Zenit v Spartak Moscow – Sunday 6 August, 18:00 BST/19:00 CET – Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Champions Spartak Moscow must face the most challenging of their rivals this weekend in what has been become the biggest modern clash in Russian football, and already the pressure is on them to make up early lost ground. Zenit prepared for this crucial league encounter by nervously edging past unfancied Bnei Yehuda 2-1 on aggregate despite a 1-0 home defeat at their home ground on Thursday evening, but at least they can point to the fact that many of their first choice players were either partly or fully.
The Blue-White-Sky Blues are bolstered by yet more Argentinian signings in the shape of centre back Emmanuel Mammana and winger Emiliano Rigoni – taking their country’s contingent to five already – although it is uncertain if either will be ready to make their debuts this soon, and in such an important match. Either way, it signals further concern for Spartak and the other title challengers that an already impressive squad is even stronger.
The Europa League third qualifying round second leg scoreline – which could have been much worse were it not for the heroics of out-of-favour keeper Yuriy Lodygin – might point to a weakness in character of Roberto Mancini’s side, but the bottom line is they got the job done. It is certain that the two Italian managers will leave nothing to chance in their preparations, but the pressure for this fixture is without question on Massimo Carrera.
Spartak have also made a significant capture this week in the shape of highly-promising Chelsea loanee Mario Pašalić on a one-year temporary deal. The Croatian spent last season at AC Milan in a successful campaign personally that saw him score five goals, and he will be expected to provide cover for (and when he returns from injury, a serious challenge to) Roman Zobnin as a creative hub in front of captain Denis Glushakov and anchorman Fernando.
Much like Mammana and Rigoni, it is unlikely the new arrival will play from the start, but he may well be called upon to add some added impetus if the game is tight in the second period. They will have almost a full squad to call upon, as other than Roman Zobnin’s long term problem – which will soon be over as the midfielder has been in training for a week – Serdar Tasci is the only absentee.
This, as well as the fact they have the added luxury of having had no midweek competitive action yet this season, will boost Myaso, but the fact that they already lie four points behind their hosts in the table puts the pressure on. Carrera has shown himself to be the master at recovering from disappointing results fast, and will look to his senior players such as Fernando and Glushakov to provide a solid defensive structure. If they don’t, it could be a long night in St Petersburg.
Zenit v Spartak Moscow – Players to Watch Out For
Oleg Shatov #17 – Zenit Saint Petersburg
Much like Aleksandr Kokorin, Oleg Shatov had to endure a deeply unsatisfying season under the unsympathetic watch of new Turkey manager Mircea Lucescu, but also like Kokorin, he has flourished under Roberto Mancini so far. Despite the influx of attacking talent this summer, Shatov has been entrusted with providing pace and support to the frontmen, and he has repaid the faith in him by supplying three assists already from the first three league games. Spartak will be more compact and deeper-lying than usual, so Shatov’s incision will be a critical factor in the destiny of the result.
Fernando #11 – Spartak Moscow
Once again the Brazilian machine has been picked as the Player to Watch Out For on Futbolgrad, and it is no coincidence – his industry and passing range makes him Spartak’s most crucial player after star forward Quincy Promes. Without his control in the middle, Promes will not be able to shine. In the thrilling 2-0 win over Krasnodar, it was even his sensational free kick that struck the inside of the post from 25 yards to hand Spartak their first win of the season; it seems there is little he can’t do, but Carrera will need him to do it all.
Zenit v Spartak Moscow – Match Stats
- The last five meetings have seen no clean sheets for either side, with 22 total goals
- Zenit have scored nine in their last two home matches in this fixture, but this will be the first at their brand new Krestovsky Stadium
- Zenit have only conceded four goals in their last ten home league fixtures
- Spartak have only won three of their last ten Premier League away games
Futbolgrad Prediction: Zenit v Spartak Moscow 2-1
Zenit v Spartak Moscow – Possible Lineups
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Lunev – Smolnikov, Ivanovic, Criscito, Zhirkov – Noboa, Garcia, Paredes – Shatov, Driussi, Kokorin
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Rebrov – Eshchenko, Bocchetti, Dzhikia, Kombarov – Fernando, Glushakov – Promes, Luiz Adriano, Samedov – Ze Luis
Manager: Massimo Carrera
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.