Andrew Flint –
Zenit vs Lyon – Wednesday, November 27, 17:55 GMT/18:55 CET – Gazprom Arena, St. Petersburg – Russia
If there’s one thing that Artem Dzyuba can never be accused of it is shrinking meekly into the shadows. It isn’t always as glorious as the hypnotic spell he cast over his country last summer, nor are his intentions always impressive. For example, he once paid a fee rumoured to be over $100,000 just so that could face his parent club Zenit while on loan and out of favour at Arsenal Tula. On the other hand, when he is backed to the hilt by an emotional manager and placed firmly centre stage, he delivers with almost unstoppable inertia. Russia national team boss Stanislav Cherchesov and club manager Sergey Semak may have different personalities away from the sport specifically, but they both recognise the importance of encouraging the hype around the giant front and not curtailing it.
In light of the recent abuse Dzyuba has received from fans following the national team it will be interesting to see how he reacts back on his own turf for a club that now values him above almost all others. Out in San Marino a section of the travelling support used exotic language in expressing their distaste for him, and they were rewarded with perhaps his worst performance in over a year for Russia. It was equally of little surprise that he bagged his first goal in six games for club and country on his return to Russian soil even if it should have been given offside.
The confidence shown in the first meeting back in France in the first round of the group stage should give an edge to a packed out closed-roofed Gazprom Arena. Stir in an impressive European home record laced with a healthy dollop domestic dominance and the urgency to win, and the resulting recipe is one that should whet the appetite of the talisman and his troops. One sense though that this is a fixture in which his troops will have a more telling impact on the outcome; remain composed and in control, and the platform they provide will set up a potentially nail-biting last matchday.
It would be naive in the extreme to assume that the game will revolve all around one man, or even one team for that matter. Lyon have stumbled somewhat this season after flirting with former Arsenal defender Sylvinho as manager and making significant moves in the transfer market, and yet remain in a powerful presence in Group G, as tactical analyst and Lyon expert Abdullah Abdullah explains. “[They are] under-performing in the league,” the Total Football Analysis man said. “Sylvinho was a failed experiment and that derailed them. Most games they shouldn’t have won. Rudi Garcia has come in and isn’t popular but they are slowly getting back to it. They should progress from the group but that’s all. If they finish top 4 it’ll be a success.”
When you have a finely balanced clash with so much at stake, it is hardly surprising that the result is hard to call. The top betting sites listed at Sports Betting Dime have Zenit as a small +145 favorite over Lyon (+186) next Wednesday with the draw at +213. Zenit needs the full three points to draw level with Lyon for the second qualifying spot in Group G. Crucially, a win would also give them the tiebreaker over the French side. The clubs already played to a 1-1 draw on Matchday 1 and another draw is likely here. There is very little separating these sides. Home-field advantage will help Zenit counteract Lyon’s slightly better European form.
For all the best laid plans of mice and men, it could all go awry in the St. Petersburg night for the former Champions League semi-finalists. When Jean Michel Aulas stepped back from his hugely successful reign as club president over the summer he accepted that he would have to allow the club and team to take their natural courses. Although Sylvinho has gone down as the shortest-serving manager in the club’s history, the transfer dealings of sporting director and former club legend Juninho Pernambucano have set a solid course for a bright future. Jeff Reine-Adélaïde and Moussa Dembélé will lead the charge and provide a considerable test of nerves for the hosts, but will it be enough?
Zenit vs Lyon – Players to Watch
Wilmar Barrios #5 – Zenit St. Petersburg
The Colombian midfielder has a seemingly indefatigable engine at the heart of the powerful Zenit machine, but even he can show flashes of fragility. At the weekend against Rubin Kazan, in the vast shallow Soviet bowl of the Centralniy Stadium in Tatarstan he shivered his way back onto the pitch after half time, much to the amusement of his teammates. Once the whistle blows, however, the former Boca Juniors lynchpin is unstoppable. Given the balance of urgency tilting in his side’s favour his usual dependency will be essential in marshalling one of Europe’s most fluid and technically gifted midfield units. Only Mats Hummels has made more interceptions per game than Barrios in the first four rounds of group-stage action.
Moussa Dembélé #10 – Olympique Lyon
As the pinnacle of such a gloriously gifted attacking side, one might assume life is simple for a player like Dembélé. Blessed himself with such outrageous pace and instinct, he is backed up by the confidence and creative intelligence of Memphis Depay, but has a slight point to prove on the continental stage. Domestically he has an impressive strike rate of 10 goals in 13 league games, but is yet to get off the mark in this season’s Champions League. In fact, he has only taken four shots in his three appearances to date.As the spearhead of the attack faced with a centre-back partnership with a combined age of 65 there might never be a better opportunity to show that he belongs at the top. If he takes his chance, he might not be at Lyon much longer.
Zenit vs Lyon – Match Stats
- Zenit have never lost to Lyon in three meetings, winning the previous clash in St. Petersburg 3-1 four years ago
- Zenit must win – or earn a goalless draw – to have a chance of progressing to the knockout stages
- They have won seven of their last nine (and 12 of their last 15) European home matches (D1, L2)
- Lyon need a 2-2 (or higher-scoring) draw, or a win, to guarantee they finish in the all-important top two places in the group
- The French outfit have only lost three of their last 11 European away fixtures (W5, D3), and just three of their last 16 overall (W6, D7)
- They have conceded two goals in each of their last three away games in all competitions
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zenit vs Lyon – 1-1
Zenit vs Lyon – Possible Lineups
Zenit St. Petersburg
Kerzhakov – Karavaev, Rakitskiy, Ivanović, Santos – Kuzyaev, Ozdoev, Barrios – Azmoun, Dzyuba, Driussi
Manager: Sergey Semak
Lopes – Dubois, Denayer, Andersen, Koné – Mendes, Tousart – Traoré, Reine-Adélaïde, Depay – Dembélé
Manager: Rudy Garcia
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.