Europa League holders Sevilla tackle tough Zenit test in Russia
Reigning Europa League champions Sevilla will hold a narrow 2-1 aggregate lead going into the second leg of their quarter-final encounter with Russian Premier League leaders Zenit St Petersburg at the Petrovsky Stadium.
Unai Emery’s Sevillistas, 11/5 with Coral to win in 90 minutes, trailed their European rivals until the final 20 minutes of the first leg matchup, but late strikes from Carlos Bacca and Denis Suarez managed to earn a 2-1 advantage.
Zenit boss Andre Villas-Boas will be bemused at his side’s inability to hold on to their lead at the Estadio Ramon, but a vital away goal from Aleksandr Ryazantsev has given the Russian outfit hope in their European pursuit.
Although, despite their lead, the visitors will have a tough task of overcoming a stubborn Zenitchiki, with the hosts having not been beaten in a Europa League clash on home soil since 2008, an impressive run which stretches back 14 games.
The hosts, 13/8 to qualify, will be confident of overcoming the aggregate deficit, having won this coveted European competition in 2008, and are currently being managed by another former winner Villas-Boas, who led Porto to victory four years ago.
Sevilla are aiming to claim consecutive competition coups this season, after toppling Benfica in last year’s final, a win which secured them their third ever Europa League title.
Emery’s men will also be be boosted by the fact they have lifted the trophy on every occasion that they have reached the quarter-final stage, and are available at 24/5 to win to nil in Russia. The Spaniards are expected to be without injured Daniel Carrico, while Jose Antonio Reyes may return. Meanwhile, the hosts are set to be without suspended duo Ezequiel Garay and first leg scorer Ryazantsev, with ferocious frontman Hulk returning from his first leg ban.
Zenit’s all-time scorer Alexander Kerzhakov netted during a 4-1 UEFA Cup defeat in March 2006 and he is an 11/5 chance to fire in again almost a decade on from his previous Sevilla strike. Brilliant Brazil international forward Hulk is the club’s current leading marksman this term and he 5/1 to open proceedings.
At the other end, Colombian hitman Bacca will be hoping to add to his first leg strike and continue his rampant run of goalscoring form this current campaign, having slotted home 21 times in all competitions so far. The prolific poacher is 11/2 to score the last goal of the game this time out.
Villas-Boas will be calling upon all of his European experience from that past triumph with Portuguese giants Porto, as he looks to guide his Russian side into the semi-finals.