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Zenit vs RB Leipzig – Thursday, March 15, 18:00 GMT/19:00CET – Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Zenit vs RB Leipzig will take place at the Krestovsky Stadium. (Manuel Veth / Futbolgrad Network)

Zenit vs RB Leipzig will take place at the Krestovsky Stadium. (Manuel Veth / Futbolgrad Network)

The first ever European encounter between Zenit and RB Leipzig is going into its second act on Thursday at the Krestovsky Stadium. The game will feature two highly ambitious and talented teams that have struggled on the pitch of late.

Promoted to the Bundesliga in 2016 RB Leipzig turned heads last season when they finished second in the Bundesliga and qualified for the Champions League. A highly ambitious squad fuelled by the wealth of sponsor/owner Red Bull, Leipzig looked like they would repeat the feat and return to the Champions League next season.

But while Leipzig were consistent last season this year die Roten Bullen struggled with coming to terms with the reality of playing in Europe and domestic football. Playing a high tempo Gegenpressing style of football Leipzig’s young guns go from a fantastic performance to drop points on a week to week basis needlessly.

As a result, Leipzig have now fallen out of the Champions League places trailing fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen by four points. In fact, the game against Zenit in the first leg was a perfect example of the club’s woes at times. Storming out of the gate and completely dominating the Russian side Leipzig conceded a late goal by Domenico Criscito which now puts this tie on a knife’s edge.

For Zenit, and head coach Roberto Mancini, that goal has now become a lifeline. Because just like RB Leipzig Zenit have struggled with consistency. Owned by Gazprom Zenit invested big time last summer to put together a strong side that should have dominated the Russian Football Premier League and competed for the Europa League.

Zenit did indeed start well in the league, but inconsistency meant that by the winter break Lokomotiv were seven points ahead in the standings. Things have not gone much better since the winter with Zenit only winning one game out of five in all competition – a 3-0 home victory over Celtic in the round of 32. A 0-0 draw with Amkar Perm and a 0-0 draw to Rostov means that Zenit have dropped to fifth in the Russian Football Premier League ten points behind league leaders Lokomotiv.

With only eight games left in the league, the league title is now all but gone. Zenit have also dropped out of the Russian Cup, which means that going out to Leipzig could put severe pressure on head coach Mancini. As a result, the game on Thursday will see two sides playing each other that have severely struggled in recent weeks, and the lack of consistency coupled with star power on the pitch could mean that we could see a game in which both sides will go for all or nothing.

Zenit vs RB Leipzig – Player to look out for:

Leandro Paredes #5 – Zenit Saint Petersburg

Leandro Paredes missed the first leg in Leipzig due to a suspension, and the absence of the Argentine playmaker was felt throughout the field. Sitting deep in the midfield Paredes is like a metronome for the Russian side. Dropping between the defensive lines, he almost acts like Xabi Alonso distributing the ball and starting attacking plays. With him back in the team Zenit should be more balanced than in the first leg/

Leandro Paredes is the creative pivot of Zenit's side. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Leandro Paredes is the creative pivot of Zenit’s side. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Naby Keïta #8 – RB Leipzig

With Leandro Paredes coming back into the side we will see a duel of the playmakers. Naby Keïta will be both asked to drop deep and carry the ball into Zenit’s end, as well as putting pressure on Paredes, who is going to try to bring order to Zenit’s play. In fact, the matchup between Paredes and Keïta could be one of the most exciting storylines of the game.

Naby Keïta will try to limit Paredes' influence on Zenit's game. Zenit vs RB Leipzig will take place at the Krestovsky Stadium. (ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Naby Keïta will try to limit Paredes’ influence on Zenit’s game. Zenit vs RB Leipzig will take place at the Krestovsky Stadium. (ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Zenit vs RB Leipzig – Match Stats

  • Leipzig’s first leg 2-1 victory over Zenit was the first meeting between the two sides.
  • Zenit’s home record in eight fixtures against German teams is W2 D1 L5, with defeats in the two most recent – 2014 UEFA Champions League games against Borussia Dortmund (2-4) and Bayer Leverkusen (1-2).
  • Their most celebrated home win against Bundesliga opposition occurred in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup semi-final when they overcame Bayern München 4-0 in St Petersburg after a 1-1 draw in Munich.
  • Werner has scored five goals in Leipzig’s last three European away fixtures – one at Porto, two at Monaco and two at Napoli. 

Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zenit vs RB Leipzig – 3-2

 Zenit vs RB Leipzig – Possible Lineups

Zenit Saint Petersburg

Formation: 4-3-3

Lunev – Criscito, Mammana, Mevlja, Ivanović – Erokhin, Paredes, Kuzyaev – Kokorin, Zabolotnyi, Rigoni

Coach: Roberto Mancini

RB Leipzig

Formation: 4-2-2-2

Gulacsi – Klostermann, Orban, Upamecano, Bernardo – Keïta, Kampl – Sabitzer, Forsberg – Poulsen, Werner

Coach: Ralph Hasenhüttl

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 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. Or contact him via email: [email protected] 

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