KAA Gent travel to Russia for tough Zenit test
On a historic night at the Ghelamco Arena, KAA Gent made history by drawing their first ever Champions League game with a 1-1 draw against Lyon. On the night Matz Sels was a hero with a late penalty save to keep nine-man Gent in the match.
This time Gent will be a more recognised commodity but will nevertheless still go into the match as major underdogs. Hein Vanhaezebrouck will be without Thomas Foket and Brecht Dajaegere after they were sent off against Lyon, paving the way for Thomas Matton to play. The former Kortrijk midfielder has scored on both of his previous substitute appearances in the league. It is also likely that Rafinha will move to the wider right back role after seeing himself pushed out of the back three since Stefan Mitrovic returned to full fitness.
Known domestically for their back three and for playing as a unit, Gent will need all of that togetherness to come to the fore if they are to succeed in Russia.
De Buffalo’s were 3-1 winners at Waasland-Beveren at the weekend but were not as convincing as the scoreline may suggest. They were taken to task by a team that had conceded 10 goals in their previous two matches, and who only conceded their second and third after believing they could push for an equaliser after starting to push against a withdrawn approach from Gent. The reigning champions may well have had one eye on the upcoming European commitments, a fact they are just going to have to deal with as they compete on three fronts.
Zenit are waiting on the fitness of Oleg Shatov who is one of the wide players in their three man attacking midfield with Danny and Hulk that will provide the key to victory against Gent. They will find themselves rushed and hurried though with Sven Kums and Renato Neto sitting deep for Gent and looking to win and then disperse the ball to the attackers as quickly as possible. There was perhaps some surprise that Hein Vanhaezebrouck remained with the attacking 3-5-2 against Lyon for their first Champions League outing, and it will be a test of mettle to see how he sets up in Russia.
Well established among the top teams in Russia, Zenit St Petersburg find themselves in third place and already eight points off leaders CSKA Moscow with no win in their last four league matches. They began the group in spectacular fashion with a 2-3 win in Valencia. Gent may take heart from the fact that Zenit have already conceded 16 goals in all competitions this season – 13 games in total – an uncharacteristically high amount given Zenit’s status in Russian football. That said, a key member of the backline is former Gent man Nicolas Lombaerts who will be eager to impress his fellow countrymen watching back at home as well as Marc Wilmots. Lombaerts’ battle with the in-form Laurent Depoitre could prove pivotal.
Gent, meanwhile, are unbeaten this season but have drawn too many matches leaving them a little off the pace in the league but at this early stage neither team is out of it yet especially with Belgium’s play-off system.
One eye will of course be kept on Lyon and Valencia. Neither team are doing as well as would be expected in their domestic league and while staying in Europe will be Gent’s main aim – even if it is the Europa League – they may fancy their chances of a top two finish if the sputtering starts of their group opponents continues.
Likely line up: Sels; Nielsen, Mitrovic, Asare; Rafinha, Renato Neto, Matton, Kums, Simon; Milicevic, Depoitre