UEFA Europa League 2013, First round draw: Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Liverpool

Claudio Villa

Zenit St. Petersburg will do battle against Liverpool in what is probably the tie of the round in the first knockout stage of the Europa League.

In what is probably the standout fixture of the draw, Zenit St. Petersburg will face Liverpool.

Both clubs are giants that are not enjoying the best of form, with Zenit struggling despite making two huge signings in Axel Witsel and Hulk in the summer, finding themselves third in the league and with problems within their squad. Liverpool, meanwhile, continue to struggle in the lower half of the Premier League, and seem unable to find any consistent form. And when two inconsistent teams meet, there's probably an entertaining show on the cards at the very least.

Key Player

Luis Suarez - Simply because Liverpool are utterly, helplessly blunt without him. If he's not playing, or not scoring, then the Reds are often completely at the mercy of their opponents because they don't have anyone else. That might not be the case so much in January - Fabio Borini will be back, and Liverpool will almost certainly sign a striker in January - but he is still highly likely to be of vast importance to the Reds' attack.

Matchup to watch

Danny vs. Lucas - They both only have one name, but the similarities end there - Zenit's main creative force, whether cutting in from the wing or playing in the hole, will have to be marshalled effectively by Liverpool's Lucas in order to stop him from creating and scoring at will for the Russian side.

Prediction

Zenit St. Petersburg should probably win this, but there are a lot of 'if's here. Liverpool could strengthen in January, they could pick up their form, they could have a new manager by the time this game happens... and the same can be said for Zenit. Hulk has been making noises about wanting to leave, and they haven't been performing as well as they should, particularly in big games. Basically, this is likely going to be a clash between two absolute rabbles and that makes it hard to predict, but given Liverpool's paper-thin squad and Zenit's generally superior players, the Russians have to be the favourites.

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