Zlin vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Thursday, December 7, 18:00 GMT/19:00 CET – Ander Stadium, Olomouc
With only two points on the board from five group-stage matches, Zlin have nothing left to play for except pride – something that had been in short supply in recent years until this summer. Their debut Europa League campaign this season only came courtesy of a Czech Cup win in May, while they have spent the first half of this decade in the second tier. Unsurprisingly they have next to no pedigree in continental competition, although they did run Atlético Madrid close in the now-defunct Intertoto Cup over a decade ago.
This campaign has had very few highlights to speak of on paper, with just one goal scored and no wins. Before Lokomotiv start writing them off, however, they would do well to remember the difficulty with which Danish powerhouses Copenhagen eked a point out of their encounter in October. But for the spectacular heroics of Stephan Andersen in the Danes’ net, Zlin would surely have put themselves in contention at this stage.
This match will be staged in Olomouc due to the hosts’ ground in Zlin failing to meet UEFA standards. The Ander Stadium has hosted full international matches in the past, and offers a tight atmosphere with steeply-inclined stands and a still-modest 12,000 capacity, although given the fact it is not in Zlin itself and there is nothing at stake, the expected drop in the atmosphere is likely to play into Lokomotiv hands.
All the Russians need is a point to ensure progression to the knockout stages. If they win and group leaders Sheriff Tiraspol fail to beat Copenhagen at home, they will go through as group winners, meaning they will avoid the other group winners and four best third-placed teams from the Champions League groups. None of these permutations should have been necessary if truth be told; the shock defeat at home to the Moldovan surprise package cost them the chance to secure passage to the knockout stages after just four rounds.
Alexey and Anton Miranchuk – two of the star performers this stunning season – have had their deep contractual disputes with the club this year, leaving the farcical situation of them having a clause apparently inserted into their contracts allowing them to leave for as little as €7 million each. A deep run into the latter stages of this competition might be critical in persuading the mercurial twins to stay at the club, especially as recruitment will be needed to bolster the squad next campaign. Both have been central to the creative side of Lokomotiv’s impressive form and will be called upon here.
The club’s joint-top Europa League goalscorer Jefferson Farfán is in blistering form, having had a direct hand in eight goals in his last five league appearances. Manuel Fernandes, who has been enjoying a hot Indian Summer to his career, scored a hattrick in the return match in Moscow back in September and is fit to feature again. With only one more fixture left to play until March and valuable European football on the line, manager Yuriy Semin can afford to use most of his frontline players.
Zlin vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Players to Watch
Petr Jiracek #8 – Zlin
The former Czech international midfielder is one of the more experienced heads in the Zlin side and is one of only three players to have played every minute of every match in the Europa League. Zlin have little urgency to attack as their campaign is mathematically over, so to break down the hosts in what is likely to be a slow-paced encounter his influence on the ball will be a significant hurdle to overcome.
Jefferson Farfan #8 – Lokomotiv Moscow
The Peruvian forward has been in remarkable form this season to help send Lokomotiv six points clear at the top of the Russian Football Premier League, and his firepower will be invaluable. He is fortunate enough to have a raft of creative talents behind him in Fernandes and the Miranchuk twins, but on a night when goals could be crucial, his finishing ability could be the difference between a calming early lead and a nervous second half.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zlin vs Lokomotiv Moscow: 1-2
Zlin vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Match Stats
- Despite their lowly status, Zlin have only ever lost once in their seven European home matches
- Zlin have drawn their last four European home games, while Lokomotiv have drawn their last two away from home
- Zlin’s only goalscorer so far this campaign, Dame Diop, was on the books of Russian side Khimki five seasons ago, but never made an appearance.
- Lokomotiv have lost just once in their last eight Europa League away matches, scoring 16 in the process.
- They have only failed to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League once in five attempts
Zlin vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Possible Lineups
Dostál – Kopečný, Gajić, Bačo, Matĕjov – Jirácek, Mehanovič – Holzer, Traore, Ekpai – Diop
Manager: Bohumil Pánik
Konchenkov – Ignatyev, Mykhalykh, Kverkvelia, Vitaliy Denisov – Igor Denisov, Barinov – Fernandes, Alexey Miranchuk, Anton Miranchuk – Farfan
Manager: Yuriy SeminAndrew 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.