Zenit St. Petersburg hosts Real Betis in the first leg of the Europa League 1/16 finals. The match will be played on Thursday, February 17th at Gazprom Arena (Saint Petersburg)
Zenit began its performances in European competitions from the group stage of the Champions League. The Blue-White-Sky Blues took third place in Group H and moved to the Europa League, scoring five points in six matches against Chelsea (0-1 and 3-3), Juventus (0-1 and 2-4), and Malmö FF (4-0 and 1-1). Zenit has not played in official tournaments for more than two months. In winter, the club arranged an active transfer campaign. Forward Serdar Azmoun made the move to Bayer Leverkusen, while defender Arsen Adamov, as well as forwards Yuri Alberto and Ivan Sergeev came to the team. The Blue-White-Sky Blues returned from vacation in January and played friendly matches against Emirates Club (3-0), Botev (2-2), and Zilina (5-0). In February, Zenit took part in the friendly Atlantic Cup. Semak’s men defeated Midtjylland (1-0), Copenhagen (1-1 and 3-2 on penalties), and Brondby (2-1). And they won this tournament for the 2nd time in their history.
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Real Betis started its way in the Europa League from the group stage. The Green-Whites finished second in Group G with ten points. They faced Bayer Leverkusen (1-1 and 0-4), Celtic (4-3 and 2-3), and Ferencváros (3-1 and 2-0). Unlike Zenit, which just got back from vacation, Betis is in a good playing tone. Pellegrini’s men have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions. They are ranked third in the LaLiga standings and seriously claim a ticket to the Champions League. As for the Spanish Cup, the Sevillians are one step away from reaching the final after the away victory over Rayo Vallecano in the first semifinal leg (1-2). On February 13, Betis scored three points in the away match against the weakest team in the league, Levante (2-4). Nabil Fekir scored a brace, and Edgar Gonzalez and William Carvalho also upset the opponents’ goalkeeper.
Zenit will play in front of their native stands, and this will be an important trump card for them in the upcoming match. However, the playing condition of the reigning champions of Russia is in question. In addition, Zenit’s personnel problems in the goalkeeper and defensive line will create additional difficulties, and Serdar Azmoun’s departure will negatively affect their teamwork in the attack. Betis is in very good shape. Fekir’s disqualification weakened the attacking potential of the Spaniards, but Pellegrini has the rest of the team leaders at his disposal. If the Green-Whites show their best game, they will be able to gain a comfortable lead ahead of the second leg.