FC Utrecht vs Zenit Saint Petersburg – Wednesday 17:00 BST/18:00 CET – Stadion Galgenwaard, Utrecht
One league title, sixty years ago, three Dutch Cups and a Dutch Super Cup are the totals of FC Utrecht’s honours board – and that league title came before the current club was created as a merger of three previous entities. The last time they ventured into Europe they were knocked out by Luxembourg outfit FC Differdange 03 in the playoffs, and they haven’t won a group stage game at continental level for fourteen years.
Faced with a rampant Zenit St Petersburg – the 2008 champions – and their prospects don’t appear very strong. Over the summer they lost some key players, chief of whom is top goalscorer Sébastian Haller who joined Frankfurt for around €8 million, while Sofiane Amrabat joined Feyenoord for €5 million. However, they are at this stage by rights, having finished only six points behind PSV in last season’s Eredivisie table, and having seen off Lech Poznan on away goals in the previous round. Former AC Milan and Ajax winger Urby Emmanuelson is a name many European fans will recognise, but at the age of 31, the winger-cum-fullback has seen his best days.
Zenit will be bursting with confidence after tearing through their early domestic rivals – except Ural Ekaterinburg – to race three points clear of their nearest league challengers. Their transfer dealings have not been completed, despite them boasting the strongest squad already, so they will be able to rotate if and when necessary to keep them fresh for the dual onslaught of domestic and continental action.
There is a sense of unfinished business in Europe with Zenit. Famously backed by Gazprom millions, they have never been in danger of losing their position of power at the summit of Russian football altogether, but recent campaigns have been prematurely cut short by poor knockout performances. Success outside Russia’s borders is a prerequisite for a club of their stature – and business model – so there will be a considerable expectation on the players to deliver.
Roberto Mancini has already shown himself to be adept at judging how best to extract the full potential from his recently-acquired players and previously under-performing servants like Oleg Shatov and Alexander Kokorin. It was the latter’s neat finish in Israel that ultimately secured Zenit’s passage to this stage, and he has gone on to become the Russian Premier League’s top goalscorer with five goals – half his best-ever season total already. Anything other than a dominant aggregate win will be deemed a failure, but Zenit have already passed their first pressure-cooker test by hammering Spartak Moscow 5-1 recently.
FC Utrecht vs Zenit Saint Petersburg – Players to Watch Out For
Zakaria Labyad #10 – FC Utrecht
The Moroccan-Dutch playmaker has had a troubled career to date, but certainly, has the grounding to make an impact. Growing up through the PSV youth system, he was snapped up by Sporting after two years in the first team as a teenager, but within 18 months he was being loaned back to his homeland with Vitesse. He was released by the Portuguese giants last summer after another loan spell, this time to England with Fulham, and spent six months without a club before Utrecht took a punt on him this January. He has scored two goals already in this season’s Europa League and is the primary source of inspiration.
Daler Kuzyaev #14 – Zenit St Petersburg
The former Akhmat Grozny midfielder had had a relatively unremarkable career before his summer move to Zenit, and even then his arrival was overshadowed by even his fellow countrymen Alexander Erokhin and Dmitry Poloz joining. Three goals later, two of them stunning long range efforts, and he has supplanted his fellow new arrivals to make him indispensable to Roberto Mancini. His work-rate, precise passing and eye for goal make him an invaluable asset for the Russian side.
FC Utrecht vs Zenit Saint Petersburg – Match Stats
- FC Utrecht have never faced Russian opposition competitively before, but lost to FC Ufa in a pre-season friendly just over a month ago
- The Dutch side are unbeaten in their last nine home games in Europe
- Zenit have kept just two clean sheets in their last 12 Europa League away games
- The last time Zenit faced Dutch opposition, there were ten goals across the two matches
Futbolgrad Prediction: FC Utrecht v Zenit Saint Petersburg: 0-2
FC Utrecht vs Zenit Saint Petersburg – Possible Lineups
Jensen – Klaiber, Van der Maarel, Dumic, Emmanuelson – Ayoub, Velanas – Van der Streek, Labyad, Kerk – Dessers
Manager: Erik ten Hag
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Lodygin – Terentyev, Ivanović, Mammana, Criscito – Kuzyaev, Paredes, Noboa – Erokhin, Kokorin, Driussi
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.