Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Borussia Dortmund: Preview

Oliver Hardt

Under normal circumstances, Zenit St. Petersburg are a formidable foe for anyone. Right now, they're missing some key players and they're out of form. Can Borussia Dortmund capitalize?

Borussia Dortmund vs. Zenit St. Petersburg was once a football hipster dream tie. In this year's edition of the UEFA Champions League, it's more of an afterthought. Both teams are decent enough, but they've lost a lot of their luster recently and it's tough to imagine either team making a serious run for the title in this edition of the tournament.

Throughout their incredible run over the last three seasons, Borussia Dortmund have had quite a bit of good luck with injuries. Their stars have been able to stay on the pitch, while their thin group of central defenders has never been tested by more than minor scares. They've always appeared to have enough depth in midfield as well, especially with the addition of Nuri Sahin on loan.

But BVB's status as challengers to Bayern Munich's throne in the Bundesliga and as dark horse contenders for the Champions League title has been severely damaged by the injury bug this year. Three first choice players have been claimed for the season and others have gone in and out of the lineup. They've held on to a Champions League place in Germany and managed to make the Round of 16 of this competition, but they look nothing like last year's spectacular team.

Now Robert Lewandowski is leaving while Sahin's loan is set to expire and Sebastian Kehl will probably head for retirement or a decent paycheck on another continent. Marco Reus and Mats Hummels are probably eying the exit door as well. There will always be a fanbase and youth program that allows Dortmund to compete for the top four in the Bundesliga, but Jürgen Klopp's dream of turning Dortmund into a world powerhouse could well be dead.

Zenit, meanwhile, are just about the same team they've been for the entirety of Luciano Spalletti's reign as manager. Hulk and Axel Witsel have remained with the club despite the unwillingness of a certain subset of fans to accept them and they're performing at a high level, even if they haven't quite met expectations. Zenit's old guard is slowly disappearing, but Spalletti has done a good job of promoting younger players and buying replacements.

The Russian side could make a run much like Dortmund's from last season if they ever get all of the pieces together, but some combination of injuries and club politics seems to derail them every year. And, sure enough, they've picked up some casualties in preparation for this tie.

Team news

Zenit's winter friendlies have claimed a couple of their key players. Right back Cristian Ansaldi and playmaker Danny, who usually starts on the right wing, were both injured in friendly action against BATE Borisov. The extent of their injuries hasn't been confirmed, but they're not expected to play on Tuesday. Roman Shirokov is also out with a heel injury.

The injury list is long and nasty for Dortmund. llkay Gündoğan, Neven Subotić and Jakob Błaszczykowski have all been out for a while and will continue to be out for the foreseeable future. Marco Reus has recently recovered from a thigh injury and should play, but Sven Bender picked up an injury against Hamburg and is out. Mats Hummels is 50-50 to start, while Erik Durm has a nagging thigh injury and could potentially make the 18-man squad.

Projected lineups (left to right)

Zenit St. Petersburg (4-3-3): Yuri Lodygin; Domenico Criscito, Nicolas Lombaerts, Tomáš Hubočan, Aleksandr Anyukov; Konstantin Zyryanov, Axel Witsel, Viktor Fayzulin; Andriy Arshavin, Solomon Rondon, Hulk

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weidenfeller; Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lukasz Piszczek; Sebastian Kehl, Nuri Sahin; Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; Robert Lewandowski

football formations

Key Matchups

Sebastian Kehl or alternative vs. Viktor Fayzulin - Sven Bender's return to action this weekend was supposed to be a huge boost to Dortmund's Champions League campaign, but he picked up a separate injury against Hamburg and could face a long spell on the sidelines. Sebastian Kehl is the most likely replacement, but his age has shown this season and he didn't enter the game when Bender had to exit over the weekend.

Whether Kehl starts or Henrikh Mkhitaryan is moved into a more defensive position, Dortmund is going to have a tough time containing Viktor Fayzulin, the obvious beneficiary of this development. Whether he starts in the center of midfield or wide, he's going to come into the central areas that Bender would usually be defending. Most of Zenit's attacks will run through him and Dortmund will need to have a plan to contain him.

Aleksandr Anyukov and Tomáš Hubočan vs. Marco Reus - Reus hasn't been in top form since the Bundesliga's return from winter break, but he's still one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world, and as poorly as Saturday's game against Hamburg went, it was still good for him to get 45 minutes in. He should be fit for this match, and he'll cause problems for Zenit's right back and right central defender. As a left winger, he does a lot of cutting inside, but he can cut wide and hit a cross too. His biggest quality is his unpredictability and it will take a team effort to contain him. If Aleksandr Anyukov and Tomáš Hubočan don't have perfect communication, they'll get torn apart.

Prediction

Zenit are in poor form and have plenty of injury troubles, but Dortmund aren't doing much better on either front. Dortmund's attacking talent and the fact that they've actually played league games recently make them slight favorites, but expect Zenit to do just barely enough to keep the return leg interesting. 1-1 draw.

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