What rivals do Zenit need to be ashamed of him in the Champions League?
If last season Russia was represented in the Champions League group stage by three teams – Zenit, Lokomotiv and Krasnodar, this year there will be only one. After the relegation of “Spartak” in the third qualifying round, only the champion from St. Petersburg remained in the main European Cup. Sergei Semak’s team will start performing in the Champions League with the group stage, the draw for which will take place in two weeks – on August 26. For the blue-white-blue, remembering their result a year ago, it is alarming, as it was for the red-white before the meetings with Benfica. What lot does Zenit need to be ashamed of it in Europe? We understand the issue.
This time, Zenit will be in the third basket, and not in the first one, as before. This means that the Russian champions will not get the teams from the third basket. In addition, we exclude Ukrainian clubs – Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk – from the list of potential rivals of St. Petersburg, if, of course, the Pitmen qualify.
Many potential rivals of Semak’s team in the group stage are already known. Let’s start with the tops:
First basket: Chelsea (England), Villarreal (Spain), Atlético (Spain), Manchester City (England), Bayern (Germany), Inter (Italy), Lille (France), Sporting (Portugal).
Obviously, the most preferred options from the first basket are Sporting and Lille. The Lisbon Lions unexpectedly became Portuguese champions last season after 19 years. This story is reminiscent of the story of Spartak under Massimo Carrera. Everyone praises the young 36-year-old Sporting coach Ruben Amorim. But in European competition Amorim has nothing to boast about. His Braga lost to the Scottish Rangers in the 2019/2020 Europa League qualification (2: 3 away and 0: 1 at home), and Sporting lost to Austrian LASK a year ago in the selection for the LE (1: 4). In addition to this transfer window, a Lisbon club may sell top players.
Lille became a sensation last season in France, taking the gold in Ligue 1. However, in the summer, the Dogs lost the main creator of the championship – coach Christophe Galtier. The club appointed Josselin Gurvennek to the vacant position, who can hardly be called a successful specialist. The most striking episode of his career is the victory with Guingamp in the French Cup in 2014. Gurvennek also worked with Bordeaux, but he didn’t remember anything there.
True, in Lille he started with a victory over PSG in the French Super Cup (1: 0), but the Parisians played without Neymar, Kilian Mbappé and a number of other stars. And in the first round of Ligue 1, Lille lost points in the away match with Metz (3: 3). In addition, the dogs have sold a group of valuable players for a total of € 49.4 million. It seems that Lille will return to their usual positions in the new season.
Zenit is, perhaps, able to play on equal terms with the champions of Portugal and France. Recall that in the first Champions League under Semak, the team took away four points from Lyon and three points from Benfica.
Basket two: Real (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), Juventus (Italy), Manchester United (England), PSG (France), Liverpool (England), Sevilla ( Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany).
Oddly enough, the second basket looks even scarier than the first. Even after Leo Messi leaves, Barcelona will remain a space for any Russian team, and now there is nothing to say about PSG. On paper, Borussia and Sevilla are weaker than the rest, but we remember how Zenit ended up with Dortmund last season. In general, it does not matter who the champions of Russia will get from this eight. Maybe it’s even better to get the strongest one. Let one team roll out all the opponents, and three fight in the group for the second place. It is not a shame to the conventional PSG and to lose big – but the Russian fans will see Messi live with Neymar and Mbappé.
But the composition of the third and fourth groups will still change after the completion of the play-off round of qualification. It all depends on the rating of the teams. While the layouts are as follows.
Third basket: Porto (Portugal, rating – 87,000), Ajax (Netherlands, 82,500), RB Leipzig (Germany, 66,000), Atalanta (Italy, 50,500), Zenit (Russia, 50,000) …
Third or fourth basket: Besiktas (Turkey, 49,000), Dynamo (Kiev, Ukraine, 47,000).
Fourth basket: Club Brugge (Belgium, 35,500), AC Milan (Italy, 31,000), Wolfsburg (Germany, 14,714).
Six more participants in the group stage will be determined by the results of the matches:
Monaco (France, 36,000) – Shakhtar (Ukraine, 79,000)
Benfica (Portugal, 58,000) – PSV (Netherlands, 29,000)
Red Bull Salzburg (Austria, 59,000) vs. Brøndby (Denmark, 7,000)
Young Boys (Switzerland, 35,000) vs. Ferencváros (Hungary, 13,500)
Malmo (Sweden, 18,500) – Ludogorets (Bulgaria, 28,000)
Sheriff (Moldova, 14,500) – Dynamo (Zagreb, Croatia, 44,500)
If we assume that the winners in each pair of the playoff round will be teams with a higher rating, then, as a result, Besiktas, Club Brugge, Milan, Wolfsburg, Young Boys will get into the fourth basket in the draw, Ludogorets, as well as Dynamo Zagreb and Kiev. Throwing away the champions of Ukraine – and we get seven potential rivals for Zenit.
Of course, I would like to avoid meetings with Milan and Wolfsburg – representatives of the top leagues in Europe. Club Brugge has bad memories of last season, so let the Belgians go to someone else. But you can fight with Besiktas, Young Boys, Ludogorets and Dynamo from Zagreb, they are unlikely to offer any unique intensity for the RPL. It seems that the Bulgarian team is slightly inferior in class to the others.
Thus, we wish Zenit a meeting at the group stage with Sporting, PSG and Ludogorets. If Lille falls out of the first basket, it means that PSG will not come from the second. After all, both clubs represent France.
By the way, the Champions League final of the 2021/2022 season will take place in St. Petersburg at the Gazprom Arena. It’s a pity, but club football in Russia is at such a level that the chances of seeing Zenit in this match are zero.