Celtic: Zenit are Champions League quality, says Chris Davies

Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit St Petersburg won five of the Europa League group games, and drew one

Celtic assistant manager Chris Davies says Zenit St Petersburg are Champions League-quality opponents.

The sides meet in Glasgow on Thursday for the first leg of the Europa League last-32 tie after Celtic finished third in Champions League Group B.

Zenit topped their Europa League group and Davies believes they are an elite-level side.

"What's important to acknowledge is the level of the opponent we're about to face," Davies said.

"Having analysed them and watched them for a few months now, we know they are individually and collectively a top team - a Champions League-level team with quality.

"We have to recognise that, respect that and be prepared for that."

Zenit St Petersburg striker Aleksandr Kokorin
Aleksandr Kokorin is Zenit St Petersburg's top scorer in the Europa League with eight goals

Celtic won one of their Champions League group games - away to Anderlecht - while Zenit won five in the Europa League group stages, drawing one, and are the tournament's top scorers.

"With the quality they have, they're good in possession but also good on the counter-attack and can be a threat on set-plays," Davies said.

"Top teams can do all three of those and they have shown they're just that in the games I've seen.

Zenit St Petersburg manager Roberto Mancini
Zenit St Petersburg manager Roberto Mancini led his side to second in the Russian Premier League before the winter break

"They were the top scorers in the Europa League with 17 goals in six games, so they're scoring nearly three goals a game and conceding less than one on average. These numbers tell you a story as well.

"We respect them, but we also see it as an opportunity and we're going to hopefully take a lot of positivity and energy into the game and see what happens."

AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli are among the sides in the last 32 of the competition, but Davies believes Zenit should be considered alongside these teams as potential finalists in Lyon in May.

Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Zenit's Nicolas Lombaerts
Celtic assistant manager Chris Davies was on the Liverpool coaching staff when they were knocked out of the Europa League by Zenit

"They're one of the better teams left in the tournament," the Celtic assistant manager said. "There are some really good teams still involved and they're right up there.

"We've got a plan for the match and, if we can execute it, we'll give ourselves a chance.

"We've had an insight into that side of it in that, when we were at Liverpool, we played them at the same round five years ago.

"We drew with them 3-3 over the two legs but went out on away goals."

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