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Liverpool Draw St. Petersburg in February

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With draws for the first two Europa League knockout rounds done, Liverpool have learned they will face Zenit St. Petersburg in the round of 32 and, if they advance that far, Basel or Dnipro in the round of 16.

Claudio Villa

With the Europa League draw for the first two knockout rounds done, Liverpool have learned that they will face Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg, one of the eight clubs dropping down from the Champions League. The two clubs will face off in the round of 32, with the first leg taking place at an almost certainly icy Petrovsky Stadium on February 14th before the Russian side make the trip to Anfield on the 21st.

The good news for Liverpool is that the Russian Premier League is on hiatus until March, meaning both games will be played while Zenit are in the midst of their winter break and likely short of match fitness. The bad new is that the Russian Premier League goes on a winter break for a very good reason, and in St. Petersburg February is the coldest month of the year with an average daytime high of -2 and low of -10 celsius.

Zenit currently stand third in Russia—a disappointment for a club expected to cruise to the title every year, though their form has improved after a shaky start and they haven't lost since mid-Spetember. More relevant, perhaps, is that like most of the Russian sides in Europe this year they have looked distinctly average when venturing outside their country, with Malaga and AC Milan beating them to the top of Group C in the Champions League fairly comfortably.

On paper, at least, they were one of the most talented sides in the draw, boasting a squad sprinkled with names like Hulk, Shirokov, Denisov, and Bruno Alves. At times, though, not all of those names look especially bothered to be playing for St. Petersburg, and as in the Champions League the results often haven't lived up to expectations—or perhaps they have, given a fair few of their players are only in Russia for the paycheque.

They're also embroiled in controversy of late thanks to a statement released by their supporters' group asking that the club not sign any minority players. That almost certainly means that lazy jokes pointing to recent racially-based controversy at the two clubs will be all but inevitable. You can also expect plenty of lazy jokes about the folly of heading to Russia seeking victory in the midst of winter, though those ones might mostly be coming from our end.

Basel or Dnipro await in the round of 16 if Liverpool make it that far, and would mean trips to either Switzerland or Ukraine in March—though of course Liverpool has to get there first, and no matter how poor Zenit have looked at times that will be a very tough ask.