Brendan Rodgers has said it is the responsibility of Uefa and the referee to decide whether Liverpool leave the field in response to any racist abuse from Zenit St Petersburg supporters on Thursday, and insisted the threat would have no bearing on his team selection.
Liverpool's appearance in St Petersburg will be Zenit's first competitive game since their largest supporters' group, Landscrona, issued a manifesto that included calls for the club not to sign black players or "any representatives of sexual minorities". That controversy and others, with Zenit fined by the Russian Football Union after a supporter offered a banana to Roberto Carlos, and a fake bomb left outside the training ground after the signing of Brazilian striker Hulk, prompted Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre to make public concerns that he also raised with Uefa.
Rodgers said he would raise the potential problems with his squad before the Europa League round of 32 first leg. Liverpool insist their reaction to any abuse at the Petrovsky Stadium, however, including whether to walk off, should be led by European football's governing body, an organisation not known for taking a tough stance on racism.
The Liverpool manager said: "I've never known a set of fans refuse to support black players but I have not spoken directly to the players at the moment; we still have a few meetings and I will make reference to it as we have some players who it could affect. Anything that goes on outside of that will be taken care of.
"No one in life wants to see anyone come under any sort of scrutiny like that. We hope the officials and Uefa can take care of all that side. There's no doubt if there is anything untoward we will do everything as a football club to stand behind those players it may affect. It's a social issue, not a football one. We as a football club and in Britain have done a lot of work to prevent racism. It's a social aspect of life. No matter your race, colour or creed, everyone is equal."
Glen Johnson, Andre Wisdom and Raheem Sterling have all travelled to Russia and Rodgers had no hesitation taking players who may be targeted by Zenit supporters. Equally, however, he could have been accused of succumbing to potential racism if he had left the players on Merseyside. "I didn't think of leaving anyone out," he said. "These are young players who have experienced this in their lives before so we are going into a sporting arena and everyone from football, Uefa and referees, will support any player it may affect. I didn't think of it too much because they want to play and some are young players progressing.
"Glen Johnson has a lot of experience. Raheem Sterling has been through similar before [with England Under-21s in Serbia], but we will unite together."
As for the football, Daniel Agger has been left behind for fitness reasons but Steven Gerrard has been included for a European away tie for the first time this season to aid Liverpool's pursuit of their last available trophy. Zenit have won the Russian title for the past two seasons under Luciano Spalletti, though they entered the winter break five points behind leaders CSKA Moscow, and have not played a competitive fixture since early December.
"That might not be to their advantage," said Rodgers. "They have played five friendly games since December in training camps [in Dubai and Turkey] and we had those games covered. It was important for us to do our work on them as much as possible. I don't think their fitness will be affected by the winter break, but there is no doubt that if you are out of competitive football for a while the first few games back in can be difficult. Hopefully we can benefit from that."
Zenit St Petersburg (4-3-2-1): Malafeev; Anukov, Alves, Lombaerts, Hubocan; Shirokov, Denisov, Witsel; Semal, Hulk; Kerzhakov.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Enrique; Gerrard, Lucas, Allen; Downing, Suárez, Borini.
Referee: Carlos Carballo (Sp)