Zenit vs Dinamo Minsk – Thursday, August 16, 18:00 BST/19:00 CEST – Petrovsky, St. Petersburg, Russia
This is not how the Sergey Semak era was supposed to begin in St. Petersburg. The former and club legend replaced Roberto Mancini this summer as the club’s new head coach. Semak was supposed to stabilise a side that has struggled to reach the Champions League in two consecutive seasons.
Semak’s job was to weed out Zenit’s side, significantly reducing the size of the squad, return the club to the UEFA Champions League group stage and do well in Europe. That latest task is now in significant danger after Zenit were hammered by Dinamo Minsk in Belarus.
Russia’s richest club, in fact, were embarrassed by Dinamo Minsk. The Belarusians had scored three goals before halftime and added a fourth in the second half. In the end, it was a deserved 4-0 defeat for a Zenit side that very much viewed this stage of the Europa League as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Zenit’s response in the domestic Russian Premier Liga? A dire 1-0 victory over Rubin Kazan. While that result was important, it was not the sort of inspirational performance Zenit fans were looking for ahead of the return match in St. Petersburg.
That return match, in fact, adds further complications for Zenit. The match will take place behind closed doors at the Petrovsky Stadium after crowd trouble in Zenit’s last 2017/18 Europa League home match against RB Leipzig.
Zenit will, therefore, have to do without their famous fans. Instead, the only fans allowed in the ground will be 200 travelling supporters from Minsk.
Dinamo Minsk, in the meantime, fabulous in the first leg at home at the Dinamo Stadium. In fact, it was the sort of performance, which even got politics involved.
“What the Minskers did was sheer magic! They did a great job! The display of chest-thumping is a wrong thing to do. They played not with the millionaires but with the billionaires! It [Zenit] is the main club of Gazprom, its main pet project. Second, they just started their season. Third, they came putting on airs and graces, and I guess they underestimated the Minsk team. Fourth, God was on our side, because sometimes they scored by pure luck. The luck is on the side of the strongest,” Belarusian dictator Aleksander Lukashenko said after the conclusion of the match.
“They made the entire country happy. Well done! They fought till the end. We saw what condition this Zenit was reduced to. Some players were nearly walking on all fours. It means they [Dinamo Minsk’s players] exhausted them substantially in that hot weather. They scored four times. This has made history,” Lukashenko added.
There are good reasons for Lukashenko to get involved as the club has been long understood to be a vehicle for the regime. That, however, should not take away from the victory achieved by the players on the field. The Belarusians may have caused the biggest upset during the early stages of the competition.
The door is now open for Dinamo to walk through to the playoffs. All they need to do is to walk away with a decent result in St. Petersburg. For Zenit, in the meantime, the gap will be simply too much to overcome as Semak will now have to focus on the Russian Premier Liga.
Zenit vs Dinamo Minsk – Players to look out for:
Artem Dzyuba #22 – Zenit
It was one piece of good news in the days following the disaster in Minsk. Striker Artem Dzyuba declared that, despite interests from Turkey, he would remain in St. Petersburg. Given that Zenit sent the striker away last January Dzyuba’s decision is a bit of a surprise. After all the striker had options after a fantastic half season with Arsenal Tula and strong World Cup. Dzyuba very much managed to resurrect his career in the spring and the summer becoming once again Russia’s number one striker and the figurehead of a Sbornaya side that outperformed all expectations during this summer’s tournament. Now in the second leg against Dinamo Minsk Zenit need goals and Dzyuba is very much the man that can provide them.
Uroš Nikolić #10 – Dinamo Minsk
The Serbian playmaker has already bagged three goals in this season’s Europa League for Dinamo Minsk from an advanced midfield role and will be central to the home side’s hopes of taking something from the first leg. Nikolić is very comfortable in tight spaces, while his left foot will be particularly dangerous from set pieces; his inswinging and outswinging corners are difficult to deal with. The fact that he scores by coming from deeper than the strikers means the defensive discipline of Daler Kuzyaev will be tested.
Zenit vs Dinamo Minsk – Match Stats
- Dinamo have won nine of their last ten competitive matches, the only defeat in that run coming at home in the Europa League in the first qualifying round
- Although they have played 57 Europa League fixtures since the competitions relaunch a decade ago, they have only won one group-stage game
- The first leg match wast their first game against a Russian club in 130 total European games
- Zenit have only kept two clean sheets in their last 14 Europa League away games
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zenit vs Dinamo Minsk – 3-1
Zenit vs Dinamo Minsk – Lineups
Dinamo Minsk vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Possible Lineups
Zenit St. Petersburg
Lunev – Nabiullin, Ivanovic, Mevljia, Smolnikov – Kuzyaev, Paredes, Noboa – Shatov, Dzyuba, Rigoni
Manager: Sergey Semak
Gorbunov – Shitov, Shvetsov, Rocha, Begunov – Yahaya, Korzun – Gurenko, Nikolić, Ivanov – Khvashchinski
Manager: Sergey Gurenko
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds 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 is available HERE. 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.