Live Commentary: Zenit St Petersburg 2-0 Liverpool - as it happened

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on the touchline on December 1, 2012
© PA Photos
Sports Mole brings you minute-by-minute text commentary of Liverpool's 2-0 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in the first leg of the Europa League round-of-32 tie.

Liverpool headed into tonight's tough Europa League encounter against Zenit St. Petersburg knowing that an away goal would be crucial for their return leg at Anfield.

The round-of-32 clashed started off strongly for the Russian outfit, but the Reds had plenty of chances that failed to be converted.

It was a swift double blow to Liverpool that occurred in the second half as Hulk and Sergei Semak gave the home side a two-goal lead in the knockout round.

Read how it all unfolded in Sports Mole's minute-by-minute coverage below.


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4pmHello all! You're joining me today for Liverpool's Europa League battle against Zenit St Petersburg. This is the first leg of the round-of-32 clash and the Reds have been dealt a somewhat tough opening knockout round.

4.01pmThe Premier League outfit were drawn with the Russian side after they topped Group A. While the travel aspect has been one undesirable option for the Reds, Zenit spent half of the season competing in the Champions League. They failed to qualify from Group C, but managed to secure a place in the second-tiered European competition.

4.04pmSo, as you may have heard, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers claimed earlier this week that he intends to field a strong team for today's encounter. That little snippet of information leads us nicely onto the team news...

4.05pmLIVERPOOL XI: Reina; Johnson, Enrique, Carragher, Skrtel; Allen, Henderson, Gerrard; Sterling, Downing, Suarez

4.09pmZENIT XI: Malafeev; Anyukov, Lombaerts, Luis Neto, Hubocan; Shirokov, Denisov, Witsel, Danny; Kerzhakov, Hulk.

4.09pmAs expected, captain Steven Gerrard and star striker Luis Suarez are handed starting spots. The team selection indicates that Rodgers is determined to go far in this competition and why not? Winning the Europa League is the only avenue that remains for Liverpool to pick up some silverware this season.

4.11pmPlus, following Monday night's 2-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, the Reds have little chance of clinching a top-four place in the table. They now reside 12 points away from a Champions League qualification position.

4.14pmOnce again, Liverpool are without Daniel Sturridge due to injury, but even if the striker were fit, he is unable to play in this competition due to previously competing for Chelsea in the Europa League. Could the fact that he's cup-tied prove detrimental to Liverpool's European campaign?

4.15pmSince moving to Anfield, Sturridge has given the Reds more options up front and his absence against West Brom definitely showed as Suarez was isolated up front and Liverpool failed to convert their chances.

4.17pmNo matter which way you look at it though, Liverpool will have to deal without him for as long as they're in the tournament. Instead, Suarez will have to rely on service from Stewart Downing and young Raheem Sterling.

4.18pmSwitching over to Zenit - manager Luciano Spalletti heads into the match with a fresh team following their winter break in Russia. Axel Witsel, who could pose a threat to Liverpool if he's on form, has been slotted into midfield.

4.20pmBig-money signing Hulk, who signed from Porto last year, unsurprisingly starts up front for Zenit today. However, it is unclear what kind of reaction he'll get from the home fans following his comments that he signed for the Russian outfit for financial purposes...

4.23pmHulk told Euronews yesterday: "I will not lie, people know I am a footballer and I had to seize the moment with Zenit's financial offer."

4.24pmConsidering previous reports of an ongoing feud between Hulk and boss Spalletti, I can't imagine that comment went down too well!

4.26pmUnfortunately, racism has reared its ugly head again in the world of football. The issue has been at the centre of the build-up to this match due to previous cases of Zenit's hostile supporters. Liverpool made their concerns known ahead of today's encounter by contacting the club itself and UEFA.

4.28pmLiverpool managing director Ian Ayre was quoted by The Telegraph earlier this week as saying: "Anything that happens off the pitch, we'll work very closely with the authorities. We'll take the right action. I'll ensure we do whatever we need to do to protect our players.

"I'd much rather we take the incident off the pitch and we deal with it. Obviously the referee has a role to play within that. But we'll be briefing our players on what's acceptable and what's not."


4.30pmWe all hope that there will be no incidents of racist abuse and we're left speaking about what went on the pitch as opposed to off it, but Rodgers has said that he will warn his players beforehand. He said: "I will make reference to it because we have players it could affect but we are here for football."

