Copenhagen vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Thursday, September 20, 20:00 BST/21:00 CEST – Telia Parken, Copenhagen, Denmark
Very few clubs have maintained the domestic success that Copenhagen have since the turn of the century. Comfortably Denmark’s richest club, they have won 11 league titles in the last two decades and, relative to their status, have built a reasonable showing in continental competition. Only formally founded 26 years ago after a merger between two old clubs, they lack the romance and affection of rivals – not that they care.
Stale Solbakken has won seven of those title as manager, although last season was blip they will want to forget. Since their title win in 2001, they had only finished outside the top two once in 17 seasons until this summer. A fourth-place finish consigned them to the very bottom rung of Europa league qualifiers rather than the glamorous night of Champions League football. To make matters worse, they were knocked out of the Danish Cup by their bitter rivals Brondby, whom they finished behind in the table.
In fact, they have already played eight fixtures in Europe before the group stage has even started, the last two of which were a highly creditable aggregate defeat of Atalanta. Club legend Dame N’Doye is still leading the line at the age of 33 and showing no signs of slowing down. The Senegalese striker has scored seven league goals in nine league games already, with two in Europa League qualifiers too. Crisis? Not a bit of it.
Zenit St. Petersburg are absolutely flying so far this season. Even their most serious stumbling block was negotiated with a stunning, record-breaking attacking onslaught; Dinamo Minsk humbled their Russian visitors in the first leg of the Europa League qualifier in August, only to be annihilated 8-1 in the return leg in extra time. Artem Dzyuba is full of cocksure confidence, the defence has been solid, and the magnificent cathedral of football, the Krestovsky Arena, is close to capacity most matches creating a monstrous atmosphere.
However, not all is quite as rosy as it would seem on paper. Last weekend, for example, the relatively feeble prospect of Orenburg – a club whose stadium actually had to be expanded to 7,000 capacity just to meet Premier League requirements – made them work for a 2-1 win. The result itself was only secured after a hugely suspicious goalkeeping error to gift the opener to Aleksandr Erokhin. Then there is the awful display in Minsk, not to mention the shaky second-leg defeat to Molde in Norway that left them nervously edging towards qualification.
Zenit traditionally have a fallow period from mid-October onwards domestically, after which they collapse in Europe. In truth, they should be competing in the last four of this competition at least every year, but there is a mental fragility that is never that far away from spoiling the party. In Sergey Semak they have the ideal captain to steady the ship, however; he cut his teeth as a player then a coach at the club and learned to appreciate meagre resources at Ufa last season. With his heady mix of international stars, the ingredients are there for Zenit to finally emerge from their 2008 UEFA Cup-winning predecessors.
Copenhagen vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Players to Watch
Viktor Fischer #7 – Copenhagen
It is both remarkable and a damning indictment on Viktor Fischer’s career that he is still only just 24 years of age. After passing through Aarhus and Midtjylland’s youth systems, he has already played for Ajax, Middlesbrough, Mainz and now Copenhagen after failing to break through into the consistent first-team football in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, the lithe left winger is a major threat on current form – in 16 matches so far this season, he has had a hand in 17 goals already – thanks to his sublime close control and darting movement. If he can steal a yard of pace on Ivanovic the results could be graphic.
Aleksandr Erokhin #21 – Zenit
The former Ural Ekaterinburg midfielder has often been cast in an unfavourable light for his slightly ungainly gait, but there is no denying the goal threat that Erokhin provides, particularly in the air. Virtually an ever present for the Russian league leaders since joining last summer, he has offered an unfashionable but crucial facet of Zenit’s attacking play. His height is one obvious advantage he holds over most opposition, which coupled with his stamina to occupy opposition defences make him an awkward customer. Two headed goals at the weekend send him to Denmark full of confidence.
Copenhagen vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Match Stats
- Copenhagen are unbeaten in three home games against Russian opposition, the most recent encounter being a dull 0-0 draw against Lokomotiv Moscow last season.
- This is Copenhagen’s 18th successive European campaign
- They have only progressed from two of their last six Europa League group stages, although the most recent successful campaign was last year when they reached the round of 32
- Zenit St. Petersburg’s 12th consecutive European campaign was very nearly cut short after a crushing 4-0 defeat away to Dinamo Minsk in the third qualifying round
- This is Zenit’s fourth Europa League group stage, and they have progressed to the knockout stages in all previous editions
- Despite losing their last four European away matches, Zenit’s Europa League group-stage record on the road is very impressive: seven wins, one draw and one defeat
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Copenhagen vs Zenit St. Petersburg – 1-2
Copenhagen vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Possible Lineups
Joronen – Ankersen, Bjelland, Vavro, Boilesen – Skov, Zeca, Jensen, Fischer – Sotiriou, N’Doye
Manager: Stale Solbakken
Zenit St. Petersburg
Lunev – Smolnikov, Ivanovic, Neto, Nabiullin – Kranevitter, Paredes, Kuzyaev – Erokhin, Dzyuba, Mak
Manager: Sergey Semak
Andrew 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.