The walking wounded vs an opponent just back from holiday. The signs don't look good for Celtic on Thursday in the Europa League. Betfair's Scottish football scribe Frankie Monkhouse picks through the betting...
"Despite having a January transfer window to get it right, the same issues exist in Brendan Rodgers’ defence that did in the Champions League, where they conceded 18 goals in six games"
Celtic's sickroom packed to bursting
Scottish champions and Premiership leaders Celtic prepare for the visit of Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League on the back of a hurtful defeat at Kilmarnock. Only their second loss of the campaign, last season's Invincibles dropped at 1-0 at Rugby Park earlier this month, downed by a stunning Youssouf Mulumbu strike.
This do-or-die first-leg with Zenit could've come at a better time for Brendan Rodgers' Bhoys. The locals also go into battle without goal-scoring midfielder Tom Rogic, the Australian sidelined with knee trouble. He won't be risked here, despite making the bench in a weekend Scottish Cup win over Partick at this venue. Rogic joins teammates Patrick Roberts, Stuart Armstrong, Jonny Hayes, Craig Gordon and Marvin Compper in the sickroom. Worse still, it'll be a surprise if Rodgers risks Leigh Griffiths or Dedryck Boyata.
Rested or rusty? Punters have a call to make on Zenit
Surely taking encouragement from that list, Zenit manager Roberto Mancini rolls into town with a side showing decent form in the Russian top-flight, sitting second behind Lokomotiv Moscow, having picked up four points from the last six available to them. Lions also take heart from their efforts in this competition to date, topping Group L ahead of Real Sociedad, handing in a winning card reading five wins and a draw. They'll fancy their chances of holding onto that unbeaten run, despite their opponents dropping in from the level above.
Zenit also have their own problems to contend with in terms of injury, former Chelsea star Branislav Ivanovic suffering eye damage. The experienced 33-year-old would be a huge miss for his employers, who are returning from a lengthy winter break. Will that time off mean they go fully rested and ready for business, or rusty, off the pace and there to be shot at? That's for punters to decide.
Mancini's men expected to gain first-leg win
Celtic are, once again, out in front domestically, with no challenge to worry about in the coming months. That allows them to focus on making progress in Europe's second-string competition, but that injury list is worrying and, against an opponent of Zenit's quality, they are expected to struggle.
Despite having a January transfer window to get it right, the same issues exist in Brendan Rodgers' defence that did in the Champions League, where they conceded 18 goals in six games. Different levels, of course, but Zenit rattled in 17 of their own in six Europa League starts. The plucky visitors won't need encouragement to go on the attack, eyeing a first-leg win that would see them put one foot in the next round. The away day is [2.76] favourite on the Betfair Exchange, which makes sense.
These sides have never met before in competitive action, so we're left scratching around for clues in the over/under markets, but it would be foolish to ignore Celtic's generous defending. They were battered by the big boys in the Champions League, but even if excusing that, they have conceded five goals in six domestic matches this year already. The warning signs are there. Over 2.5 goals in the match looks worth an interest at 4/5 (Betfair Sportsbook).