4.32pmYou may remember that a section of Zenit's fans issued a statement in December saying that they will not tolerate gay or non-white players in the team. A shocking message, which is thought to be part of the reason why Liverpool have been wary ahead of the game.

4.38pmSo, let's revert back to matters on the pitch. The two clubs have not met before in previous tournaments but Zenit have never lost to an English team at home - not something that Liverpool fans would like to hear.

4.44pmNotably, Martin Skrtel starts in defence for Liverpool today. The centre-back has dropped out of the side in recent weeks due to Rodgers's preferred partnership of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger. However, Skrtel returns to face his former club alongside Carragher, who recently announced that he intends to retire from football at the end of the season.

4.45pmRodgers has just been speaking to ITV4 on why he's playing a senior side: "I always felt that if we could get through [the group stage], I thought if we got to the other side we could have a really good go at it. It's a great game for us to show our character."

4.45pmSo, how are we expecting the sides to set up? Since it's an away game, Liverpool are likely to remain tight and try to get a crucial away goal on the counter-attack. Zenit, however, they have players in Hulk and Danny, who tend to play their own game sometimes! It can harm Zenit's shape when they're under pressure, so Liverpool may look to exploit that when they can.

4.48pmWe have around 10 minutes to go until kickoff! Don't forget though, Liverpool aren't the only Premier League team in Europa League action today. Chelsea, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur are all playing their respective round-of-32 ties, albeit slightly later this evening. You can keep track of their progress on our live scores page here.

4.53pmA positive stat for Liverpool - they have only lost one game, which was against Anzhi Makhachkala, out of their last five European away clashes. Can they make it six?

4.55pmWe're closing in on kickoff! The players are emerging from the tunnel all wearing coats! It's meant to be very chilly in Russia, but let's hope they manage to peel their extra layers off for the match...

0 minAnd we're off! Liverpool get us underway kicking from left to right.

1 minSAVE! Oh my! Liverpool are under some immense pressure in the first minute. A shot gets fired into the box to find the feet of Shirokov, who slams it towards goal but Reina dives down to clear the danger.

2 minCHANCE! Right down the other end Suarez find himself one on one with debutant Neto following a pass from Johnson. The Uruguayan delivers some trademark skill to get passed the defender and get a shot on towards the bottom right-hand side of the goal but it drifts past the post. What a start!

4 minSAVE! Reina is forced to make another save following a storming run from Hulk but the Spaniard gets fingertips on the ball to give a corner.

5 minDanny gets the ball from the corner and plays it into the box but Skrtel manages to make space for Reina to collect.

5 minHulk once again tries to move into the box but the ball drifts away from him slightly and Skrtel manages to scoop up and regain possession for the Reds.

6 minGerrard finds Downing, who runs at Neto but the Zenit defender manages to get a foot on it and send the ball out.

7 minAllen plays the ball out wide to Enrique, but the Spaniard finds himself under pressure and concedes a throw-in.

8 minEnrique wins a tussle with Hulk. Well, he gets a free kick for Liverpool in their own half due to a push from the big Brazilian. It's a very fiery start here! Both sides have looked threatening in the final third.

9 minDenisov snatches the ball from Sterling and finds Shirokov on the edge of the area and he takes a shot on goal but it bounces off Carragher and the Liverpool defence clear.

10 minZenit are piling the pressure on Liverpool at the moment! Johnson manages to turn away from Danny to end their spell and regain possession for the Reds.

11 minHenderson gets fouled by Lombarts after he tackled from behind. Liverpool have a free kick in a dangerous area. Gerrard is poised to take it...

12 minIt swerves in with perfect precision looking for Suarez, but he fails to get his head to it and the ball bounces out of play.

13 minSuarez moves the play out wide and he passes the ball into the middle of the park but no other red shirt is there to latch onto it and Neto intercepts to start a fresh attack for Zenit.

14 minCHANCE! Liverpool won't get a better chance than that! Suarez could have easily put the Reds 1-0 up after a dreadful misplaced pass from Lombarts left the ball in the path of Suarez, who moved around the goalkeeper but delayed his shot, which gave Lombarts the chance to get back and stop the Uruguayan.

16 minBOOKING! Skrtel is the first name to go into the referee's book this evening due to a high leg. Looking at replays, it was justified as he had his studs showing.

17 minAllen gets muscled out and loses the ball to Witsel, who crosses the ball across the box to Hulk, who tries to lay the ball off but Gerrard blocks him.

