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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

James Forrest can fire for Celtic at Parkhead

Alexandr Kokorin is the Zenit dangerman

James Forrest takes a shot for Celtic against Rosenborg
1 of 1

Europa League last-32 first leg
BT Sport 2, 8.05pm Thursday

If there’s a good time to be taking on Russian powers Zenit St Petersburg it’s probably now – though that doesn’t mean Celtic are anything like must-bet material in the Europa League on Thursday.

Bookmakers don’t see a great deal between these two going into the first leg at Parkhead and it’s a tie which has an open feel about it.

Celtic parachuted into the Europa League from the Champions League, where they lost five of their six matches, though the calibre of opposition there was markedly superior to the teams Zenit left in their wake storming to glory in Europa League Group L.

The fact that Zenit are in the midst of their winter break might well count against Roberto Mancini’s side. The Italian certainly thinks it will.

They have played eight friendlies in the interim but it’s worth remembering that a strong Zenit side were dumped out of the Europa League at this stage last year by Anderlecht, and rust was definitely a factor.

You can, of course, offset those negatives by pointing at some pretty mixed performances by Celtic lately and the Bhoys are also struggling with a handful of significant injuries.

One player who is in sparkling form is James Forrest, scorer of nine goals since the end of November and worth a punt to score.

Celtic are without a home win in 11 games in Europe (excluding qualifiers), a statistic that hardly inspire confidence in the Scottish champions.

They lost at Kilmarnock last week and were rattled by Partick Thistle in the FA Cup on Saturday. Moussa Dembele’s swagger hasn’t been there for a few weeks and defensively they look far from assured.

To that end, a overs bet on total goals could well reap dividends because Zenit are adventurous home or away.

Mancini’s men were the top scorers in the group stage with 17 goals. Five of their six matches produced three goals or more and both teams scored in five of them.

In Russia, however, they have failed to win their last five away league games and haven't found the net in three of them.

The outstanding Alexandr Kokorin has got 18 goals this term.

J Forrest to score at any time
1pt 16-5 Betfair, Paddy Power

Russian league standings

Ladbrokes Premiership standings

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Team news
Keeper Craig Gordon, defender Dedryck Boyata, midfielders Patrick Roberts and Stuart Armstrong and striker Leigh Griffiths are out. Tom Rogic is unlikely to be involved.

Branislav Ivanovic has recovered from an eye injury.

Key stat
Both teams have scored in each of Zenit’s last five Europa League ties.

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Celtic are without a home win in 11 games in Europe (excluding qualifiers)
E.W. Terms
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