Luciano Spalletti hasn't exactly had the easiest time as Zenit St. Petersburg manager. By now, he probably expected to have a shiny new stadium that allowed him to spend more money and a fanbase that had loosened their attitude on black players. Instead. Zenit still play in the Petrovsky Stadium and the signings of Hulk and Axel Witsel led to a mini-revolt that he never totally recovered from. Some of his core players got old too, and he couldn't replace them adequately due to Russia's foreign player rules. After over four years at the club, he was sacked last week.
Some things at Zenit were out of control, but others were not. The club has stagnated in recent years and, while much of that can be put on the aforementioned outside factors, it also falls partially on his management. The horrible defensive performance that his side put in during the first leg of this tie was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back and Andre Villas-Boas will be taking over shortly, though Sergei Semak will act as caretaker boss for the second leg.
All of that is of basically no immediate consequence, since Borussia Dortmund are very much in control of this tie and would probably retain control of it no matter who was on the sidelines for Zenit. That's good for Der BVB, considering the difficult domestic fight they're in. Dortmund lost at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach over the weekend and are in serious danger of not finishing in the Bundesliga's top three.
That's not to say that Dortmund is going to rest anyone for this tie. They don't have anyone to rotate in, since they're already missing six players.
First leg score
Zenit 2-4 Borussia Dortmund. It was over after six minutes.
Sven Bender, Jannick Bandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gündogan, Neven Subotic and Marco Reus are all out for Dortmund. Reus will probably return to the team shortly, but Jürgen Klopp said he was unable to participate in full training on Tuesday and he will not be included in the squad.
Zenit have plenty of injury troubles of their own, though certainly not to the degree that Dortmund do. They're missing fullback Cristian Ansaldi and attacker Andrei Arshavin, as well as backup goalkeeper Egor Baburin.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Weidenfeller; Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lukasz Piszczek; Sebastian Kehl, Nuri Sahin; Kevin Großkreutz, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; Robert Lewandowski
Zenit St. Petersburg (4-3-3): Yuri Lodigin; Domenico Criscito, Nicolas Lombaerts, Neto, Aleksandr Anyukov; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Axel Witsel, Viktor Fayzulin; Danny, Solomon Rondon, Hulk
PEA vs. Domenico Criscito - When Marco Reus is healthy, most of Borussia Dortmund's attacks run through him. He's sitting out this game, so Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be a very important player for Der BVB. Assuming that Zenit actually have some interest in trying to mount a comeback, Criscito is going to get forward a lot and there should be some space for PEA to run in behind. Zenit's left back will have to be good about getting back into position when his team lose the ball.
Sebastian Kehl vs. Zenit's midfielders ... again - We highlighted this matchup in the preview for the first leg and it should have mattered much more than it did. But then Dortmund went and scored twice in the first five minutes, allowing them to sit a bit deeper, attack less quickly and directly than they usually do and, ultimately, protect Kehl. If Zenit score the first goal, this matchup will become a lot more relevant again. Kehl's positioning is great and he's an excellent tackler, but he lacks pace at this point in his career. Zenit need to catch him trailing on the break.
Don't expect Jürgen Klopp's team to take this lightly. They'll win, but they probably won't score four goals again. Mostly because they don't have the same incentive to attack, but also because Zenit's players know that this is a job interview for them. Andre Villas-Boas will be in the stands making note of what he sees. 2-1 Dortmund.