18 minA lovely pass from Danny! He glides the ball out onto the left to find Hulk in plenty of space. The frontman drives inside to get a low cross into the box but Gerrard gets a foot to it and clears the danger.

19 minJohnson tries a long-ball effort down the right-hand side but Hubocan manages to track it and lets the ball drift out for a throw-in.

21 minSterling drives down the left towards the byline and wins a corner for Liverpool after a tackle from Neto. Can they get anything from this?

21 minThe answer is no... The whistle blows because a foul on Hubocan from Skrtel. The Liverpool defender has to be careful now, he's already on a yellow.

22 minWhat a poor cross from Hulk. The Brazilian is angry with himself, and I can see why! He had options ahead of him and to the right but he opted to cross into the box with his left foot but it goes directly to Johnson.

23 minSuarez loses possession for Liverpool by fouling Anyukov in the eight-yard box. He grabbed onto the player's shoulders as the ball drifted over the top of him.

24 minA minute later, Suarez is flagged offside following a lovely ball from Gerrard, which glided over the top to find the striker. The flag went up but it would be interesting to see a replay.

26 minCarragher used his experience well there. Hulk manages to shake off Allen, who tumbles to the floor. The Brazilian continues his run unmarked into the box but Carragher just picks the ball up.

27 minMISS! What a let-off for Liverpool. The Reds are under pressure in their own half when Hulk takes a shot from just outside the area. Reina may have got a slight touch on it when he dove to the left but the ball bounces right across goal and drifts out. Liverpool can breathe again.

28 minActually, looking at the replay, Reina didn't get a touch on the ball. Hulk's attempt rattled off the left post. Either way, it was close for Liverpool.

29 minLovely, swift play from Zenit. Shirokov slides the ball into the box aiming for Hulk but there's too much pace on it and the Brazilian fails to get there.

30 minWell, that was slightly embarrassing... Hulk crosses the ball across the box aiming for Kerzhakov, who attempts an overhead scissor-kick but he misses the ball completely and is left red faced.

31 minZenit are on top at the moment. Liverpool are struggling to handle Hulk, and Sterling has barely seen any of the ball.

32 minDanny's down on the ground after kicking for the ball but ended up colliding with Johnson's foot instead. He's receiving treatment on the field from surprisingly medics on a golf buggy! You don't get that in the Premier League...

34 minHe gets back on his feet as Rodgers talks tactics with Gerrard and Henderson. Play is back underway.

35 minJohnson dinks past one player and drives into the box but Lombarts puts pressure on the full-back and forces him to knock the ball out of play for a goal kick.

37 minEnrique launches the ball down the field as Suarez drops to the floor with Neto. Neither are quite appealing for a foul as it just seems to be a clash of legs. No free kick given.

38 minHubocan lifts the ball into the box towards Reina but it slowly drifts into the area, which gives the keeper time to snatch the ball from the air.

40 minMISS! Oh dear. Another good chance missed by Suarez. Sterling finds the ball on the corner of the penalty area and makes a short pass to Suarez who is on the keeper's left side. He tries to flick in into the back of the net but it just edges wide to hit the side-netting.

41 minEnrique shakes off Hulk to find Henderson in the middle of the field. He tries to threat the ball through to Sterling out wide but it just gets snuffed out by the Zenit defence.

42 minAnother lovely ball from Gerrard comes over the top from Suarez but Neto and Anyukov are both on the striker and prevent him from latching onto it as he slips on the surface.

43 minShirokov passes to Witsel in the final third and he swivels to shoot towards goal but Skrtel gets a vital block to stop the attempt.

44 minWe're back at the other end with Downing, who storms down the flank and drives inside to swing the ball towards goal but it's lifting high as the ball leaves his foot and he misses the target.

45 minThe fourth official indicates two minutes of additional time in this first half.

45 minSome nice one-touch play between Henderson and Sterling, who eventually finds Enrique. The Spaniard passes to Suarez, who tries to set his shot up but the ball just bobbles away from him.

47 minHALF-TIME: Zenit 0-0 Liverpool

5.48pmWell, that was a rather tasty half of football! The majority of goalless scorelines usually indicate that not much has gone on, but that is far from the case in this match. Both sides have had great opportunities to break the deadlock - none more so than Suarez, who could have had a hat-trick by now.

