Round Table: Evaluating Roberto Mancini’s Start at Zenit

Roberto Mancini has almost finished his first half season in charge of Zenit St. Petersburg. The Blue-White-Sky Blues started the season brilliantly, but have struggled in recent weeks and fallen far behind league leaders Lokomotiv Moscow. Zenit have in fact performed slightly worse this season than last season, which saw Mircea Lucescu sacked.

Therefore, it is time to evaluate Mancini’s start and to do so we made a panel with three of RFN’s Zenit experts.

The panel consists of: 

Neil Salata (@ZenRusFan)

Andrei Davydov

Artëm Makarevitch (@AMakarevitch)

Question one: What do you think of Mancini’s first months in charge of Zenit?

Neil: I am pleased with his start and hopeful of further progress. Mancini’s arrival has seen Zenit start to deal with issues previously brushed under the carpet. There is now a clear transfer strategy that suits both the club and the manager; players bought with promises of more than just money. I am happy that this has seen an improvement across all areas of the team. The potential and enthusiasm emanating from some of the players give a strong indication that things can improve even further.

Andrei: Let’s start with a positive fact. The summer upgrade of the team has been beneficial. Mancini managed to breathe life into a team which had lost it’s grip after the year under Lucescu’s reign. Mancini’s biggest achievement has been the wonderful performances by Aleksandr Kokorin. The coach builds the team around him in his favoured position, and the results were sudden and obvious. However, Zenit aren’t in the best form at the moment.

Artëm: One of the main things that needs to be noted is how Mancini went about doing his transfer business in summer. Unlike Lucescu who tried to sign relatively unknown names, Mancini decided to make a statement of intent right from the off, proving that Zenit can pull top talents like Leandro Paredes. The style of play is much more attractive under Mancini, and he has changed the way players approach the game. Kokorin is a prime example of this; a player who was written off by a lot of Zenit fans during pre-season, who has been able to prove his ability and become Zenit’s key man


Question two: Why are Zenit’s results failing after a good start to the season?

Neil: Like Mancini has said: the squad restructuring remains incomplete. That might sound ludicrous to some, but I disagree. With how well the team started it’s easy to forget that this is almost an entirely new squad with a completely new manager.

Mancini initially got the best out of a core few players, who to his credit were quickly able to fill out the new demands. This core has played consistently, while the rest who either still needed to adapt or prove their worth were rotated. Very simply: the core group got tired before all the new players had adapted. Additionally, certain old faces have not stepped up to the mark at all. Teams figured out how to counteract an increasingly tired, repetitive Zenit. Admittedly, there has been this unideal outcome but the rotation has been useful for highlighting players surplus to progress.

Andrei: Roberto Mancini and Zenit had a good summer transfer window, but he is yet to put all the pieces in the puzzle together. There is still a lot of under-utilised potential in the squad, and Mancini needs to improve his squad management and team psychologies. When comparing to Massimo Carrera and Spartak, Zenit simply doesn’t have the same emotions, energy and passion on the pitch.

Artëm: Zenit had a bad run of five games in the RFPL when they didn’t manage to pick up a win, before last week’s victory against FC Ural. During this period, Mancini’s team went four consecutive games without a goal. The obvious answer to this question is that the strikers were going through a slump of form, which is completely normal, but it also has to be noted that Zenit seemed quite one dimensional during this period. Driussi, Kokorin and Poloz play similarly to each other, and if a team has done their homework, they could isolate any of them from the game. Dzyuba is the only striker that could be brought in to change it up, but when he did get his chance in the team, he couldn’t take it. The main thing is that the slump seems to be over now.


Question three: Zenit’s results are worse than last season. Should Mancini be sacked, or should the club be patient?

Neil: It is many times better to confirm the limits of your squad now, than after the winter transfer window has shut. Overall, Mancini has done a good job overcoming some of the failings of his predecessors in a short space of time. The Zenit board will know this and they are heavily co-invested in Mancini’s success. Dismissing Mancini would only put them in a bigger hole than the one they started in.
Furthermore, the main person currently dampening Mancini’s shine is, in fact, somebody who was given time and patience…

Andrei: Mancini needs more time, without a doubt. If Zenit keep changing coaches, the club will transform into Spartak from before Carrera arrived. Back then, the club constantly changed coaches, and it was more a circus than a football team. Mancini is a top-class coach, and he and Zenit will prove it in the future.

Artëm: He needs to stay. First of all, there is no better coaches to replace him, and secondly, you have got to remember that Zenit haven’t even been able to make the Champions League places over the last two years. Although it would be disappointing if Zenit doesn’t win the league this season, as long as they get into the Champions League, they are moving in the right direction. As well as this, they have looked very comfortable in the Europa League, and they could go on a run in the competition. The only reason to sack Mancini would be if he didn’t manage to reach the Champions League places at the end of the season.

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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