Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Prediction: Celtic vs Zenit St Petersburg

Verdict: Zenit

Best Odds: 8/5

Bookmaker: 888sport

Scottish runaway leaders Celtic prepare for a new beginning in Europe following the Champions League disappointment, with a last 32 tie against Russian heavyweights Zenit St Petersburg who enjoyed a successful run in the group stage of Europa League.

Celtic

Scottish champions Celtic dropped out of the Europe’s elite club competition having finished third in Group B, behind Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, but will continue their European path in the Europa League.

With their eight-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership, Celtic are welcoming Zenit St Petersburg fully fit for what’s definitely going to be a challenge quite different to their domestic exploits. The Russian giants are a level above Celtic’s usual opponents at home and Brendan Rodgers will have to work on the mental aspect of the game to warn his men of complacency following the most recent run which saw his team win eight of the last ten matches in all competitions. What is more, Celtic are unbeaten in last eight home matches but their defensive frailties could be a problem against such an attack-oriented side as Zenit. Celtic have struggled to keep it tight at the back this season in Europe whereas their last home clean sheet in any European competition came way back in February 2011.

Team News

The game against Zenit comes too soon for midfielder Tom Rogic, whereas fellow midfielders Stuart Armstrong, Jonny Hayes and Patrick Roberts are also unavailable.

Defender Marvin Compper is both injured and ineligible, whereas goalkeeper Craig Gordon, striker Leigh Griffiths and defender Dedryck Boyata complete the injury list for the hosts.

Zenit St Petersburg

The Russian behemoths Zenit St Petersburg qualified to the last 32 of the Europa League after finishing top of the Group L.

Zenit went through the group stage unbeaten against the likes of Real Sociedad, Rosenborg and Vardar and will be hoping to extend their positive run in the competition. This will be Zenit’s first-ever trip to Glasgow which is coming in the middle of a winter preseason for the Russian side who last played a competitive match back in the first half of December. Despite the lack of match sharpness, Zenit St Petersburg are a side with Champions League quality, led by the experienced mastermind of Roberto Mancini. The Italian took over last summer and was handed a quality side which was additionally boosted by the likes of Matias Kranevitter, Leandro Paredes, Daler Kuzyaev and Chelsea legend Branislav Ivanovic.

Team News

Former Blues defender Ivanovic is likely to miss out with an injury, whereas the experienced midfielder Viktor Faizulin is the only other absentee for the game in Glasgow.

Mancini still faces some selection dilemma as he prepares to give a nod to his January acquisition Anton Zabolotny formerly of Tonso.

Key Factors to Consider

  • Zenit last played a competitive match back in December 2017
  • Celtic are unbeaten in last eight home matches
  • Scottish champions failed to keep a clean sheet in Europe since 2011
  • Russians won 16 of 18 points in group stage, best record for all group winners
  • Zenit won only one of their last seven matches

Conclusion

Unlike their Russian rivals, Scottish champions Celtic are in full competitive form but that will count for little given Zenit St Petersburg’s impressive quality. Roberto Mancini prepared his team at winter camps in Dubai and Turkey and there’s no doubt the Russians will be geared up to make a flying start to the second part of their season against injury-stricken hosts.

Verdict: Zenit

Best Odds: 8/5

Bookmaker: 888sport

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