5.49pmZenit fired out of the blocks in the first few minutes and Liverpool could have easily gone behind in the first minute if it weren't for a pin-point save by Reina.

5.50pmThe Premier League outfit looked uncomfortable in the first 15 minutes or so as Danny and Hulk were allowed to find space and impose their attacking threat on the game.

5.51pmDespite Zenit's positive start, Liverpool grew into the game more and more and have looked assured with their shape. However, Allen has given away possession on a number of occasions and Sterling has been quiet so far.

5.53pmFor the second half, Liverpool must try to keep it tight between their midfield and defence. There's been far too much space for Zenit to roam in, but the Reds' highlight has been Suarez, who has had a number of chances. He cut a frustrated figure towards the end of the first half due to those missed opportunities. Can he make any count in the next 45?

5.56pmIn terms of Zenit, they've done everything right but score. Hulk can usually be rather inconsistent but he looks hungry tonight, and Danny has been popping up all over the field! Bar an early mistake from Lombarts, the home side have looked quite comfortable.

5.59pmIt's surprising that it's still goalless! Hopefully that can change in the second half, but I'm sure Liverpool would be content with a 0-0 draw given that the return leg is at Anfield.

6.02pmBoth sets of players are on their way back onto the pitch for the second half. Let's hope it's as fierce as the first, with some goals thrown in!

45 minAnd we're off! The home side get us underway...

45 minNeto tries a low long pass from the back line in these early stages, but it bypasses everyone and bobbles out to Reina to collect.

46 minSkrtel launches the ball up-field aiming for Sterling, and while the 18-year-old is know to be fast-paced, he can't reach the pass and Zenit regain possession.

47 minLiverpool spray the ball across midfield with some quick one-touch play until Kerzhakov scrapes the ball away from Skrtel's feet.

49 minCHANCE! A great run from Johnson almost leads to the first goal of the game. The full-back continues his run from his own half and goes past three players to try a shot but it gets deflected behind and the corner comes to nothing.

50 minSterling is seeing much more of the ball now. He finds the feet of Enrique, who passes to Henderson and the England Under-21 skipper is fouled from behind and earns a free kick for his side.

51 minA minute later, Downing wins a free kick on the corner of the box after Hubocan kicked out at the winger. Downing and Gerrard are both standing over the ball.

52 minGerrard takes it, but it's not one of his best deliveries as the ball swings in to find the first man in the wall, which is Hulk, who knocks the ball out of danger.

52 minDown the pitch, Shirokov tries an ambitious shot from far out but it goes sky high over the bar.

53 minSUBSTITUTION Zenit make the first change of the game as Danny, who looks like he's carrying some sort of injury, makes way for Semak.

54 minHenderson tries to thread the ball through the middle towards the box with Sterling and Suarez on either side of it, but neither of the red shirts could find the end of the pass.

56 minSuarez heads wide to Henderson, who returns the pass, but the Uruguayan can't find a way through and hits the ball behind to Gerrard, who gets closed down.

57 minA diagonal cross from Skrtel finds Johnson but it's too long for the full-back, who can't help but received it over the line.

58 minThe game's turned a bit scrappy at the moment. Zenit don't quite have the same flow as they started with and the pitch is not in the best of conditions, which is disrupting both sides.

61 minCHANCE! A brilliant move from Liverpool could have resulted in a goal, but once again the chance goes missing. Enrique does well to break away from Hulk and find Suarez, who flicks the ball into the path of Gerrard, who passes out wide to Downing. The winger drives inside and stops in his tracks to let Suarez take a shot, which curls towards the net but it drifts just wide of the post. Very close!

61 minLiverpool are having more control in midfield. They seem more confident, but there's always danger when Zenit get into the final third.

63 minAllen gives the ball away and Denisov latches onto it and passes to Semak, who tries to cross into the penalty area but Skrtel manages to clear.

64 minEnrique gets closed down by Hulk, but the Spaniard is able to get his pass across to Skrtel. There's been quite a fee tussles between those two. At the moment, Enrique is keeping the Brazilian quiet.

65 minAt the other end, Liverpool get a corner, which Downing takes, but his ball into the box is headed clear. When the ball bounces back into the final third, Downing is rightfully flagged offside.

67 minA nice move for Zenit this time! Shirokov drives down the flanks and pulls the ball back to Semak in the centre. He glides a lovely through-ball but it's just hit too far and goes over the line for a goal kick.

