Europa League – Zenit Saint Petersburg v Fenerbahçe – Round of 32

Next up in our continuing coverage of Europa League is a match between clubs that entered the round as near equal favorites to advance, but the winner of Leg 1 has now became nearly a 2-to-1 favorite. The winner in this case was Turkish club Fenerbahçe, who prevailed over former favorite Zenit Saint Petersburg last Tuesday.

The match kicks off from Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday, 21 February at 5:55pm GMT (12:55pm EST).

What Happened in Leg 1

This match got the “best of the rest” treatment when we previewed Leg 1, and with good reason. As the seeded club in the matchup, Zenit was favored to win the round, given a 61% chance of making the Round of 16. Instead, the home team came through in the 21st minute on a goal by Islam Slimani and then held the visitors scoreless the remainder of the match, including a penalty right before the half time break.

Fenerbahçe not only won on the scoreboard, but they dominated in nearly all statistical areas as well. They out shot Zenit 14 to 7, aided no doubt by an advantage in corners awarded, as well as overall possession, with the Turkish club possessing the ball for 57% of the match. They also completed more passes (420) than Zenit attempted (374) winning the passing accuracy battle as well (83% to 75%).

What the Experts are Saying

Fenerbahçe’s win improved their chances of advancing to the Round of 16 to 65%, a reversal of the pre-match odds, at least according to our friends at FiveThirtyEight. However, they aren’t giving either club much of a chance to advance beyond the Round of 16, so barring a super strong performance from either club in this one, that will probably remain the case once the draw is announced for the next round.

What We’re Thinking

Fenerbahçe’s Leg 1 victory notwithstanding, the Turkish club has struggled this season. In league play, they are tied with three other clubs with 24 points. This, in itself, isn’t terrible, except that if not for goal differential, they would be in danger of relegation at the end of the season. They had a middling performance during the Europa League group stage, finishing 2-2-2, including 0-1-2 on the road. I don’t like their chances in this one.

According to FiveThirtyEight simulations, Zenit wins Leg 2 in 53% of simulations. But due to the loss in Turkey, they would need to win the match this week by at least two goals to avoid extra time. Zenit has been on break from the Russian Premier League since December, but they have been wire-to-wire leaders this season in the league.

They were also 3-0-0 at home during the group stage, which helped them win the group (by one point) and earn the home match in this round. Despite the long-ish odds against them, they have simply been the better club on a more consistent basis this season, and I think they’ll also win this win to advance to the Round of 16.

Until next time…

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