Europe is no strange terriory for three time Europa League winners, Liverpool, but with the odd run of games they’ve had they may find it challenging.
The Reds made a far trip to the Eastern borders of Europe to face Russian champions Zenit Saint Petersburg in their first leg clash of the last 32 round of their Europa League campaign.
When the match kicked off it was the home side who were ready and off to the races with an early chance and two very close corners that nearly slipped into the net, but the Spanish international Pepe Reina was there to see them off.
Liverpool were not to be undone when Luis Suarez when played through on goal thanks to the clever ball from Glen Johnson, but Suarez decided not to chip the keeper who was well off his line and go around his left. The goal would have rolled over the line if it wasn’t for clever defending that saw the ball go just wide of the net.
Suarez was on fire with his speed and clever ability on the ball, but his next two runs were judged offside.
His South American counterpart, Hulk, was being quite the pest for the home side with speed and agility in the 26th minute that left Jamie Carragher in the dust, but once again it was Pepe Reina who came to the rescue with his lightning quick reflexes.
The rest of the half remained goalless and continued the same back and forth pattern between the two clubs with just one booking in the 17th minute to make any news.
The second half kicked off with Liverpool attacking to the left and with everything they’ve got. Pseudo-striker Glen Johnson ran all the way from the back and through three defenders to dispatch a weak, but effective shot that earned a corner for the reds. Liverpool clearly using all their weapons in the search for an illustrious away goal.
First substitution of the evening was in the 53rd minute for the home side when the Portuguese number 10, Danny, made way for Russian international Sergei Semak.
Second booking of the match came to Slovakian midfielder Tomáš Hubočan when he held on to captain Steven Gerrard a bit too long for the referee’s liking.
Seconds later Gerrard was off to the races again when he raced down the middle and laid he ball off to Stewart Downing on the right wing, Downing then ran along the 18 yard box and laid the ball out for Luis Suarez who took a finessed shot that curled just wide of the net. Another one bit the dust for Liverpool’s number seven and his third chance went begging yet again.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance in the second half it was the appropriately named Hulk who smashed in the 69th minute; the 26 year old found space on the right side of the net from 30 yards out and fire such a curling shot that it hit the inside of the net just under the crossbar. 1-nil to the home side.
Zenit had momentum and capitalized on it in a major way just moments later when the ball was crossed from the right side of the pitch all the way across the face of goal and fell to the feet of Sergei Semak who carefully chipped just over the reach of Reina and into the back of the net for the 2-nil lead. Some Liverpool supporters now sensing the end of their European run.
First sub for Liverpool when Raheem Sterling was replaced by Lucas Leiva. Experience over speed, would it pay off for the reds?
Alexander Kerzhakov was taken off for Viktor Fayzulin in the 81st minute, shortly before a yellow card was shown to Neto for his trip up of Luis Suarez. That foul made way for a free kick to be taken by Luis Suarez which fell right in front of the bottom right corner of the net and was nearly put into the net, but for a scramble in front of goal and a desperate clearance by Zenit which gave them a minute to catch their breaths.
But minutes were all that was left as the 85th minute rang in and another Zenit corner was awarded with the scoreline reading 2-nil to the home side.
The final minutes came and went and 2-nil was the final score after 92 minutes of play. It will be a mountain climb for the reds now. The math for the next week’s fixture is as follows; Liverpool must score two goals at Anfield to send the tie into extra time and obviously three to win, but if Zenit score an away goal Liverpool must then win 4-1 to move on. Only time will tell and when the second half of this exciting drama will be written.
Liverpool’s next fixture is on Sunday the 17th when Brendan Rodgers’ old club, Swansea City come to town and try to continue their run up the table with immense resistance from Liverpool. Four days after that Zent will make their visit to Anfield for the second leg of this European tie and the home fans will pack the stadium to the rafters when they host another magical European night.