Europa League Preview: Rosenborg BK – Zenit St. Petersburg

Until recently Roberto Mancini had been totting up the wins in a relatively care-free fashion. His team sat happily atop of the Russian Football Premier League and boasted a perfect 100% win record in the Europa League group stage. Now, something no longer appears to add up; Zenit have failed to win in their last four domestic outings, and the latest 3-0 defeat saw the victors Lokomotiv Moscow emphatically dislodge Zenit from first place.

The first game against Rosenborg BK came in the middle of this unhappy series and provided a brief respite as Zenit won 3-1. Another victory would ensure Zenit’s progression to the round of 32, though anything else may start to qualify unpleasant suggestions of a crisis.

Tactical Analysis

This Zenit side has been set up to operate as a fluid collective unit and ideally, their intensive style of play demands a regular squad rotation. In the RFPL the foreigner limit makes life more difficult for Mancini as it effectively forces a regular artificial trade-off between players’ motivation, their tactical suitability and their physical preparedness. The Europa League, however, has no such restrictions, and domestic worries and tactical issues can be offset with fresh legs and fresh motivation. This game offers an excellent chance for regaining some sort of equilibrium and experimenting.

The Lokomotiv game highlighted that Zenit is far from the finished product – worryingly vulnerable to counter-attacks and struggling to find space against more physical and/or conservative opponents. Mancini cannot carry on relying so heavily on either of his two ageing fullbacks Branislav Ivanović or Domenico Criscito to constantly charge down the flank and also cover defensively. With wandering defenders, it is no surprise that Zenit has only kept one clean sheet in their last six games. More invention and aggression has to somehow be squeezed out from the forwards and midfield players to not have to compensate in this way. It may be a question of giving a few different faces a chance more often when talented players like Christian Noboa, Dmitry Poloz and Igor Smolnikov regularly warm the bench.

Rosenborg is actually the only team that Zenit have scored against in their last four games. Had it not been for Emiliano Rigoni’s shooting boots seemingly being super-glued on to his feet, for him to take advantage of some naïve defending – then it may have been a different story. Rosenborg had themselves enjoyed a good number of goalscoring chances, and they too eventually scored. Complacency or a lack of fresh ideas may come to bite Zenit against a team who still currently lead their respective country’s league and who will be playing in front of their own fans. Zenit has not qualified yet, and Rosenborg can qualify still.

Team News

Aside from long-time casualty Viktor Fayzulin nobody should be ruled out through injury although it is unlikely that Oleg Shatov will be afforded a full 90 minutes since he does not appear to be fully fit. By all accounts, a few players are probably in need of a rest.

READ MORE: Viktor Fayzulin’s Trip Through Injury Hell

Key Players

Andrey Lunyov – the Zenit goalkeeper has recently made some uncharacteristic errors but he is still their most consistent performer at the back. A cool, calm head makes him a reliable last line of defence against Nicklas Bendtner’s onslaughts.

Sebastian Driussi – A lack of goals should not distract from the value of his clever play and agile movement. The Argentine forward may not always be noticeable but he is the understated key to much of Zenit’s attacking success. Entirely unselfish, he masterfully relieves pressure off of his attacking partners. His absence from the side has coincided almost perfectly with this recent bad spell for Zenit.

Aleksandr Kokorin – This season Kokorin’s talent and work ethic has finally been directed in a positive direction. He has more often than not been leading the FedEx performance zone as the competition’s “most in-form” player (he is currently fifth). He already has 15 goals this season to his name, seven of which have come in the Europa league (including qualifying). His excellent technique coupled with abundant pace and ingenuity allows him to weave in and out of play, creating space for others or finishing off chances himself.

Predicted Lineup

4-4-2: Andrey Lunyov – Igor Smolnikov, Branislav Ivanovic, Emanuel Mammana, Domenico Criscito – Daler Kuzyaev, Matias Kranevitter, Leandro Paredes, Cristian Noboa – Sebastian Driussi, Aleksandr Kokorin.

Match Prediction

Zenit has enough quality and squad depth to carry on at this stage without blemish. Domestic trials will potentially only act as a further motivation for Mancini and his players to qualify from the group stages with a win against the Norwegians. A clean sheet will undoubtedly be the main priority for Mancini and a balanced approach in this game is likely to work well. Zenit’s forwards are more than capable of exploiting Rosenborg’s likely Zeal for recording a positive result at home.

Rosenborg BK 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg

Author: Neil Salata

A big fan of Russian football. Not much more, not much less.

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