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February 13th, 2013 by Michael Cox
As always, the key to Russian sides’ performance in the knockout stage of European competition is how they react to their winter break. The scheduling of the Russian Premier League has changed for this season, but Zenit St Petersburg haven’t played a competitive game since early December – only a succession of friendlies. Will they benefit from the rest, or lack match sharpness?
Liverpool might naturally want to test Zenit’s fitness by pressing high up and making the game energetic – and with the Petrovsky Stadium likely to be at sub-zero temperatures, few players will want to stand still. But that would be a dangerous game against one of Europe’s finest counter-attacking sides – even in this home leg, Luciano Spalletti’s side will want to play predominantly on the break.
That means Liverpool must be disciplined, organised and patient in this tie. On many occasions this season, Brendan Rodgers has instructed his players to press high up, and Liverpool have dominated the opening stages as a result – but it’s a danger to leave his defence unprotected against a fearsome frontline that attacks at incredible speed. Zenit are used to breaking through the opposition lines quickly and transferring the ball into attack immediately, and Liverpool’s defence has looked extremely nervous in recent weeks, making it dangerous to allow opponents to run at them.
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