Zenit vs Vardar – Thursday, November 23, 18:00GMT/19:00CET – Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
Zenit Saint Petersburg seems to have finally woken up from their nap after they cruised past recently promoted Russian Football Premier League side Tosno. With five goals, Roberto Mancini’s men easily dispatched their local rivals recovering their confidence. Now they must face Macedonian rivals Vardar to secure the top spot in Group L.
Before the league match against Tosno, Zenit’s form was quite worrying despite Roberto Mancini’s optimism after every negative result. A string of three direct rivals in the league were the perfect test for Zenit’s character and especially their effectiveness. Most pundits expected at least a handful of valuable results to compete with Yuri Semin’s unstoppable railwaymen. However, as statistics show, the three tests backfired and only raised the level of alarm after Zenit drew against CSKA, were destroyed at home by Lokomotiv 3-0 and finally only managed a tied score against Rubin Kazan.
In the middle of said nightmare, Zenit had to face the fourth round of this Group L in the Europa League against Rosenborg Ballklub in Norway. Being the Russian club’s primary objective, they cannot allow themselves to make any mistake. Furthermore, Zenit still have the memory of Mircea Lucescu’s side getting eliminated by Anderlecht in the worst of ways, something that Mancini is determined to avoid at all costs. Despite having beaten Rosenborg 3-1 in Russia in the context of the third round, the Norwegian proved to be challenging, surprisingly even more than Real Sociedad, Zenit’s direct group rivals. The second encounter was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t. Zenit suffered from start to finish and trailed from an early stage until Aleksandr Kokorin came to the rescue with a 93rd-minute goal to salvage a hard-fought point.
Evidently, Zenit’s November has not been the best a team can have. Now, after the international break and with a 5-0 victory behind them, it looks like the Russians are back in the form that took their rivals by surprise at the beginning of the season. It will be essential for their aspirations to win this match without stumbling. A victory against the already eliminated Macedonian side would secure the first group spot and would mean one less thing to worry about for Mancini and his people.
Zenit vs Vardar – Players to look out for:
Emiliano Rigoni #10 – FC Zenit Saint Petersburg
Rigoni won the hearts of every Zenit fans with his hat-trick against Rosenborg in the third group match. The forward not only showed to be paying extreme attention to the course of the game, which allowed him to get a first-minute goal. He also demonstrated his physical abilities with his display from start to finish. The Argentine is a great alternative to attack for Roberto Mancini.
Visar Musliu #5 – FK Vardar
Considering Vardar’s limitations, Visar Musliu could be our man to watch on Thursday. He will not only have to stop Zenit’s attacking machine but also mark his presence in any set piece Vardar manage to get. Standing at 6’2, the central defender scored the only goal that allowed Vardar to win the Eternal Derby of Macedonia against Pelister.
Zenit vs Vardar – Match Stats:
- The only time these sides met was some weeks ago when Zenit beat Vardar 5-0 on matchday one.
- Zenit Saint Petersburg have never lost at home in the new format of this competition.
- Vardar are the only team in the group of 48 qualified that remains without a single point going into the fifth matchday.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zenit vs Vardar 6-0
FC Zenit Saint Petersburg vs FK Vardar – Possible Line-ups:
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Lodygin – Smolnikov, Mammana, Ivanovic, Criscito – Kranevitter, Paredes, Kuzyaev – Rigoni, Kokorin, Driussi
Coach: Roberto Mancini
Aleksovski –Musliu, Velkoski, Todoroski, Glisic – Jigauri, Blazevski – Gligorov, Nikolov, Juan Felipe – Maksimov
Coach: Cedomir Janevski
Nicolás Miremont is a born and raised Boca Juniors fan, but his heart has a special place for Manchester United, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev. Miremont loves to support the underdogs. Miremont enjoys watching smaller competitions especially those from Eastern Europe, but also his native Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @Miremont_Nico