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Champions League Preview: Borussia Dortmund Face Zenit St. Petersburg

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Can BVB finally get their Champions League campaign running?

UEFA Champions League, Group Stage: Zenit St Petersburg vs Club Brugge Photo by Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images

There’s no rest for the weary and no rest for Borussia Dortmund. Only a few days after their resounding 3-0 victory in the Revierderby, BVB will return to the Champions League looking for their first win in the 2020-21 group stage. This time, they’ll be hosting Zenit St. Petersburg, last year’s Russian Premier League champions, at the Westfalenstadion.

Both BVB and Zenit were considered favorites heading into matchday one of the Champions League, but both suffered bitter defeats instead. We all know that BVB were uninspiring against Lazio, but Zenit had a similarly disappointing performance against Club Brugge. Brugge took the lead on the hour mark, but Zenit equalized in the 76th minute after Brugge’s goalkeeper suffered a rather unfortunate ricochet that led to an own goal. However, the Russians eventually capitulated in the final minute of stoppage time to lose 2-1. As the “pot one” team of Group F, they were heavily favored, but now they face a significant uphill battle to qualify for the Round of 16.

Zenit St. Petersburg have also gotten off to a rocky start in their campaign to defend their RPL title. Zenit currently sit in third place, behind Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow. Their most recent match was a 2-1 defeat at home against Rubin Kazan, one of Russia’s historically elite clubs. Their joint goalscoring leaders are Sardar Azmoun, dubbed by some as “The Iranian Messi” and Artem Dzyuba, the towering six-foot-five center forward. These two players are tied with six goals apiece, and along with Aleksandr Erokhin represent Zenit’s primary attacking threats.

It’s tempting to write off Zenit St. Petersburg because they come from a weaker league. They certainly don’t hold a candle to the other Pot 1 clubs that BVB could’ve drawn like Real Madrid or PSG, but that doesn’t mean they should be underestimated. Just earlier today, Lokomotiv Moscow gave Bayern Munich a real challenge. Although the Bavarians managed to win in the end, it took quite a fight from the German side that was heavily favored headed into the match.

Predicted Lineup

As far as injuries go, BVB are looking pretty good. Emre Can tested positive for COVID-19 and Zagadou is still hurt, but other than that BVB’s squad is mostly healthy and fully fit. Lucien Favre also rotated pretty heavily against Schalke, so some of the squad’s key players will be rested as well. With all that said, I expect the lineup to look something like this:

I believe that BVB’s positive experience with the 4-2-3-1 against Schalke will influence Favre’s game-day decisions. Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji were exceptional manning BVB’s backline on Saturday, Meunier was finally solid as a right back, and Raphael Guerreiro was superb as a left back, so it makes sense that Favre would run out the same formation again. The difference this time is that instead of Delaney and Dahoud in midfield, who both started against Schalke, Favre may choose to go with Witsel and Bellingham instead, who were rested on Saturday.

I mostly expect the attacking band to stay the same, but Thorgan Hazard may complicate things slightly. Hazard had missed the previous four weeks with a hamstring injury before coming on for a brief cameo against Schalke. I doubt he’s fully fit so I don’t expect him to start for BVB, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes off the bench and gets about a half hour of playing time.

Prediction

I think BVB will build on their momentum from the Revierderby. They’re at home and Zenit are in poor farm to start the season. I expect a close match, but hopefully BVB will pull out a win in the end. I predict a 2-0 win with goals from Reus and Hazard, who I predict will score coming off the bench.