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Celtic boss Rodgers relishing Mancini reunion and another crack at Zenit

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic's Europa League draw against Roberto Mancini's Zenit St Petersburg has provided familiar territory for Brendan Rodgers.

The Hoops boss was in charge at Liverpool at the same stage of the competition in 2013 when the Reds lost on away goals to the Russian side.

Speaking at Celtic's Lennoxtown training complex, Rodgers revealed he could have linked up with Italian boss Mancini at Manchester City in 2010 when the Ulsterman was between jobs.

Zenit will visit Parkhead on February 15 with the return game in Russia the following week. Rodgers said: "I was there with Liverpool, we played the first leg away and lost 2-0 when they had big investment in the team. We had played well but gave a couple of sloppy goals away which was disappointing.

"In the second leg at home we went 1-0 down early on but got back the three goals and we just needed one more.

"We had 25 minutes/half an hour to score it and went close and couldn't just make it.

"I think they are doing okay in their league. They have a few experienced players and I remember Branislav Ivanovic from Chelsea, who is there

"We are delighted to be in the draw, it is a really exciting game. St Petersburg is a beautiful city so we will look forward to that and it will be nice to see Roberto Mancini again."

Rodgers recalled how he almost joined Mancini as a first-team coach at City before he joined Swansea. He said: "When I was rejected as a manager at Reading and was in between jobs and I didn't think I was going to get a manager's job, I was in talks with City about maybe going there as a first-team coach.

"I spoke to the club, all went well and I flew out to Milan to meet Roberto. We had a nice chat and it ended up that not long after that I got the job at Swansea as a manager. We have come across each other since, he is a good guy, but I haven't seen him for a couple of years."

Rodgers is also familiar with the problems Zenit may have playing amid a three-month winter break which started following the away game against Terek Grozny yesterday.

He said: "It doesn't make it the easiest. We experience that a different way ourselves when we play in the Champions League qualifiers. You can still qualify but of course if you are in rhythm and in season then it does make it a little bit easier."

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what capacity Zenit's stadium will be set at for the visit of Celtic as the Russian club again found themselves in hot water.

Uefa opened disciplinary proceedings following the Europa League group stage match between Real Sociedad and Zenit at Anoeta on December 7, which was won 3-1 by the visitors.

Zenit were charged with acts of damage, setting off of a firework, throwing of objects and lack of order inside the stadium and the case will be dealt with by the Uefa control, ethics and disciplinary body on February 22, the day of the home match against the Hoops.

Uefa have already ordered a partial closure of the 56,000-plus capacity Saint Petersburg stadium for their next match.

The Russian club were found guilty of racist behaviour through a "discriminatory banner" praising former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic in November.

Belfast Telegraph

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