedented feat of back to back domestic Trebles.

Davies, Brendan Rodgers’ assistant, feels the threat of Forrest – and that of Scott Sinclair – could hold the key to a positive first leg result.

However, he has cautioned that the Russians – bossed by Roberto Mancini – are a high-quality outfit who will be extremely difficult opponents.

Celtic’s defensive performance has not exactly been impressive domestically either, with the Hoops having conceded four goals in their last three games, which is simply not good enough given the quality of opposition they are up against. 

Davies said: “James has had a great season so far. He played well last season but this year not only is he getting hat-tricks like that, he’s been one of our better performers in the European games going back to Rosenborg.

“In terms of tactics and technique, he understands his role in the team but he’s got a very high level of technique. A first touch, the ability to evade people with his second touch plus he’s quick.

“That allows him to perform at this level. He’s in a good moment – in confident spirits.

It remains to be seen who Brendan Rodgers will select at the heart of defence for Celtic on Thursday night when they host Zenit St Petersburg in the first leg of the Europa League round of 32. 

Forrest has become a better player since the arrival of Rodgers and Davies just when it looked he might have to leave the club when he turned down a new contract under the previous manager Ronny Deila.

Davies said: “I’m absolutely delighted for James as he’s very humble, hardworking and dedicated. It’s always nice to see players like that getting the rewards.

Nearing a century of career club goals, Kokorin has netted 18 times in 27 appearances this season, including an astounding eight in eight in European competition. 

“I think it’s just a question of maturing. We were aware of James when we were at Liverpool when he first broke on the scene.

“We played Celtic in a friendly. At that point he was the stand-out that I could see in the team. A really bright, quick player. He looked a real breakthrough player.

“Time has gone on and he’s carved out a good career for himself. Obviously, we’ve come in and he’s really flourished.

“He plays in different positions so he has to be adaptable. He’s added that end product which is very important for wingers.

“We try and emphasise that. Scott Sinclair is a player who’s done well for Brendan at a couple of clubs. He’s another winger who scores goals.

“It’s important that you can contribute with assists and goals from that position. James has certainly done that.”

The Celtic coaching staff have watched hours of footage of the Russians in action and scout John McGlynn got the very latest by watching Zenit play friendlies in Turkey last week.

“They are a very disciplined team,” said Davies. “They have a lot of attacking threats in the team and I think their mindset will be balanced, to be honest, because they have a very good team and a very experienced manager.

“They have tactical organisation, defensively they are very compact and organised and with the ball they can play equally well in possession as they can in counter-attack.

“They’ve got good technical players who make good passes and good decisions at the right times and they have pace, power and quality to counter-attack. They’ve also got set-piece quality and the delivery and execution of that. So they are an all-round top team – a Champions League level team.”

He added: “That’s what we are prepared for and what we need to do is find a way to stop them and hurt them.

“At Liverpool, we played them at the same round five years ago when Brendan was the manager. We drew the game over the two-legs 3-3, but went out on away goals. There was a bit of talk about their condition pre-game but they were in very good condition.

“They’ve had a couple of training camps now to build up their fitness and plenty of games to be ready so I am expecting them to be physically at a level to compete.”

The good news for Celtic is that Tom Rogic should make the bench, therefore offering an attacking threat if they need it.

Davies added: “There’s a chance that Tom will be involved in the Zenit games. We’ll just have to see how he is and make a decision.

“We have a few injured players returning to training which is good. We are in a good place.”

Meanwhile, Davies has heaped praise on the Celtic support he hopes, along with Forrest, provide a solid platform for the Hoops to build on when they go to Russia next week.

“Hopefully, it’s something we can use to inspire us,” he said. “The fans generate the most incredible atmosphere. I have never heard noise like I have heard at Celtic Park at a football game before. It really is a fantastic experience in the stadium.

“On the pitch, we have to perform equally as well to inspire the fans. We will be working together and that’s the plan. It’s a phenomenal place to play.”

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Posted in St. Petersburg