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Europa League Preview: Zenit St Petersburg (Real Sociedad, Group L)

Ahead of Real Sociedad’s game against Zenit St. Petersburg, we spoke with @ZenRusFan about his team chances in the Europa League and against La Real.

Tell​ ​us​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​about​ ​Zenit?

Zenit St. Petersburg are a team with the highest ambitions. Since famously winning the Europa league and UEFA Super Cup in 2008 the team has repeatedly won domestic titles but arguably failed to make the expected further breakthroughs in Europe. After the domestic successes recently also came to a halt the club put its faith in Roberto Mancini.

How​ ​long​ ​have​ ​you​ ​been​ ​a​ ​Zenit​ ​fan? 

I started following Zenit around 2009/2010 so I have seen a fair amount of change at the club. Currently there is an air of expectation with the amount of money spent and Zenit’s excellent start in the league competition.

How​ ​did​ ​Zenit​ ​qualify​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Europa​ ​League​ ​group​ ​stages? 

Zenit first played in the third qualifying round against Bnei Yehuda and then faced FC Utrecht in the playoff. In both cases Zenit lost the away fixtures but managed to win on aggregate.

What​ ​was​ ​your​ ​initial​ ​reaction​ ​to​ ​the​ ​draw? 

I was very pleased to draw an interesting and challenging mix of opponents. Zenit will not be able to afford complacency, which is a good thing.

What​ ​was​ ​your​ ​reaction​ ​to​ ​drawing​ ​Real​ ​Sociedad​ ​in​ ​the​ ​group​ ​stage? 

I was excited, I like the way Real Sociedad play and how the team is managed. I happen to also have visited San Sebastian in the past and it is a lovely place – a great away trip for the team and any travelling fans.

How​ ​is​ ​Zenit​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​set​ ​up​ ​against​ ​Sociedad? 

Mancini has been rotating the squad and getting to grips with new players, but the way Zenit play is now fairly consistent. Expect to see a fluid 4-3-3 set-up, which depending on circumstance may switch in-game to a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2.

Who​ ​is​ ​Zenit’s​ ​best​ ​player? 

At the moment it is definitely Alexander Kokorin. The talented striker is in fantastic form with 9 goals and 3 assists in 10 games so far.

Which​ ​Real​ ​Sociedad​ ​player​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​will​ ​cause​ ​the​ ​most​ ​trouble​ ​for​ ​Zenit?

I know you have some very interesting forwards, and I am excited to see more of Juanmi but I would still personally single out the veteran Xabi Prieto in midfield. His passion for the team and many years of experience are two very dangerous assets.

What​ ​are​ ​your​ ​group​ ​stage​ ​predictions?

I think it could be a close group. Rosenberg have beaten last year’s finalists Ajax, and Vardar have knocked out a very big team in Fenerbahçe. Really any team could win points. Zenit have done very well in the Europa league group stages for the past two seasons. I believe it will be harder in this group but Mancini should continue the recent trend to finish top. With the quality that La Real have they should finish a close second. The other two teams are both dark horses but I think Vardar will be the hungrier and they will finish in third above Rosenberg

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