Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Wednesday February 20 2013
Zenit Saint Petersburg visit Anfield on Thursday night with a two-goal Europa League lead but nobody in red is giving up on the tie...
Big spending Zenit Saint Petersburg might hold a firm advantage in the Europa League Last 32 knock-out tie with Liverpool, following their 2-0 victory in Russia last week, but nobody at Anfield is accepting the result as being a foregone conclusion.
Buoyed by a comprehensive 5-0 Premier League win over Swansea City on Sunday, Brendan Rodgers and his players go into the match knowing they still have a chance if they can again convert a healthy amount of the chances they create into goals.
A statistic last week showed the Reds were the first side in Europe's top leagues to pass the 500 shots mark this season; the Merseysiders subsequently recorded a single-match high of 35 attempts against Swansea.
The task of overcoming Zenit is made more difficult however by the absence of recent signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho who are both ineligible having played for former sides Chelsea and Inter Milan previously in the campaign.
The duo were both on the scoresheet at the weekend and Sturridge has now scored an impressive five goals in seven appearances since his £12m move last month. The onus therefore will again predominantly full on top-scorer Luis Suarez who has 23 goals to his name so far this season.
Failure to score in the first-leg also means keeping things tight at the back could prove critical for Liverpool, otherwise they run the risk of being eliminated on the away-goals rule.
A point not lost on Spanish left-back Jose Enrique who believes the side can overcome the deficit if they are fully switched on throughout the team for the whole game.
"It will be the biggest European game I've ever played in. We know we have to score at least two but we can do it," said Enrique to Liverpoolfc.com.
"We have really good players and I think we can score a lot of goals. The problem this season has been conceding goals.
"It's so important to keep a clean sheet against Zenit. They spent a lot of money so they have good players but we have to stop them scoring. We need to concentrate throughout.
"I think we are playing well. Even in the defeats to West Brom and Zenit, it was the same. We had many chances but we didn't take them and our mistakes cost us two goals.
"The manager's style of play is working and at home we've been doing well. We just have to try to make sure those errors don't happen again."
The hosts are famously no stranger to great European nights and have an extensive back catalogue of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds on home turf.
Can the present Liverpool team replicate the heroics of classic Anfield encounters against Club Brugges (1976), St Etienne (1977), Auxerre (1991), Olympiakos (2004), Chelsea (2005 & 2007) and Real Madrid (2009)?
Only time will tell but one thing all those nights had in common was an electric atmosphere and Reds keeper Pepe Reina believes the crowd can again play its part in proceedings.
The 30-year-old told the official website: "It's up to both, players and fans. We have to show character from the beginning, especially in the first 15-20 minutes to get the people right behind us, but then they will lift us in the weak moments as they always do.
"The fact it is a night game makes it different. Supporters come to the game more excited. It's difficult to explain, but there's a different kind of atmosphere.
"It will be even bigger and louder if we can score the next goal in the tie, so hopefully we can do that...
"Everybody knows about Anfield on a European night and I can tell you from experience, it's very impressive when you play against Liverpool at Anfield."
Steven Gerrard, a veteran of so many momentous European nights, knows better than most the impact Liverpool supporters can have on a game.
Asked by Liverpoolfc.com ahead of the game what he would say if he could give the fans a message, the Reds skipper replied: "I'd tell them to remember all of those players and all of those managers who have been quoted down the years as saying how difficult, hostile and good our crowd can be on their night.
"We know we can expect noise, passion, commitment. Hopefully there'll be a top team performance from us - that's how we want it to pan out.
"The fans have got a massive part to play. They are called the 12th man and this is an occasion that the players need them more than ever - especially after the result we got in the first leg."
Liverpool will certainly have plenty of hope and belief that they can turn things around. Rodgers' side created no shortage of chances in the first-leg, Suarez could easily have had a hat-trick, and the Zenit defence looked far from secure. Ignoring the West Brom blip, Liverpool's recent home record is strong and in addition to the Swansea win they've defeated Norwich City 5-0, Sunderland 3-0 and Fulham 4-0, all in the past eight weeks. An early goal will do wonders for the confidence and the tie could conceivably go all the way to extra-time and penalties if Reina and co can keep the backdoor shut and the likes of Hulk quiet. Easier said than done though!
Vital Liverpool predicts a 4-1 LFC win.
TBC... Martin Skrtel doubtful with a knee injury.
Possible Starting X1
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Sterling, Downing, Suarez.
Did You Know?
If he plays against Zenit, Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher will make his 150th appearance in Europe for the club. The 35-year-old defender already holds the record for most European appearances by a Liverpool player and will draw level with Manchester United's Ryan Giggs at the top of the all-time European appearances list by a British player.
The fixture between Zenit and Liverpool is live in the UK on ITV on Thursday 21st February (kick-off 8.05pm)
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Date:Wednesday February 20 2013
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