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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Zenit St. Petersburg, 02.21.13

Liverpool either win or go home tomorrow night at Anfield, where they'll have to overturn last Thursday's loss and then some if they're going to advance to the round of sixteen.

Oleg Nikishin

What's been a fun, frustrating Europa League campaign comes down to tomorrow--reverse the scoreline from last Thursday in St. Petersburg and force extra-time or win by three clear goals to advance. If they can't manage that, their last chance at silverware this season is gone, and they're left with the prospect of missing out on European competition entirely unless their standing in league improves.

It's a disappointing prospect given the opportunities the competition has afforded the squad, particularly in the early stages. Brendan Rodgers was able to select a mixture of proven first-team talent with fringe players and youngsters, and that provided more than a handful of exciting moments. We know the Europa League doesn't mean as much as the Champions League, but it's a competition that allows for squad development and, in tomorrow's case, a chance for another European night at Anfield.

A good bit of the luster's taken off by the way the final twenty minutes--or just the three minutes span that saw Zenit score twice--went in Russia last week, but a result tonight would have to go down as one of the most impressive the club have managed. The approach will have to be different, and there's the danger of conceding on the break given the need to press in search of goals, which would mean Liverpool need to score more goals. They looked as though they'd be able to last Thursday, but with Luis Suarez at his errant worst, they're left with a sizable chunk of ground to make up.

There's not much news to report on the Zenit side of things other than the fact that Domenico Criscito should be available for selection after missing the first leg with a lingering calf injury. I wouldn't expect Luciano Spalleti to do too much different other than try to crowd Liverpool's final third as much as possible and look for chances on the counter--there's a chance they go full Stoke, but I'd guess/hope there's space for Liverpool to nick an early goal and see where things go from there.

For Liverpool:

Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Lucas Gerrard
Downing Henderson Sterling

Having Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge cup-tied is a major blow for Brendan Rodgers; the latter's far more important than the former, but both would provide attacking options in a match that demands goals. Fabio Borini's absence further compounds the issue, as the Italian--who'd only just returned from a broken foot--is now done for the season with a dislocated and likely ligament-damaged left shoulder. He joins Martin Kelly as the names we know for sure are ruled out through injury.

With no weekend action to look forward to, it'd seem a rare case for Daniel Agger to make a start in central defense, and while you'd expect that Martin Skrtel would have been available, he's apparently suffered a knee injury at some point. It'll be a sentimental appearance for Jamie Carragher in what could very well be the last European night of his career, which I guess I'd known all along but now it all feels very heavy and real. Unless Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique are too tired or picked up a knock, they'll start in the fullback spots outside of whoever Rodgers selects in central defense.

Jordan Henderson's half-hour on Sunday should leave him rested and ready to go, and with Steven Gerrard a lock, it seems the main question is whether or not Rodgers slots Lucas back into the eleven just four days after the Swansea win. He was comfortable for most of the day and didn't have to do too much, which hopefully leaves him available tomorrow. If he's not, Joe Allen comes in to fill the role he did in St. Petersburg last week.

I'd honestly like to see Oussama Assaidi have a part to play, but he doesn't seem destined to get much football between now and whenever he joins someone else this summer. Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling are most likely to join Luis Suarez in attack, with Jonjo Shelvey and Suso the only names that'll be around to provide support off the bench.

Slightly later start time tomorrow, with kickoff set for 8:05PM GMT/3:05PM EST. ITV4 continues to have the matches live in the UK, and it's on Fox Soccer Plus once again in the US. We'll have any other viewing options listed in the matchday thread, which will also have the team sheets posted around an hour before kickoff. Hopefully you'll be around to join us for the match, which could very well be another great European night at Anfield. Or not. Either way, we'll be together!

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