Liverpool worried about racist abuse in Russia when they play Zenit St Petersburg

Reds travel to Russia this week for a Europa League tie

Liverpool will tell their players they should not walk off if they are racially abused at Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday night unless the referee orders it.

The club have "major concerns" about the potential for problems around their last-32 Europa League game in Russia because of Zenit fans' reputation for racism.

St Petersburg supporters published a document last December stating they did not want the squad to contain any non-white or homosexual players but the Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, will warn Brendan Rodgers team not to react to any provocation.

"We plan to speak to the players about it," Ayre said. "The most important thing is that they remain professional throughout this. The important thing is that we let them know how we expect them to act if there is an incident.

"I'd much rather we take the incident off the pitch and we deal with it. Obviously the referee has a role to play within that. But we'll be briefing our players on what's acceptable and what's not."

The Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off after being racially targeted during a friendly match last month and was widely praised for his stance but Ayre will tell Liverpool's players the club will ensure action is taken against anyone who abuses them.

"We'll take the right action," he said. "Anything that happens off the pitch, we'll work very closely with the authorities. I'll ensure we do whatever we need to do to protect our players.

"[Racist behaviour] has been a major concern for us. I wrote to Uefa very recently expressing our concerns – and also to Zenit. The most we can do is make our feelings clear ahead of the game, and hope that we get an adequate response and adequate support on the night."

Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey may be sheltered from the atmosphere after his poor display in Monday's 2-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion.

He failed to make an impact on his first league outing of the year after being called on to deputise for injured striker Daniel Sturridge but responded angrily to critical fans afterwards.

Shelvey, hauled off after an hour, tweeted: "Love people giving me stick. When half of people on here haven't got a clue what they're on about."

The 20-year-old admitted last week that undisclosed "personal issues" were a factor in his poor performance in Liverpool's defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day, since when he had not featured in the Premier League before this week.

He clearly struggled on Monday night, though he was certainly not the only player to underperform for Liverpool. The defender Daniel Agger apologised for his role in Albion's two late goals.

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