68 minA lovely turn from Suarez just outside of the area, but as soon as the Uruguayan gets the ball, a hoard of blue shirts surround him and the ball gets snatched away from him.

68 minGOAL! Zenit 1-0 Liverpool (Hulk)

70 minWow. What a strike from Hulk! Henderson loses the ball in midfield to the Brazilian, who blasts past Gerrard and takes a thunderous shot from outside the area. It swerves beautifully into the left-hand corner. The home side get a vital lead!

71 minZenit have started to pile the pressure now. Witsel drives inside from the right and gets his shot on with no red shirts closing him down, but Carragher manages to block it.

71 minGOAL! Zenit 2-0 Liverpool (Semak)

72 minA second goal for the home side in a matter of minutes! A low cross drifts across the box and it eventually finds the feet of Semak, who is approaching Reina's near-post and fires the ball into the back of the net.

73 minWhat a blow for Liverpool. How do they approach this game now? They cannot afford to give any more goals away but they could do with that all-important away goal. We have around 15 minutes to go!

76 minIt's all Zenit now! The goals have rejuvenated the home side, who are now throwing everything at the Reds.

77 minSUBSTITUTION Liverpool make their first change of the game as Sterling is withdrawn for midfield protection in the form of Lucas.

78 minThat could have been a chance for the Reds. Suarez finds himself out wide and flicks the ball onto Gerrard, who glides a low swerving ball to the feet of Allen, but the midfielder is slightly off the pace and fails to latch onto it.

79 minGerrard tries a long-range effort towards goal but it gets a slight deflection off Suarez and the keeper is able to grab the ball with both hands.

80 minWitsel gets himself into space and swiftly drives towards the box and pulls the play out wide for Kerzhakov, who is unable to find the end of it.

81 minSUBSTITUTION Kerzhakov makes way for Fayzulin as Liverpool prepare to take a corner...

82 minDowning takes it but the keeper jumps high to grab the ball from the air.

82 minBOOKING! Neto gets cautioned rather unfairly for appearing to catch Suarez. However, replays show that it was the lightest of contact.

83 minCHANCE! Suarez takes the free kick and it swerves over the wall but the keeper gets fingertips on it and Henderson fails to follow up.

85 minJohnson gives away a corner as Shirokov's ball crosses to the feet of Hulk, who can't get a shot in and it gets forced out by the Liverpool full-back. Zenit tries a short corner but they're forced to play in back to their defensive line.

88 minZenit move the ball fluidly across midfield and they look as though they're rather content just keeping their lead for the final few minutes of the game.

89 minHulk gets brought down by Carragher, who just throws his body across the Brazilian, but they swiftly win the ball back and have just a minute plus stoppage time to get a crucial away goal.

90 minThe fourth official indicates two minutes of added time as Zenit launch an attack through Samek on the left.

91 minCHANCE! Substitute Fayzulin almost made it worse for Liverpool by finding space and taking a long-range shot at goal. It wasn't a bad attempt though, as it forces Reina to dive to his left, but it goes out.

92 minFULL-TIME: Zenit 2-0 Liverpool

6.51pmWell, Liverpool are going to need one of their famous European nights at Anfield to progress into the next round of the competition. They may have had their chances over the 90 minutes, but once again they fail to convert and are undone by two goals.

6.53pmIt seems to be the story of the Reds' season so far! Suarez could have had a hat-trick in the first half but a piece of individual brilliance from Hulk ensured that Zenit took the lead, and then there was no stopping them as they snatched a second through Semak.

6.55pmWhat does this do to Liverpool's chances of qualifying then? Well, to be frank, it's pretty slim. A two-goal deficit is not ideal for anyone in a two-legged tie, but it's not impossible to overcome. An away goal would have cushioned the blow but it's not to be and the Reds will have it all do to next week.

6.57pmLiverpool will be at Anfield for the second leg and the home crowd could prove to be a huge advantage for the Reds. They don't seem to do things the easy way and we're all aware of some magical European nights on Merseyside. 2005 Olympiakos victory anyone?

7pmWhatever way you look at it though, this is the only competition left to play for considering Liverpool's ninth position in the Premier League, so they will have to come out firing in the return leg.

7.03pmThanks for joining me and I hope you enjoyed it! Make sure you stick around with Sports Mole for Chelsea, Newcastle United's and Tottenham Hotspur's coverage, which you can find here. Enjoy!

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers during their match against Sunderland on January 2, 2013
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