Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit St Petersburg boss Andre Villas-Boas is 7/4 to help his side claim Champions League Group H top spot, but the former Porto, Chelsea and Tottenham coach is in a precarious position, having recently rejected a new contract. So, the Russian team’s results will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
Having done the domestic double last term, Zenit are odds-on at 1/2 to qualify from a group containing Belgian minnows Gent, but cannot afford complacency with Valencia and Lyon also lurking.
Domestic league: Russian Premier League
How they qualified: As champions of their domestic league, Zenit are the automatic entrants representing Russia, but have slipped off the pace somewhat this season, currently loitering in third place.
Best Champions League era performance: The Baltic Sea side have never bettered their two last-16 exits in this tournament, but were crowned kings of the Europa League back in 2008.
Coach: Portuguese coaching prodigy Villas-Boas has striven to shake-off Jose Mourinho comparisons away from the Premier League spotlight with some success, guiding giants Zenit to two trophies in his first full term in charge.
However, in the backdrop of Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, history, prestige and pressure loom large and Villas-Boas has already confirmed his plans to exit the club at the end of this campaign, amid rumours of a return to England with Liverpool.
Banned for six games after an altercation with a match official, the Champions League is the only place to see the Iberian in action on the touchline for sometime.
Ins and outs: All Zenit’s incoming additions this off-season were rather modest free agents, with Russia dangerman Artem Dzyuba the most high-profile switch from Spartak Moscow.
Notable names in the departure lounge included ex-Arsenal attacker Andrey Arshavin and former Bayern Munich man Anatoliy Tymoshchuk both bidding goodbye on Bosmans. West Bromwich Albion, meanwhile, made hitman Jose Salomon Rondon a record signing.
Familiar faces: Fans of international football will remember Argentina centre back Ezequiel Garay, once of Real Madrid and long-linked with the Premier League. The only name in Zenit ranks that has graced English football before is former Manchester City anchorman Javi Garcia.
Other recognisable names on the roster include Brazil forward Hulk, Italy international defender Domenico Criscito, plus Belgium pair Nicolas Lombaerts and Axel Witsel.
Key players: Former Porto predator Hulk is a crucial source of power, skill and goals from the wing, while at the other end, midfield battle-axe Witsel keeps opposition intruders at bay.
Ones to watch: Adaptable Russian midfield duo Oleg Shatov and Artur Yusupov are increasingly important cogs, able to chip in at both ends of the pitch and provide goals and assists.
Emerging talent: Versatile player Ivan Solovjev can operate all down the left flank and the uncapped 22-year-old will be aiming to impress his compatriots ahead of Euro 2016 this summer.
CL group and fixtures:
v Valencia (Away), September 16th
v Gent (Home), September 29th
v Lyon (Home), October 20th
v Lyon (Away), November 4th
v Valencia (Home), November 24th
v Gent (Away), December 9th