RSC Anderlecht vs Zenit – Thursday 20:05 GMT/21:05 CET Constant Vanden Stock Stadium – Brussels.
On paper Zenit Saint Petersburg, alongside Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, should have a real shot at bringing the Europa League trophy to the post-Soviet space. Zenit dominated the Europa League group stage winning five out of six matches, and with the likes of Aleksandr Kokorin, and Giuliano had some of the best offensive talent on display in the early phase of the tournament.
Just like Shakhtar, however, Zenit have a major disadvantage going into the tie: the lengthy winter break. The winter break in the Russian Football Premier League has been a major part at the World Football Index – Futbolgrad Podcast, as it gives Russian clubs a big disadvantage in the early stages of the European knockout stage.
Zenit in fact played their last competitive fixture in the Europa League—a 3-2 loss to AZ Alkmaar on matchday 6—and have been without a competitive fixture for more than two months. The Russian Football Premier League will in fact not kick off until March 4, when Zenit face CSKA Moscow, which is nine days after Zenit’s second leg match against RSC Anderlecht.
Russian clubs in particular find it difficult to come out of the lengthy winter break. Last season for example Zenit won five out of six Champions League group stage matches, but where then eliminated in the round of 16 by Benfica despite being favourites going into the clash with the Portuguese.
Last season, however, the Portuguese coach André Villas-Boas coached Zenit, who left the club in the summer. He has been replaced by Mircea Lucescu, who when coaching Shakhtar Donetsk has shown that he is quite clever when it comes to navigating the lengthy winter break. Last season Lucescu took Shakhtar to the semi-final of the competition, and there are many in Saint Petersburg, who expect a similar feat by the Romanian head coach this year.
In order to achieve the goal Zenit have made significant signings in winter break bringing in among others Branislav Ivanović from Chelsea, Yohan Mollo from Krylia Sovetov Samara, and Hernani from Atlético Paranaense.
Anderlecht will therefore go into the tie as the outsiders regardless of the long Russian winter break. But with Anderlecht in full match fitness, and having shot up the table in Belgium, perhaps they can surprise the Russians in the first leg, and travel to Russia with a bit of fighting chance at the end of February.
RSC Anderlecht vs Zenit – Players to look out for:
It is hard to look beyond Giuliano when it comes to picking Zenit’s player to watch in this tie. The 26-year-old attacking midfielder has been a real revelation since he joined Zenit last summer. Together with Athletic Bilbao forward Aritz Aduriz Giuliano leads the goal-scoring race of the Europa League with six goals. Giuliano has also assisted on four occasions, which makes him the top scorer of the competition. A creative attacking midfielder with real goal scoring instinct Giuliano has managed to replace Brazilian superstar Hulk, who left Zenit for China last summer.
Zenit will have to stop Anderlecht’s forward Łukasz Teodorczyk if they want to advance to the next round. Mircea Lucescu, however, will know the Polish forward well from his time in Ukraine. Teodorczyk joined Anderlecht on loan from Dynamo Kyiv in the summer of 2016, and has since taken the Jupiler Pro League by storm scoring 17 goals in 24 matches. Teodorczyk has also added another five goals in six Europa League matches.
RSC Anderlecht vs Zenit – Match Stats
- The clubs are meeting for the fifth time. Zenit have the better record of the two with W3 L1.
- Zenit’s 12 fixtures against Belgian clubs have ended W8 D1 L3. They have won all six of their home games against Belgian opposition.
- Since winning the UEFA Cup in 1983—and losing in the 1984 final—Anderlecht have never made it beyond the last eight of the competition.
- Zenit, and Anderlecht, are among the seven former UEFA Cup and Europa League winners in the competition. The other five are Tottenham, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Ajax Amsterdam, Schalke, and Shakhtar Donetsk.
- Mircea Lucescu is the most experienced coach in the competition with 222 UEFA club fixtures.
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: RSC Anderlecht vs Zenit 0-2
Boeckx – Obradović, Nuytinck, Spajić, Sowah Adjei – Dendoncker, Trebel – Stanciu, Tielemans, Chipciu – Teodorczyk
Manager: René Weiler
Lodygin – Criscito, Lombaerts, Ivanović, Tsallagov – Hernani, Garcia – Mollo, Giuliano, Kokorin – Dzyuba
Manager: Mircea Lucescu