Europa League Preview: Zenit St. Petersburg – Copenhagen

Could Zenit’s autumn curse finally be over? Sergei Semak has led the side to their most successful October/November in over five years, and now host Danish powerhouses FC Copenhagen in the last game of the month.

Despite winning just two games in their last five domestically, this is less of a curse an more of an autumn stumble, and will qualify with a victory. Though the opposition will be only three points behind Zenit, their head-to-head record would see the Blue-White-Sky Blues qualify early – but only with a win.

Tactical Analysis

Semak switches between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, but both are very flexible. Interestingly, he lined the side up in a back three at the weekend, defeating Rostov 2-0. This was likely to counteract Rostov’s own back-three, and I do not expect Zenit to line up similarly.

Dzyuba plays up front and is supported by four midfielders. Marchisio plays as a defensive midfielder but really he is closer to the attacking play, while Paredes is closer to the defensive zone.

The wing-backs often participate in attacking play. Ivanovic, despite his age, out runs younger opponents and finds crosses for Dzyuba – expect their deputies to do the same. The Blue-White-Sky Blues use possession-based football. Usually they do not create too many scoring chances, but due to high fitness levels and intensity, the Peterburgers force opponents to make mistakes.

Zenit is the second-ranked club in the RPL in goals from set pieces, having scored nine goals out of their total 22 (41%). However, in the Europa League groups, they are yet to score from one.

Team News

As has been the case recently, Yuri Zhirkov, Christian Noboa, Igor Smolnikov and Yuri Lodygin all miss out due to respective long term injuries (achilles, ACL, hip and calf).

While Aleksandr Kokorin is still suspended by the club and in remand over numerous alleged assaults on a night out with Pavel Mamaev.

Regular starter at left-back in the league, Evgeniy Chernov, has not been included in the European squad so will also miss out – expect Elmir Nabiullin to deputise.

READ MORE: Alexandr Kokorin and Pavel Mamaev arrested in assault scandal

Luis Neto – a surprise key figure this season – is suspended after picking up his second yellow of the group stages, and expect a fringe player or two to start, but not too many.

Key Players

Artem Dzyuba – Zenit’s main weapon in attack, he has super-human strength, the ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play, accurate finishing and good heading ability make Dzyuba the complete striker. Not just a complete weapon up front, he is also arguably the most famous sporting star in Russia right now.

Andrey Lunev – An Ufa graduate just like his manager, Lunev came in to Zenit to find a side struggling to replace long-term number one and legend Vyacheslav Malafeev. Lunev cast off all mediocre competitors to stake a claim and almost immediately made the shirt his own.

Leandro Paredes – The Argentine is easily the best midfielder in the RPL. He has completed the second-most and has the second-highest pass percentage of all midfielders and attackers in the RPL, with 861 completed at 89% so far after 13 rounds. It is his astute vision and ball retention ability which really sets him out as ahead of the rest, but is also an excellent all-round central midfielder when deployed in the six role.

Predicted Lineup

4-3-3: Lunev – Anyukov, Ivanovic, Mevlja, Nabiullin – Erokhin, Paredes, Marchisio – Mak, Zabalotniy, Driussi

Prediction

Zenit has never lost to Danish opposition in competitive football, and despite the few changes expected, Gazprom demand victory and I think they will continue this run. Zenit simply has far too much quality, and the Stadium St. Petersburg is a fortress.

With the home side now protected from the pitch-black nights and icy winds of winter thanks to the new stadium’s roof, Zenit have taken full advantage. They are unbeaten at home and actually hold the longest unbeaten home record in the competition.

Zenit 2 – 0 Copenhagen

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Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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