Andrew Flint –
Zenit St. Petersburg vs Club Brugge – Tuesday, 20 October 2020 – 17:55 GMT/18:55 CEST – Gazprom Arena, St. Petersburg, Russia
Sergey Semak has an almost flawless record since taking charge of Zenit St. Petersburg in time for the 2018/19 season. He has won both league titles, breaking records last campaign with the earliest win by matchdays and a joint-record number of wins, while he wrapped up a rare domestic treble of Russian Cup, Russian Super Cup and Russian Premier Liga. Admittedly the first two trophies carry little significance to major clubs nowadays with senior players routinely rested for the knockout competition, but nonetheless it makes for impressive reading.
One last frontier is one that very few Zenit managers have ever been able to approach, yet alone actually conquer – Europe. Countless successful Europa League group stages have been negotiated only for the knockouts to be made of kryptonite for the reigning Russian champions. Dmitry Radchenko, the former Zenit, Racing Santander and Russia forward who currently runs the youth academy, is extremely confident that this year the club can finally break the hoodoo.
“Zenit have to take all six points from Brugge,” he was reported as saying by UEFA.com. “I know the Belgians have a good side but they have quite a few absentees and overall Zenit are a more powerful and ambitious club with their team more than capable of getting the result.”
With the electric partnership up front of Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun a nightmare to handle for most teams at the best of time, the confidence will be there under a closed roof in St. Petersburg. Much has been made of the false advantage many away teams have managed to garner from empty or reduced capacity stadiums, but the Gazprom Arena’s steep stands and fierce ultras will compensate.
Those absentees include senior goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who has been ruled out due to a positive coronavirus test result. The former Liverpool goalkeeper saved a penalty from former Rubin Kazan winger Maxime Lestienne at the weekend – and has reportedly kept out 27% of spot-kicks he has faced – but has remained in Belgium along with Odilon Kossounou and Michael Krmencik who also have positive test results.
Brugge are not highly fancied by most observers to succeed in this group. Their very weak record doesn’t bode well for them; just one win in their last 18 matches in the Champions League proper, while the absence of four first-team players – defender Simon Deli was injured at the weekend – is another handicap they could do without.
Nevertheless, midfielder Hans Vanaken is bullish about his side’s prospects. “In recent weeks we have shown that we are ready to play these games. We have to play our own game even if it’s against a big team in Europe. We have to show our qualities.” Manager Philippe Clement was under no illusions about the task that awaits them in the pre-match press conference, however. “They have a big squad with a lot of players, but it is not a team that has one or two key players. The danger comes from all sides.”
Zenit St. Petersburg vs Club Brugge – Players to Watch:
Sardar Azmoun #7 – Zenit St. Petersburg
The Iranian forward has taken some time to burst out, but now he has finally begun to flourish the results are spectacular. Barring a couple of seasons at Rostov under Kurban Berdyev – the second of which saw a famous 3-2 home win over Bayern Munich – he had never scored more than five league goals in a league campaign, despite plundering goals for fun for Iran at all levels. Last season he finished top goalscorer in the Russian Premier Liga alongside veteran striker Artem Dzyuba, but before long he will be expected to carry the light – what better place to start than the Champions League group stages?
Youssouph Badji #27 – Club Brugge
If the Belgian visitors are to cause damage, they will rely on the relatively unknown talents of 18-year-old forward Youssouph Badji. Picked up in January just before the global pandemic hit, the Senegalese youth international spent his time last season mostly with the under-19 side, playing once in the UEFA Youth League knockout match against Rennes before making his full senior debut in the Beker van Belgie final in August. This season he has broken into the first team playing out wide where he has shown impressive confidence carrying the ball in from either flank.
Zenit St. Petersburg vs Club Brugge – Match Statistics:
- The only time these two have met before came back in 1987 when Zenit won 2-0 at home in the UEFA Cup first round. They were knocked out though after a 5-0 thrashing in the return leg.
- Zenit have won all eight home ties against Belgian opposition
- They have won six of their last eight home games in the Champions League
- Club Brugge are taking part in their third consecutive Champions League group-stage campaign – and their eighth overall
- They have won just one of their last18 matches in UEFA’s elite competition from the group stage onwards
- Brugge have lost all four of their competitive fixtures away to Russian sides, scoring just once and conceding eight
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zenit St. Petersburg vs Club Brugge – 2-0
Zenit St. Petersburg – Possible Lineups:
Zenit St. Petersburg:
Kerzhakov – Karavaev, Rakitskiy, Lovren, Santos – Kuzyaev, Barrios, Ozdoev, Mostovoy – Dzyuba, Azmoun
Manager: Sergey Semak
Horvath – Diatta, Mata, Mechele, Sobol – Rits, Vormer, Vanaken – Okereke, Dennis, Badji
Manager: Philippe Clement