Villarreal are in St. Petersburg to take on Zenit. It’s cold and snowy but the stadium is covered and the pitch looks green as we prepare for this round of 16 clash.
Villarreal took the following players to Russia: Asenjo, Andrés Fernández, Barbosa, Mario, Miguelón, Álvaro, Funes Mori, Víctor Ruiz, Pedraza, Jaume Costa, Cáseres, Cazorla, Iborra, Fornals, Raba, Bacca, Gerard Moreno, Toko Ekambi, Chukwueze, Morlanes, Quintillà y Ramón Bueno.
Javi Fuego is out, then, and we know one of the keepers will drop off. So probably it will be Andrés in goal, Ruiz-Funes Mori-Alvaro as the back three, and Caceres and Iborra (?) in the middle of midfield—and I presume Gerard up front.
Zenit’s main goal scorer is the immensely tall Artem Dzyuba, and he’s been joined by Sardar Azmoun, who is as tall as Funes Mori and Ruiz and is good in the air. So I think we can expect an aerial bombardment of sorts, especially from dead-ball situations.
At least if you believe Whoscored, Zenit are over-achieving in the Russian league; they’re on top even though four teams (including Spartak Moscow, whom we played in the group stage) have a higher team score. But Zenit will be a tougher proposition than Spartak, not least because we have had a few more months living in the relegation zone of La Liga.
At the press conference today both Gerard and Javi Calleja talked about how the league was the most important, but we want to progress in Europe as well.
Prediction: I think the teams are probably pretty even, but in terms of motivation and home support, Zenit obviously has the edge. 2-0 to the home side.