As the Reds prepare to take on Zenit St Petersburg, Liverpoolfc.com caught up with Russian football expert Artur Petrosyan, chief football editor of Sportbox.ru, to get the lowdown on our opponents...
So, Zenit St Petersburg... how much of a force are they currently?
I would have definitely said that they are a force if you asked that a couple of months ago, but they played their last competitive match at the beginning of December so they obviously lack match fitness now. Having watched them in mid-season tournaments, I believe they look far less dangerous now. For instance Shakhtar Donetsk, who are also in mid-season, beat them quite easily 3-1 and looked like a team of another level.
What sort of form have they been in this season?
Zenit were considered as favourites for the title by everyone - fans, journalists, bookmakers and even rivals - and they were indeed the team to beat at the start of the season. It all changed after the famous €100m transfer of Hulk and Witsel in September - their arrival split the team. Allegedly, some players protested against the fact their salaries are lower than those of Hulk and Witsel. It influenced team performance. They were poor and got eliminated from the Champions League and with 11 matches left to play in the Russian Premier League they're now only third behind CSKA and Anzhi.
How is their boss doing, Luciano Spalletti?
He had been doing great, winning two Russian titles straight after arriving as well as the cup. But the way things went after those conflicts started showed he was not in control of the situation anymore. He did send their leaders Igor Denisov and Alexander Kerzhakov to the reserves but it all ended up with the bosses agreeing to giving pay rises to those protesting.
What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Their main weakness has to be their defence. In the centre they can be slow and prone to mistake. Plus when Zenit play without Denisov (and he might still leave the club soon) opponents easily go at them through the middle.
As for strengths it's similar to Man City. Last season they were good as a team, but now they hope for individuals to produce brilliance. I'd call Danny (who's a bit like David Silva) their main creative force, and there's also Witsel, who was nearing his best at the end of last year, and Roman Shirokov - named the player of 2012 in the Russian Premier League by all: from managers to fans and journalists.
Best way to beat them?
1) You have to make sure Danny doesn't have much time and space to create. 2) You shouldn't go forward with big numbers as counter attacks are what Zenit are best at. 3) Put as many through-balls into Zenit area as possible and/or simply give it to Suarez to go at centre-backs.
And the best way to handle the cold temperatures?
You're lucky it's going to be only -6 C on Thursday night as that's really hot for St Petersburg's February! Still it's always windy there (especially in the stands) so it might feel like -15. The best way to handle it? When in Russia do as the Russians do... you get the point, don't you?
Finally, your prediction?
I don't see many goals. The pitch will be tough to deal with and the speed of the game will rather be slow. So a low-scoring draw will leave both sides happy - 1-1.