Zenit Saint Petersburg Europa League Preview

Zenit Saint Petersburg Europa League Preview

Saul Pope –


Petrovsky Stadium (21,570) / Krestovskiy Stadium (68,134; opens this winter)

Zenit Saint Petersburg Europa League Preview Club Details

Zenit are currently enjoying the most successful period in their history: they won the Soviet Supreme League just once but have won the Russian Premier League four times since 2007. Under André Villas-Boas, who left in the summer, they won the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) and the Russian Cup once each, but such is the upturn in fortunes at Zenit (as well as vast sums of money invested) that his reign is not seen in a wholly positive light.

Zenit’s recent domestic success hasn’t translated onto the European stage. A 2008 UEFA Cup aside, Zenit’s recent European campaigns have been disappointing. Typical was the strong performance under Villas-Boas in last season’s Champions League group stage, followed by a tame defeat to Benfica in the Round of 16. Fans are hoping that new coach Mircea Lucescu will be able to translate some of his Europa League success with Shakhtar Donetsk to Zenit.

On the pitch, the big transfer story of the summer was the sale of Brazilian forward Hulk to Shanghai SIPG for €56 million. Potentially the side are now lacking upfront: Artem Dzyuba has lost a strike partner with whom he forged a strong relationship last year, and Aleksandr Kokorin is still only a shadow of the player he was a few years ago. On a more positive note, new signing Giuliano has fitted in superbly in midfield. Zenit may also have the most underrated player in the Russian league— Yuriy Zhirkov, once of Chelsea, seems to have been written off by almost everyone but is quietly going about his business and looking at the age of 33 as good as he has since returning to Russia.


In the centre of defence it will be interesting to see how new signing Ivan Novoseltsev slots in—there is much resting on his shoulders at international level, given the current dearth of centre backs. A move to Zenit and more competition for places is exactly what he needs.

There may also be competition for the goalkeeper’s position. Usual first choice and Russian international Yuriy Lodygin has recently been dropped following some poor mistakes. His replacement, long-term understudy Mikhail Kerzhakov (who also replaced Lodygin last year in a similar situation), may now get a run of games. With elder brother Aleksandr back at Zenit and a lack of striking options, it’s possible that we’ll see the rare sight of the Kerzhakov brothers playing together a little more often.

Know your Oligarch:

Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, has bankrolled Zenit’s most successful period. The Russian government holds a majority stake in Gazprom.


AZ Alkmaar are regulars in the tournament, and were semi-finalists just over a decade ago. Maccabi Tel Aviv are regular qualifiers for European competitions and this year are at the group stage having come right through from round one of qualifying. Their record in the competition is modest, however—they have only once got out of the group (in 2013-14). Dundalk FC should not be underestimated, having this season beaten BATE Borisov in the Champions League qualifying stages; only defeat to Legia Warsaw in the play-off round prevented them from making the group stages of Europe’s most prestigious tournament.

What to expect:

They may be without Hulk, but this squad arguably has more depth than the one that had a decent Champions League campaign last year; Zenit will expect to qualify from the group at a canter. Unless the Russian league season is going exceptionally well, failure to get to the knock-out stage would mean the end for Lucescu.

From there, the side would hope to have a run that extends to at least the quarter final—anything less would be seen as a big disappointment. Zenit certainly are capable of this, and maybe more if Novoseltsev steps up to the plate and Kokorin finally starts performing again.

Futbolgrad Prediction: 1st

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Dinamo Saint Petersburg – New Ambitions In the Shadow Of Zenit

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Saul Pope has been following Russian football since the mid nineties, and first saw a live game in 1998 (Zenit St. Petersburg vs Shinnik Yaroslavl’). He has been contributing to When Saturday Comes magazine for over a decade, with a particular focus on social, economic and political issues surrounding the game in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. He has a particular passion for teams in and around St. Petersburg. A fluent Russian speaker, he graduated from the University of Surrey with a Master’s degree in the language. He lives in the UK, but travels back to Russia on a regular basis. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.