On normal circumstances, these encounter and trying to predict its outcome would have been a no brainer. However, Dortmund are struggling to handle the injuries and playing in two competitions this season, while Zenit are always hard to judge when playing outside the Russian league, although they’re doing very well domestically.
Dortmund, missing Kuba, Gundogan, Subotic and Bender are coming off a humiliating 3-0 loss to Hamburg, one of the worst teams in the Bundesliga. They’re still third and were actually doing quite well before that loss came along, but they struggle defending with too many key players missing, which combined with their style that uses almost everyone going forward leaves them very exposed.
Zenit are leading the league in Russia after 19 matches, but they haven’t played a competitive football match since December, which will make their return to true football slightly overwhelming. The only player they’re missing is Roman Shirokov, which at least makes them fit enough to look rusty together and not try and patch things up like Dortmund seem to be doing from match to match. Shirokov has been the team’s top scorer in Europe this season with 5 goals.
It’s never easy playing in St. Petersburg, and Dortmund’s away form in the league has been sketchy. However, in Europe, it was only a red card to their goalkeeper in the group stage opener against Napoli that deprived them from a perfect away record, beating Arsenal and Marseille.
Zenit aren’t a team that attack senseless and apply unbearable pressure when playing at home. Hulk and Danny are in charge of the creativity, but they key will be Axel Witsel and the rest of the midfield unit trying to make the most of Dortmund struggling to dictate pace and possession like they did in the past with Kehl and Sahin in the middle instead of the first, obvious, injured choices.
Prediction – Dortmund are the better side, but it’s really hard to know when they’ll slip up, going through the motions this season. In-form Zenit might have been the favorites going into this one, but after more than two months without football, they won’t be ready enough to win this match.