Celtic v Zenit St Petersburg preview: Jack Hendry backed to pass Europa League test
Last Updated: 16/02/18 7:28am
Celtic have no qualms about throwing Jack Hendry into Thursday's Europa League battle with Zenit St Petersburg, according to assistant manager Chris Davies.
The 22-year-old centre-back recently signed from Dundee as part of a £1.5m deal and has never tasted European action before but with Dedryck Boyata out after damaging his groin against Kilmarnock last week, the youngster may be forced to deputise at the back.
Davies confirmed the former Partick Thistle and Wigan defender is in contention to start against Roberto Mancini's Russian outfit in the last-32 first leg tie at Parkhead and claimed Hendry has Brendan Rodgers' full faith.
"We've got confidence in Jack that he can play - that's why we signed him. He can play at this level," said the Hoops No 2.
"Of course the more games he plays at European level, the more he will develop. But we have a lot of faith in what he can do and we'll see what that means for the team selection."
AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli are just some of the big names among the remaining Europa League contenders, but Davies believes Zenit can also rightly claim to be one of the favourites to reach May's final in Lyon.
"They're one of the better teams left in the tournament," he 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."
Mancini's side - currently second in the Russian Premier League - won their Europa League group en route to the last 32, going unbeaten in a section containing Real Sociedad, Rosenborg and Vardar.
However, the visitors will arrive at Celtic Park having not played domestically since December, when the Russian top flight began its winter break.
Tom Rogic's hopes of returning to action in time to face Zenit St Petersburg appear to have been dashed. The playmaker, who has missed the last two months with a knee injury, was looking to prove his fitness in an U20s clash on Monday, but the game was called off.
Meanwhile, centre-back Dedryck Boyata remains out with groin trouble and joins Craig Gordon (knee), Leigh Griffiths (calf), Marvin Compper (calf strain), Mikael Lustig (Achilles), Jonny Hayes (broken leg), Anthony Ralston (knee), Stuart Armstrong (hernia operation) and Patrick Roberts (hamstring) on the sidelines.
Mancini is refusing to rule Branislav Ivanovic out of the tie but the former Chelsea defender remains a doubt with an eye problem.
Striker Anton Zabolotny may feature after moving to Zenit in January, while Mancini will either pick between Matias Kranevitter and Leandro Paredes - who both joined the club last summer - in midfield, or select the two players to sit in front of his back four.
Daler Kuzyaev - another summer recruit - could fill in either in defence or midfield.
Celtic will be facing a Russian side for the seventh time in European competition - they have only lost one of the previous six and have won their last three in a row (W3 D2 L1)
This is Celtic's first appearance in a European knockout stage since 2014-15, when they exited the Europa League at the last-32 stage against Internazionale
This will be only the second time that Zenit have faced a Scottish side in European competition; the first was the 2008 UEFA Cup final against Glasgow Rangers, which they won 2-0 in Manchester
Zenit scored 17 goals in the 2017-18 Europa League group stage; more than any other team in the competition
The Russian side collected 16 points in the group stage of this season's Europa League (W5 D1 L0) - more than any other team
Celtic have lost their last four European matches, with the aggregate score in these matches standing at 2-13. The Bhoys have never lost five successive games in Europe
Celtic's last victory in the UEFA Europa League came back in October 2014 versus Astra Giurgiu (2-1 at home) - since then, they are winless in 11 games in the competition (W0 D5 L6)
Emiliano Rigoni (6) and Aleksandr Kokorin (5) have scored 11 of the 17 goals scored by Zenit in the Europa League this season so far
Celtic are not playing well at the moment. The energy levels will be high for a European night at Celtic Park but that is the only reason why they are marginal favourites.
Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele, the two players you expect to step up in the big games, are both out of form, while Leigh Griffiths is injured. Dembele would be lucky to attract another £12m bid with the way he's been performing.
Dedryck Boyata out so they'll probably have to play Nir Bitton, who is a midfielder not a defender, so that adds to the concerns for a side which really struggle to adapt to not dominating the ball, which they are used to doing in the league.
Zenit have had a long break, which can go either way, but the lack of form and defensive issues concerns me. I could see Brendan Rodgers' old mate Branislav Ivanovic taking advantage of Celtic's lack of set-piece security - but it looks like he's struggling to be fit.
Charlie predicts: 1-2 and Aleksandr Kokorin to score first (25/1 with Sky Bet)