Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Europa League clash between Zenit St Petersburg and Real Betis, including predictions, team news and possible line-ups.
Zenit St. Petersburg will welcome Real Betis at the Gazprom Arena on Thursday for the first leg of their Europa League knockout tie.
The defending Russian Premier League champions enter the competition after dropping out of the Champions League, while Manuel PellegriniThe squad enters the knockout round after finishing second in their Europa League group.
Thursday’s Europa League game marks Zenit’s first meaningful game since a 1-1 league draw with Dynamo Moscow on December 12.
With the Russian Premier League currently in winter break, Thursday’s hosts have spent the past few weeks playing in friendlies and taking part in the Atlantic Cup – a mid-season tournament for those competing in leagues with long winter holidays.
Sergei SamakThe team can rely on the fact that they won the Atlantic Cup for the second time, but their main focus now turns to two crucial games against Real Betis.
Despite winning the Champions League group stage once, Zenit performed well in a tough group that included Juventus and Chelsea, while their tally of five points was enough to secure them a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Zenit will be confident of making the most of home advantage, having won nine of their last 12 home games in the Europa League knockout stage.
Real Betis go into the first leg in good spirits after winning their last two matches in all competitions, including a 4-2 away win against Levante on Sunday.
Goals of Nabil Fekir, Edgar Gonzalez and Guillaume Carvalho gave Los Verdiblancos a three-goal lead before Dani Gomez scored either side of half-time to cut the deficit to one, but another effort from Fekir saw the visitors earn all three points for Andalucia.
At this point, Real Betis have enjoyed a successful season, with Pellegrini’s side one game away from the Copa del Rey final after winning the first leg of their semi-final against Rayo Vallecano, as they occupy currently a top four position in La Liga as they look to qualify for the Champions League.
On Thursday, Los Verdiblancos will focus on European action as they aim to secure their second competitive victory against Russian opposition.
Having won their last four away games in all competitions, Real Betis head to the Gazprom stadium full of confidence, with the visitors aiming for a positive result to bring back to the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Zenit St Petersburg form (all competitions):
Real Betis Europa League form:
Real Betis form (all competitions):
Zenit St Petersburg will be without the services of Dejan Lovrenwho injured his ankle ligament during the Atlantic Cup game against FC Copenhagen.
Stanislav Kritsyuk is also unavailable, having a knee problem since early November.
During this time, Artem Dzyuba has scored 10 goals this season, and he will be responsible for leading the line on Thursday.
As for the visitors, their injury absentees include Claudio Bravo, Martin Montoya and Juan Miranda while Fekir is suspended for the first leg.
As well as Fekir, Sergio Canales could be another big miss for the trip to Russia, with the 30-year-old a doubt for Thursday’s fixture after missing his side’s last two games following a positive COVID-19 test.
Guido Rodriguez missed Sunday’s clash with Levante through injury but the Argentina international could return to the line-up to face Zenit on Thursday.
Possible starting line-up of Zenit Saint-Petersburg:
Kerzhakov; Chistyakov, Barrios, Rakitskiy; Karavaev, Wendel, Kusyaev, Santos; Malcom, Claudinho, Dzyuba
Possible Real Betis starting line-up:
Silva; Bellerin, Bartra, Pezzella, Moreno; Rodríguez, Carvalho, Rodri; Ruibal, Juanmi, Iglesias
We say: Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 Real Betis
Although the visitors may be missing a few key players, they have proven to be a tough team to beat on their travels this season.
Zenit, meanwhile, may be slightly undercooked due to the lack of competitive football and although they have the home advantage, we believe they could be held to a draw on Thursday.
Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting over 1.5 goals in this game. Click here to find out what else they predict for this game and for more of their proven football tips.More than 1.5: data