Achieving Champions League qualification in their debut top-flight season, RB Leipzig’s “Expedition Europa” was always going to be a test of the club’s credentials. Despite being drawn in a group with Beşiktaş, Porto and last season’s semi-finalists, AS Monaco, the Germans were able to prove themselves against Europe’s top clubs, securing seven points and a place in the Europa League.
Accompanied into UEFA’s secondary club competition by some of Europe’s elite, Leipzig were set one of, if not the toughest assignment of their short existence, as Napoli would be their first Europa League opponents. Travelling to Naples for the first leg, the visitors would provide their fans with a night that won’t be forgotten any time soon. Producing a fearless, attacking performance that would see them claim a 3-1 win at the Stadio San Paolo. Timo Werner’s 93rd minute goal eventually meant that Leipzig progressed on away goals after Napoli leveled the aggregate scoreline with a 2-0 win in East Germany.
Continuing their maiden voyage, a trip to Russia is on the cards, as Die Bullen prepare to face Roberto Mancini’s Zenit St. Petersburg in the round of 16. Scraping past Utrecht and Israel’s Bnei Yehuda in qualification, Zenit ran riot in Group L; attaining 16 points and scoring 17 goals en route to the competition’s knock-out phase. Extending their record to eight consecutive seasons with European football after the winter period, the 2008 UEFA Cup winners came up against another Champions League dropout in Celtic, and were outclassed by the Glaswegians. Somehow only losing by one goal to nil. But a week later, the five-time Russian champions were able to overturn the deficit and progress with a 3-0 home win.
Zenit’s preparations for these fixtures have been far from ideal. Due to adverse weather conditions during Russian winters, they’ve only been able to partake in three competitive fixtures in almost three months. Two versus Celtic in the previous round and one at the weekend against Amkar Perm in a heated return to domestic action, which saw three players receive their marching orders.
Date: Thursday March 8, 2018 | Thursday March 15, 2018
Kick-off: 21:05 (CET) | 19:00 (CET)
Venue: Red Bull Arena | Saint Petersburg Stadium (capacity: 56,196)
Referee: Ovidiu Hațegan (Romania) | Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Broadcasting: BT Sports 2 (UK), Sky Sports 3 (Germany), Fox Sports 2 (USA) | BT Sports ESPN (UK), Sky Sports 3 (Germany), Fox Sports 1 (USA)
Form In Europe
L | W | L | W | L
Zenit St. Petersburg
D | W | W | L | W
Injured: Marcel Halstenberg (cruciate ligament rupture)
Absent: Ademola Lookman (ineligible)
Zenit St. Petersburg
Injured: Viktor Fayzulin (knee)
Suspended: Leandro Paredes (first leg)
One To Watch
Part of the Argentine contingency at Zenit, Leandro Paredes will have an important role in helping his side to progress into the quarter-final, despite being suspended for the first leg. Known for his composure and technical gift, the 23-year-old will be the focal point in Zenit’s overall build-up, evading Leipzig’s press and allowing his side spring into their trademark counter-attack. Even if the Germans are able to contain the midfield prodigy, they’ll need to be wary of giving away set-pieces, as Paredes has the capability to shoot from distance or exploit Leipzig’s main weakness this season by whipping in a cross onto the head of one of his teammates.
Laimer – Orban – Upamecano – Klostermann
Kampl – Keïta
Sabitzer – Bruma
Poulsen – Werner
Zenit St. Petersberg
Smolnikov – Mevlja – Mammana – Criscito
Erokhin – Kranvitter – Kuzyaez
Rigoni – Kokerin – Zabalotnyi
RB Leipzig 3-1 Zenit St. Petersberg | Zenit St. Petersberg 2-1 RB Leipzig