Season Preview: Zenit St. Petersburg

Zenit's brand new stadium. Photo: FC Zenit

Zenit’s brand new stadium. Photo: FC Zenit

When André Villas-Boas left Zenit at the end of the 2015/16 season, he was replaced by the man who had turned Shakhtar Donetsk into the dominant force of Ukrainian football, Mircea Lucescu. The Romanian even managed to win a trophy in his first official match at the club, as his side beat CSKA Moscow in the Russian Super Cup. This, however, turned out to be the only silverware Zenit would win all season, as they crashed out of the Europa League in the Round of 32, missed out on Champions League football to their two Moscow rivals, and were embarrassed by Anzhi in the last 16 of the Russian Cup. After such a disappointing season, it was no surprise that Lucescu was sacked.

Eager not to repeat the failures of last year, the club have appointed Roberto Mancini as manager, and have been very active on the transfer market, spending just under €40 million to bring Leandro Paredes and Sebastian Driussi to the club, as well as signing Christian Noboa, Dmitri Poloz, and Aleksandr Erokhin from Rostov.

Head coach
Roberto Mancini is a name that is known by football fans all over the world, having been an incredibly successful footballer before moving on to management. As a player, he picked up 13 trophies while playing for Italian clubs, as well as a number of individual awards, including the title of ‘Serie A Footballer of the Year’ for the 1996/97 season.

His success in management is just as impressive, as he has added 12 more trophies to his cabinet since becoming a manager in 2001. These include three Serie A titles, four Copa Italia’s and even a Premier League winners medal from his time at Manchester City. The Italian has been very successful in cup competitions as a manager, and has a record of winning a domestic cup at every club that he has managed. Mancini is a known winner, and his appointment at Zenit is a clear sign of intent by the club.

Greatest strength
Zenit’s biggest strength at the moment is their manager. Having been at the heights of football, he has got a lot more experience, tactical knowledge and footballing intelligence than the previous managers of the team. Since his arrival, many players have talked about how much more work they have had to put into tactics, and how they’ve never had to train as hard before.

As well as this, Mancini has more pull power in regard to transfers. The signing of Leonardo Paredes is a perfect example of this. Having been linked to a number of big teams all over Europe, he chose to move to Zenit, naming Mancini as the main reason behind his decision.

Greatest weakness
The greatest weakness of the team is in central defence. After selling Nicolas Lombaerts at the end of last season, they have not replaced him, nor bought a player to increase the quality of the defence. The problem in this position is clear, as Mancini has even tried to use Hernani and Javi Garcia at centre back during pre-season.

Rumours circulated that Zenit were close to signing Greek international Kostas Manolas, however the deal broke through, and now Zenit have been forced to look for alternatives, with the latest name in the papers being Rodrigo Caio of Sao Paulo. It is likely that Zenit will patch this problem up with the signing of Caio or another centre back, but until they do, it is the biggest flaw in their team.

Key player
 The key player last season was undoubtedly Victor Giuliano. His ability to create chances from nothing helped Zenit get some really important results. Overall, he contributed 17 goals and 13 assists for the side in his 38 games last season. His form did drop a bit in the spring, but the Brazilian international remains Zenit’s key player, and the guy to look for when things gets tough.

Young starlet
Zenit’s squad is not one that is full of young players, and this is outlined by the fact that there is not one player aged 20 or under. There is, however, the 21-year-old Sebastian Driussi. The Argentinian striker has previously been on the radar of clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Roma, and has been rated highly. Before moving to Zenit this summer, he had played his whole career in Argentina, and in this season’s Primera Division, he managed to score 16 goals and provide 3 assists in 26 games.

This is the first big step in the young striker’s career, and could be his big break into Europe. Zenit are obviously confident in his future success, as they have put a massive €80 million buy-out clause in his contract.

Prediction
With the appointment of Mancini, and the number of signings they have made, it is clear that Zenit’s target for this season is to win the championship. Although this is already realistic, they still need to patch up the defence in the coming weeks to make sure they have a solid spine to the team. Once they have done that, it is hard to look past them as the favourite’s.

Author: Artem Makarevitch

Born in Russia, raised in Ireland. Studying Sports and Exercise Management in University College Dublin. Part-time youth football coach, full-time Russian football fan. Zenit St. Petersburg supporter.

Comments

  1. Roberto Mancini is a born winner ! Fantastic Man and Coach. He will bring great success to Zenit !

  2. Generic says:

    Bring back Lucescu is all I can say

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