giovedì 10 marzo 2011

Europa League: FC Twente v Zenit match preview

What: Europa League (Round of 16)
Who: FC Twente vs Zenit St. Petersburg
When: Thursday 10th February, 2011, at 18:00 UK Time
Where: Arke Stadium, Enschede, Netherlands

Another Russian Roulette

In 2011, FC Twente have dipped slightly compared to their performance in the first half of the season. "We’ve stopped playing football", complained midfielder Theo Janssen. "In the last games we’ve needed a corner or a free-kick to create goal chances. It won’t be enough." Despite their mini-slump however, the Tukkers are still contenders for the Eredivisie (sitting three points off the top), the domestic cup (into the final against Ajax) and the Europa League.

Nobody in Enschede was too happy when drawn against another Russian club after the nightmare experience against Rubin Kazan in the Round of 32. The first match was staged in Moscow, but when the Tukkers landed the temperature was -16 °C. "We thought we were in Siberia", said coach Michel Preud’Homme. In accordance with UEFA’s rules, the game would be suspended if -15 °C was recorded, but ten minutes before kick off the temperature in the Luzhniki Stadium read -14.2 °C. "It was quite bizarre", said club manager Jan van Halst, "because at the same time the Moscow Meteo Consult had the temperature of -18 °C. However, I got a call from UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon. Play, they said. At the end of the game three of our players were almost frozen. But who cares? The show must go on, especially if the broadcasters have paid for that."

The versatility of their key players is one of Twente’s most dangerous weapons. Bryan Ruiz is an attacking all-rounder, who can be deployed as a winger or as a number 10 behind the striker. The story is the same for rising star Nacer Chadli, who has had a superb impact both in the Eredivisie and in Europe despite playing in the Dutch second division last season. Even youngster Luuk de Jong can operate up front, or as an attacking midfielder. Preud’Homme has many options as he plots the downfall of Zenit.

The Spalletti boys keep marching on

Since Luciano Spalletti was appointed Zenit coach in December 2009, the Gazprom backed club’s performances have been close to perfection. The Saint Petersburg side won the league title, the domestic cup and – last weekend – the Russian Super Cup. Zenit even reached the Europa League Round of 16 with seven wins out of eight games. In 2010, Zenit managed to set an impressive number of club and Russia-wide records with, amongst others, the most games unbeaten in the Russian Premier League (21) and in all competitive matches (26).

All that glitters is not gold however. Last August, Zenit’s Champions League exit at the hands of Auxerre was a bitter blow to the big-spending Russians, especially reflecting on the poor fight the Ligue 1 side put up in the group stage. Spalletti will try to right this wrong in the next Champions League season, while leading Zenit as far as possible in the Europa League.

As is usual for Russian sides, at this stage of their season their worst enemy is a lack of match action. In the previous round against Swiss side Young Boys, Zenit showed they were still searching for their best form, especially in the away leg in Berne when they succumbed in the dying minutes of the game. Since then Zenit have played another three competitive games though – and have won them all.

Players to watch

Twente – Theo Janssen: A talented left-footed midfielder who is one of Holland’s best kept secrets. A smoker, heavily-tattooed free-kick master, who could have become one of the best players of his generation, if he had been hungry enough to. Janssen’s passing ability and vision are vital for Twente, and his goals should not be overlooked either. With 12 strikes to his name, the midfielder is the club’s fourth-highest scoring this season. Janssen will probably leave Twente at the end of the season. "I cannot increase my performances any more here", said the Dutchman.

Zenit – Danko Lazovic: The Serbian forward knows the club’s opponents here like nobody else, having played in the Eredivisie from 2003 until 2010 with Feyenoord, Vitesse and PSV Eindhoven. In St. Petersburg, Lazovic has been deployed as a winger by Spalletti, becoming more of an assist master than a goalscorer – the player was rated the second best passer in the Russian Premier League last season. Lazovic’s ability in front of goal should not be dismissed either, and the Serbian was vital for Zenit in the return game against Young Boys in the last round, scoring the first goal in a 3-1 win.

Match Prediction

Financially speaking, there should be no contest between Twente and Zenit, with the Russian side’s budget twice as big as the Eredivisie outfit’s. However, while Zenit have strong tactical organisation, Twente are fighters and will not lie down easily, as Inter, Tottenham Hotspur and Werder Bremen found out in this season’s Champions League. After four draws in a row, the Tukkers are still searching for their first home victory in this season’s European campaign. Perhaps their time has come and they will edge this. FC Twente 2-1 Zenit.

Fonte: Inside Futbol

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