Villarreal has been drawn for the next round with Dinamo Zagreb, so let’s learn a bit more about them.
Like many clubs in the Balkans, Dinamo Zagreb was founded by the communist authorities after WWII. They were founded on June 8, 1945 by a decree establishing the FD Dinamo society, but Dinamo traces back their history to Gradanski Zagreb, a football team founded on 1911 that was dissolved by the communist authorities on June 6, 1945. Part of their claims are based on that the backbone of the team, the shirt, administrative staff and the fanbase was inherited from them, while in the 60s they adopted a badge similar to the one of Gradanski. Their ground, Maksimir, was inherited from another Croatian club dissolved by the authorities on that date, in this case HASK Zagreb.
They competed in the Yugoslavian championship where they won it four times. They also won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1967 becoming the first Croatian side to win a major trophy in Europe. They were also protagonists in an infamous episode in 1990 when hosting Red Star of Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda). A riot erupted on the stand that also left iconic images as Boban, of later fame with Milan, kicking a policeman and the Dinamo fanbase making a human shield to protect him. That episode has been claimed by some journalists to be what sparkled the Croatian War of Independence. In 1992, they joined the Croatian league where they have won 21 of the 29 editions, with the 30th (2020/21 season) being led by them. Their major rivalries are against Hajduk Split (the Eternal derby) and Rijeka, plus Serbian sides Red Star and Partizan. They have a minor rivalry with crosstown team Zagreb.
The usual setup for Dinamo Zagreb is a 1-4-3-3 offensive-oriented where their star, Majer, plays as an attacking midfielder, with Orsic on the left-wing. Ivanusec/Atiemwen and Petkovic/Gavranovic complete the attacking part. Jakic and Misic tend to be the starters at the defensive midfielder acompanying Ademi (who missed the three latest league matches) The defensive line tend to sport some changes. Gvardiol is the starting CB/LB when healthy, with Lauritsen and Theophile being widely used. At the goal there’s no doubts with Livakovic being the goalkeeper
Some particularly interesting facts of this is both wingers will prefer to play on the inside so allowing the lateral lane free for the fullbacks to add themselves to the attack. That way, they can manage to pin down the whole defensive line of their rivals, while at the same time helping to generate superiority thanks to Majer dropping down there. Thus, the line-up for Dinamo can end up looking as a 1-4-2-4 easily. They also use both leftbanks to gain wide at the attack and they tend to incorporate themselves into the attack during the matches.
When defending, they drop down to a more defensively 1-4-4-2. They will try to orient it towards the lines instead so as to not let an easy build of play through the center. Nevertheless, their pressing is not so good, so a team can end up managing to get some chances during the course of the match, thanks in part on the front two not tracking down, which once you have entered the rival third, you will be facing the defensive line plus midfielders, and depending how much are you pushing it, with the wide areas for you to play and help creating spaces on the inside. Part of this is also the trust they have on their keeper, the best one in their league, while also having one of the best rosters on the league and base their playing on having possession. If the press after loss doesn’t work, they will try to hold you in their half of the field to recover the ball and launching a quick attack.
Players to watch
Lovro Majer is for me the one to watch. He has drawn a lot of comparisons from former Dinamo Zagreb player Luka Modric for his style of play being similar albeit with a more offensive presence. He came through the youth system of Dinamo Zagreb before moving on to other Zagreb clubs and finishing his formation at Lokomotiva Zagreb, a closely associated team for Dinamo Zagreb (more on that down below). He debuted for them at the 1. HNL at 18 and after scoring 3 goals and recording 11 assists, the next season he reversed it scoring 11 goals and assisting for an additional 5, thus returning to Dinamo Zagreb. He’s the kind of player that likes the ball to his feet instead to the space, being a hard-working player with a natural talent to find the correct pass in attack or the end of the net, being able to kick the ball with both feet without much a problem. He’s also dangerous on free kicks, for which he tends to step up.
The most recent controversy has been the sentencing to jail for Zoran Mamic, their coach during the season, and who stepped down after the sentence, leaving his second in-comman Damir Krznar as the coach for the remainder of the season. The charges brought against him are for fraud, which counts embezzlement of circa 13 million euros, tax evasion and siphoning circa 15 million euros out of Dinamo from player transfers.
Another controversy they have had deals with Lokomotiva Zagreb. Founded in 1947, where a minor team until 2006 when they signed a deal with Dinamo to become their feeder team. This gave them a high rise in Croatian football, landing in the top flight after three consecutives promotions, their first top flight season after 52 years. Due to rules about second teams playing in the same level as the parent club, they officially severed ties with Dinamo but a lot of clubs and fans has claimed that unofficially they are still working together, bringing back the numerous cases of players jumping from one club to another (unusually high) or that they have fixed their matches. On the latter, there’s even a paper talking about the underperformance of Lokomotiva against Dinamo.