Zenit St Petersburg are a very good team. But they are a very good team who have not played a competitive match in over a month. They are an expensively assembled side, but they are not a Bayern Munich or a PSG. They are a technically gifted side, but this not Barcelona we are facing. In front of the Celtic Park home crowd we have a chance. Keep a good defensive shape away from home and we will go through.
There is a value to this tie beyond simply enhancing our reputation and making us some money. It will teach Brendan Rodgers, again, and this time in a manner that leaves no room for doubt, exactly who in our squad he can rely on and who he can’t.
Simunovic must have the game of his life on Thursday. Ditto Mikael Lustig. If Moussa wants that big move to England this is the stage on which he must shine. A lacklustre performance from Sinclair will pose the first questions as to whether or not he can be relied on next season.
His form dip in this campaign has been notable, and is a cause for concern.
Excuses can be made for failing to rise to the level of a PSG or a Bayern or a Barcelona. They are Tier 1 teams, from the highest level of the game. Not so with Zenit. They are a mid-level side which has spent big in hope of cracking the upper reaches of the game. They have found their level in the second competition though, and we have to prove we are better than that.
We won’t win the Europa League; it’s a pipedream. This squad isn’t at a level consonant with that sort of accomplishment. But we should be aiming to get through this tie, and to continue to grow on the big stage. That depends on performances.
What we’ll learn on Thursday night is who is hungry, who’s heart is in it, who can raise themselves about the current stupor, who can reach above expectations and deliver. Those who don’t will pose genuine questions as to whether they’re up to the job for us. And that will ensure that in the summer they top the list of the players the manager thinks we can do without.
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