Zenit vs Utrecht – Wednesday 18:00 BST/19:00 CET – Krestovsky Arena, Saint Petersburg
Disaster is looming for Zenit Saint Petersburg. The club has invested €68 million in new players and has brought in Italian head coach Roberto Mancini. Furthermore, the club is on the verge of finally completing the deal for Argentinian midfielder Emiliano Rigoni, which will further increase Zenit’s spending this season.
Domestically the investments have already paid off. Zenit have dominated the Russian Football Premier League and have won six out of seven games collecting 19 out of 21 possible points. In recent weeks Zenit have seen on their biggest rival Spartak Moscow in a dominant 5-1 victory. This weekend Zenit beat Amkar Perm 1-0 to continue their positive round.
All those positive results are now, however, threatened by a disaster in the Europa League. The decision makers at Gazprom, which owns the club, have been adamant that domestic results are not enough for Zenit to become a showcase to the world. Zenit are after all not just a sporting venture but an extension of Russia’s foreign policy on the football pitch. Hence, the 1-0 defeat to Utrecht in the first leg raised some eyebrows among the decision-makers at the club.
For Mancini, it will now become key to turn this tie around and secure Zenit, a spot in the group stage. Because while Zenit will want to secure the Russian title this season, they also want to win their second international title.
Zenit vs Utrecht – Players to Watch Out For
Daler Kuzyaev #14 – Zenit Saint 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.
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. Labyad was also the key player in Utrecht’s victory in the first leg as he scored the game winning goal.
Zenit vs Utrecht – Match Stats
- FC Utrecht have never faced Russian opposition competitively before, but lost to FC Ufa in a preseason 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: Zenit vs Utrecht 2-0
Zenit vs Utrecht – Possible Lineups
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Lodygin – Terentyev, Ivanović, Mammana, Criscito – Kuzyaev, Paredes, Noboa – Erokhin, Kokorin, Driussi
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Jensen – Klaiber, Van der Maarel, Jannsen, Emmanuelson – Ayoub, Velanas – Van der Streek, Labyad, Kerk – Dessers
Manager: Erik ten Hag
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.