Three key battles that will decide Celtic v Zenit St Petersburg

0
Have your say

Where tonight’s Europa League first-leg tie at Celtic Park will likely be won and lost.

Keep up with all the top football news and transfer gossip from England, Scotland and beyond with footballwire.co.uk

Leandro Paredes will go up against Scott Brown. Picture: SNS

Leandro Paredes will go up against Scott Brown. Picture: SNS

JOZO SIMUNOVIC V ALEXSANDR KOKORIN

Simunovic has had a season to forget after re-establishing himself as a solid first pick during the Invincibles campaign. Injury and loss of confidence have made the former Dinamo Zagreb centre-back a less effective performer this time around and he was at fault for both goals conceded against Partick Thistle on Saturday. He needs to rediscover the poise and time he displayed regularly a year ago. Kokorin, 26, will take some watching. He’s already scored a winner at Parkhead, for Moscow Dynamo in a Champions League qualifier in 2009 – one of 18 goals he’s notched in 36 European ties, with eight of them coming this season. Russia’s World Cup striker isn’t the biggest but he’s a threat in the air as well as on the ground, as his 12 goals for his country will testify.

SCOTT BROWN V LEANDRO PAREDES

The Celtic captain has been one of the few Celtic midfielders to be both consistently available and impressive this season. Stuart Armstrong will miss tonight’s game through injury while Tom Rogic, returning after more than two months out, is likely to start on the bench. Brown’s experience and influence will be vital if Celtic are to claim a first home win in 12 European ties.

READ MORE - Rumour Mill: Tavernier eyes Champions League | SPFL ‘won’t get big money TV deal’ | Rodgers on Celtic’s final hopes

Argentina playmaker Paredes, a £21million summer signing from Roma, is already attracting attention from Real Madrid. He scored on his debut for his country last year and has been pulling the strings for Roberto Mancini’s side since arriving in Russia. A dead-ball specialist, he’s as capable of whipping one in from 25 yards as he is of claiming an assist for his team-mates.

MOUSSA DEMBELE V MIHA MEVLJA

The 21-year-old is another struggling to recapture last season’s form. He scored five European goals last season (including three in the Champions League group stage) but has gone seven ties without finding the net since then. He’s also scored only once in his last 10 outings and has yet to reach double figures this season. A big performance tonight could prove to be the jump-start he needs. Mevlja was part of the Slovenia team which thwarted Scotland’s faint World Cup hopes by drawing 2-2 and the 27-year-old, signed last year from Lausanne-Sport, has curbed his hothead tendencies since his move but the 6’3” central defender won’t hesitate to rough up his opponents if he believes it will prevent his side from losing a goal. He’ll relish the physical challenge against Dembele.

READ MORE - Brendan Rodgers can’t see Celtic doing a ‘Seville’