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  • Chris Davies: Zenit are Champions League quality

    Chris Davies: Zenit are Champions League quality

    By: Mark Henderson on 13 Feb, 2018 15:52

  • CHRIS Davies insists Zenit St Petersburg are UEFA Champions League-calibre opposition and deserve huge respect as another big European night in Paradise draws closer.

    Celtic will take on the Russian outfit in the UEFA Europa League last 32, with the Hoops hosting them on Thursday, before travelling to St Petersburg seven days later for the return match.

    Brendan Rodgers and his backroom staff have been doing their homework on Zenit since December’s draw for the knockout stages, leaving them in no doubt that Roberto Mancini’s men are top of the class when it comes to continental competition.

    But, while wary of their opponents, the Scottish champions will head into the contest with positivity and belief, according to the Celtic assistant manager.  

    “What’s very important to acknowledge and respect is the level of opponent we are about to play against,” he said. “Having analysed them and watched them now for a few months, and had people scouting them, they are individually and collectively a top team, a Champions league-level team, with quality. We recognise that, we respect that and we will prepare for that.

    “They are Champions League level. I have spent a lot of time watching and analysing them. They are a team that are good in possession but also very good on the counter attack and they can be a threat from set-plays – the top teams can do all three of those.

    “They have shown that in the games I have seen. They are top scorers in the Europa League, with 17 goals, which is nearly three goals a game and they have conceded less than a goal a game, and these numbers tell a story as well. We respect them but we see it as an opportunity, and we are going to take a lot of positivity and energy into the game and see what happens.”

    Davies also dismissed any notion that Zenit would be short on match sharpness or conditioning as they resume competitive action following their winter break.

    “We have an insight into that,” he said. “At Liverpool, we played them at the same round five years ago when Brendan was the manager. We drew the game over the two-legs 3-3, but went out on away goals. There was a bit of talk about their condition pre-game but they were in very good condition.

    “They've had a couple of training camps now to build up their fitness and plenty of games to be ready so I am expecting them to be physically at a level to compete.”

    Celtic go into the game having achieved their aim of European football beyond Christmas on the back of a third-place finish in their Champions League group. But now they have reverted to knockout football over two-legs, Davies admitted it would factor into their tactical approach.

    “Our objective was to qualify for the Champions League and make sure we have European football after Christmas, and thankfully we did that,” he said. “It’s something which is important to keep in the mind, that we have this exciting game to look forward to in what is going to be a fantastic atmosphere. We are all really looking forward to it and that was the objective at the start.

    “You have seen in previous two-legged games we've had that there are different results. Against Rosenborg, for example, we were 0-0 which maybe at the time didn’t feel like the best result, but we kept a clean sheet and put ourselves in a strong position for the second-leg and we went away and finished the job off. You have to be in a position where you have a chance for the second-leg as it’s only going to be half-time.”

    But the Englishman acknowledged that the Bhoys would be seeking to capitalise on home advantage and the inspirational backing of the Celtic support.  

    “Hopefully, it’s something we can use to inspire us,” he said. “The fans generate the most incredible atmosphere. I have never heard noise like I have heard at Celtic Park at a football game before. It really is a fantastic experience in the stadium.

    “On the pitch, we have to perform equally as well to inspire the fans. We will be working together and that’s the plan. It’s a phenomenal place to play.”

    In regards to team news, Patrick Roberts has joined fellow long-term absentee, Tom Rogic, in returning to training at Lennoxtown.

    “We have a few injured players returning to training which is good,” said Davies. “We are in a good place.

    “Patrick Roberts is just returning to training but isn’t available for the game. Tom Rogic is a little bit further on as he has had a couple of weeks training and hopefully he will be available over the next week or so.

    “Stuart Armstrong unfortunately is still in his rehab, the same with Leigh Griffiths, and then we have the long-term ones.”

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