Celtic: What Hoops fans should know about Zenit St Petersburg
Everything you need to know about the Russian side who will face the Scottish champions in the last 32 of the Europa League following Monday's draw.
What are they in the Russian league?
Currently Zenit are third in the table and will face mid-table side Akhmat Grozny on Monday evening before their winter break. The club were flying high at the top until rough patch saw them go five games without a league victory. They’ve recovered, winning four of the last five, but still lost a recent clash with fellow championship hopefuls Spartak Moscow.
While the winter break for Scottish top flight sides lasts only three weeks, Zenit won’t play a competitive domestic match for almost three months following the Akhmat fixture. The tie will Celtic will arrive during that period and could be a major advantage for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
How has their European campaign been so far?
Zenit struggled to make the group stages of the Europa League. They squeezed past both Utrecht and Israeli side Bnei Yahuda in the qualifiers, winning each tie by an aggregate score of 2-1 and requiring extra-time to complete the former. However, once they hit their stride they dominated the group stages, beating Real Sociedad and Macedonian club Vardar home and away, while also cruising to a 3-1 victory over Rosenborg in Russia. The only points they dropped was away to the Norwegian champions, who were eliminated by Celtic in the UCL qualifiers, as they fought to claim a 1-1 draw.
Are there any familiar faces in their ranks?
Roberto Mancini will once again find himself underneath the bright lights at Celtic Park. The legendary Italian striker and accomplished manager visited the famous stadium just two-and-a-half years ago when he brought his Inter side to Glasgow. After a thrilling 3-3 draw, with current Celtic star Stuart Armstrong grabbing a double, Mancini would eventually get the better of opposing boss Ronny Deila as a late Fredy Guarin strike assured Inter of victory in the return leg, a match which saw Virgil van Dijk sent off for the visitors.
Everyone in attendance will also be familiar with former Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic, while those with keen memories will recall Aleksandr Kokorin. The attacker netted the winning goal as Dinamo Moscow defeated Tony Mowbray’s Celtic in a Champions League qualifier in 2009, though the Hoops would recover to win the return leg 2-0.
How do they play?
Just like Celtic, Zenit like to defeat opponents by dominating possession of the football. Though they may not match up with Celtic’s 67.4 per cent ball dominance, their 57.8 per cent leads all teams in the Russian top flight. While it’s not quite enabled them to be the leading scorers in their league (they’re third) it does help give them the stingiest defence. Zenit are last in the top flight for both defensive duels and interceptions, meaning their back-line isn’t asked to do too much because the opposition have a hard time launching attacks without the football.
Unlike Celtic, who are tenth in this particular stat in the Scottish Premiership, Zenit are also top of their league in crosses attempted - and by quite some distance too. Defending deliveries into the box from wide areas was a weakness of Celtic’s during their Champions League campaign, and they’re need to be aware of a similar threat when these sides meet in February.
Zenit will have a partial closure enforced on their stadium when Brendan Rodgers and his side travel to St Petersburg for the return leg. The punishment was handed down by Uefa in response to the club’s supporters holding up an offensive banner showing support for Ratko Mladić, a Bosnian Serb war criminal, during their home victory over Vardar. The club were found to be guilty of racist behaviour by the governing body and ordered to pay a €12,000 fine as well shutting off part of Krestovsky Stadium for their Round of 32 home match.