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Celtic defence must step up to keep Aleksandr Kokorin at bay

A general view of Park Head during the Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Aberdeen at Celtic Park Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Celtic conceded two goals against Partick Thistle last weekend and were reliant on James Forrest's hat-trick to see them through the cup tie.

Aleksandr Kokorin (L) of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg celebrates his goal with Emiliano Rigoni during the Russian Football League match between FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Ural...

It remains to be seen who Brendan Rodgers will select at the heart of defence for Celtic on Thursday night when they host Zenit St Petersburg in the first leg of the Europa League round of 32. 

With Dedryk Boyata out, Rodgers opted for Kristoffer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic on Saturday. However, Jack Hendry may well slot in in place of either the Norwegian or the Bosnian. 

Either way, whoever is selected to partner up at centre-half will have a real job on their hands to nullify the Zenit attack come Thursday evening. 

Russian international forward Alesakdr Kokorin, 26, has enjoyed terrific form this season and has already surpassed his previous end-of-season goal tally of 13. 

Celtic's wall jump to block a free kick during the Champions League group B match between FC Bayern Munich and Celtic Glasgow in Munich, southern Germany, on October 18, 2017.

Nearing a century of career club goals, Kokorin has netted 18 times in 27 appearances this season, including an astounding eight in eight in European competition. 

The Zenit frontman also has a history of scoring at Celtic Park, having netted the winner in a 1-0 triumph for Dynamo Moscow back in 2009 during a Champions League third qualifying round fixture against the Hoops aged only 18.

Nine years on, with over 200 games more experience and 50 Russia caps under his belt, Kokorin will be relishing a return to Glasgow and another chance to down the Scottish giants at Parkhead; the very arena at which he announced himself on the European stage. 

Georgios Samaras (L) of Celtic is tackled by Leonardo Fernandez of Dinamo Moscow during the UEFA Champions League qualifying match between Celtic and Dinamo Moscow at Celtic Park on July...

Celtic's defence in general has been rather woeful this season, and the problem has only been exacerbated in Europe. 

Across their six Champions League group games Rodgers' men conceded an embarrassing 18 goals, finishing with a goal difference of minus 13.

Celtic's defensive performance has not exactly been impressive domestically either, with the Hoops having conceded four goals in their last three games, which is simply not good enough given the quality of opposition they are up against. 

On too many occasions there have been sloppy goals conceding and, if the likes of Connor Sammon are penetrating the Hoops' defence, it does not bode well when facing players of the calibre of Kokorin. 

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