Well, if Rodgers thought this competition was secondary before, it can't be now. Even if off just that woeful performance Monday -- if it didn't end any league concerns -- Liverpool need a bounce back. Generally, they've gotten them. But those weren't in Arctic temps in Russia with a collection of animals in the stands. Yes, I think I can go ahead and call the Zenit supporters animals without too much controversy.
Liverpool catch something of a break in that Zenit are not in-season at the moment. The Russian League has been in winter-break since mid-december and hasn't started back up yet. While they've been playing a string of friendlies to prepare, obviously there's nothing like the real thing.
While I won't claim to know much about Zenit, everything you do read makes you think they're a complete mess. Expensive buys like Hulk haven't stopped bitching about being there or how they're used. Talented mainstays like Kerzhakov and Shirakov aren't exactly pleased about making less money than the imports. Of course, the fans are liable to launch a firecracker at an opponent, or get the match called off due to racist chants and taunts, or attack their own players, or whatever. It's Russian soccer at its best.
That doesn't mean there's not a fuckload of danger here if Zenit are in the mood. Hulk is a huge issue and had Chelsea fans drooling once upon a time. Kerzhakov and Shirakov are the two players who made the Russian team interesting there for a couple minutes during Euro 2012. Witsel and Danny are other issues. No shortage of talent for sure. Oh, and Bruno Alves's elbows are waiting in central defense.'
What's worrying is that Zenit play a 4-3-3 counter-attacking style that have given Liverpool fits all season. In theory, Lucas and Allen combining should negate that, but we haven't seen the two of them together that much to know. But you're not all that confident, are you? With the first leg away, Liverpool might want to be awfully careful about how adventurous they get with their fullbacks and pressing so as to avoid getting scorched. Going home 0-0 or 1-1 would hardly be disaster.
Well, actually, this is one of my pet peeves. in these two-legged European ties, an away goal is paramount. I'd almost rather they lose 2-1 than draw 0-0. I know that doesn't make much sense, but simply counting on a win at home has led to a share of exits for a lot of teams, and you'd love to see Liverpool nick at least one.
Because of that, Suarez is a cert to start, combined with Sturridge being ineligible. Downing might start as well as he was probably the team's best player on Monday if he can get it. If he can't, Sterling will. Borini goes for sure no matter what.
I can't fathom Gerrard can get this match, which should see Allen come in. Henderson's hauling off after slightly more than an hour portends to him being thrown out there again, and with Allen that makes for at least a pretty mobile midfield.
This is where Martin Skrtel came from, but there isn't time for sentiment. While Agger or Carragher or both can use a rest, if Rodgers doesn't think Skrtel's up to it he can't risk him. I can't imagine Coates will be risked either. Johnson probably can't make it, bringing Wisdom in. Enrique probably goes because there's no one else.
It won't be easy, and it will be a test of character for sure. But with the league shot, and facing either Dnipro or Basel in the next round if getting past that one, the quarterfinals are well within reach. But it's got to start tomorrow.