Manuel Veth –
Group L: Zenit Europa League Preview
Zenit – Europa League Preview: The Stadium
Krestovsky Stadium – (capacity 68,134)
Zenit Europa League Preview – About the Club
Zenit have returned to a period of big spending. After a disappointing season that ended with Russia’s richest club missing out on Champions League football for two seasons in a row Zenit’s owner, Gazprom has left its strategy of austerity and has gone all out this transfer window.
After finishing third, last season head coach Mircea Lucescu had to leave the club after just one season. Brought in from Shakhtar Donetsk Lucescu was supposed to build a side out of young players that could be developed and sold on. It was a strategy that worked well at Shakhtar. In hindsight, however, it has to be noted that the marriage between Lucescu and Zenit was setup to fail. Zenit are not a development club, but rather a team that lives by its star power.
Saint Petersburg is the city of the tsars, and its sports teams need to act accordingly. A third place finish with mediocre players was therefore unforgivable, and as Zenit got ready to move into the brand new Krestovsky Stadium, the club fired Lucescu and brought in Italian star coach Roberto Mancini. Gazprom also went all out and invested €85 million in new players among them five Argentine players—Leandro Paredes (from Roma), Emanuel Mammana (Olympique Lyon), Sebastián Driussi (River Plate) Emiliano Rigoni (Independiente) and Matías Kranevitter (Atlético Madrid).
The Argentine invasion was one notable aspect of Zenit’s transfer window. The club, however, also made good use of Rostov’s financial situation and signed five players from the side that defeated Bayern München in the UEFA Champions League last season. Altogether Mancini brought in eleven new players giving Zenit a massive face-lift and building a side that has thus far dominated the Russian Football Premier League this season.
Know Your Oligarch:
Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, has bankrolled Zenit’s most successful period. Founded in 1989 Gazprom emerged out of the ashes of the former Ministry of Gas Industry. Renamed State Gas Concern Gazprom in August 1989 the company was the Soviet Union’s first state run corporate enterprise. Privatized in 1993 by Boris Yeltsin the company was re-integrated into the state apparatus by President Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s. The Russian government now holds a majority stake in Gazprom.
Zenit Europa League Preview – Opponents:
Zenit were drawn into a group with Rosenborg Trondheim, Vardar Skopje and Real Sociedad San Sebastian. Of the three clubs, only Real Sociedad should be able to challenge Zenit for the first spot in the group. In recent years Zenit has managed to dominate the group stages of the Champions League and the Europa League and will likely do the same in this group.
Zenit Europa League Preview – What to Expect:
Mancini was brought in to return the club to the top of the table of the Russian Football Premier League, but also to secure a second European trophy for Zenit. Zenit won the UEFA Cup in 2007-08 and Zenit being the showcase club of the Gazprom empire the decision makers in Saint Petersburg would love the club to win a second international trophy this season. Zenit are certainly capable of competing for the Europa League title this season—the big x-factor, however, is the three-month long winter break. The last two seasons Zenit dominated the group stage and then fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs. This year will be the first time Mancini will have to navigate the three months long winter break, and it will be interesting to see whether the Italian can break the curse and manage to guide the team to a long run in the Europa League.
Zenit Europa League Preview – The Biggest Star
Aleksandr Kokorin has blossomed under Roberto Mancini this season. The Russian forward has been moved from the wing to the centre of the pitch replacing Artem Dzyuba as Zenit’s lone striker. The move has done wonders for the 26-year-old’s confidence as Kokorin has scored six goals in the first eight Russian Football Premier League games this season.
A fast and technically gifted forward Kokorin needs a stellar season to show that he is not an eternal talent and that he can become an important player not just for Zenit, but also the Sbornaya.
Zenit Europa League Preview – Likely Lineup
Lunev – Criscito, Ivanovic, Mammana, Smolnikov – Paredes, Erokhin – Poloz, Noboa, Kuzyaev – Kokorin
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.