Champions League – Zenit Saint Petersburg v RB Leipzig

The Champions League group stage resumes this week with 16 matches over Tuesday and Wednesday. We aren’t going to cover them all, instead focusing on two matches from each day that are the closest matchups of the week, as well as have the biggest impact on the group tables heading into the homestretch.

As they have been from day one of the Group Stage, Manchester City remains the favorite to win the tournament overall, and have all but won Group C (they have over a 99% chance of claiming first in the group). As we covered last week, they are one of three clubs currently with a perfect record thus far, and a win at home against Atalanta on Wednesday will clinch the group officially.

Our next preview for Tuesday night matches is a close battle between the top two clubs in Group G. Zenit Saint Petersburg, coming off their first loss of the group stage, looks to return the favor against group leader RB Leipzig as the action shifts to Russia. Action will kick off from Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg at 6:55pm CET (12:55pm EST) on Tuesday night.

As we’ve done previously when previewing group stage matches, we’ll take a look at how the clubs are performing back in their domestic leagues, as well as their longer-term history in UEFA competition. Then, we’ll take a look at the clubs’ history and how this match will determine the group’s outcome.

Without further ado, here’s a look at the clubs:

Domestic League Performance

Zenit Saint Petersburg was founded in 1925, and purchased by Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom in 2005. They have found most of their success in the Russian Premier League in the nearly 20 years of Gazprom ownership, including winning last season’s league title, their fifth title in the Gazprom era and sixth overall.

Through 15 matches so far this season, Zenit is again at the top of the table, three points clear of Lokomotiv Moscow and leading the league in goals (30) and goal differential (+22). They are in the midst of a short, four match unbeaten streak (3-1-0), and are led by Russian national team captain Artem Dzyuba, who has scored nine of those goals, one off the league lead.

RB Leipzig has a much shorter history, having been founded only in 2009 when Red Bull GmbH purchased a club playing in the fifth tier of German football with the intention of competing in the Bundesliga within eight seasons. They reached that goal for the 2016-17 season, finishing second in Bundesliga 2 during the 2015-16 season. After a second place finish that season, they qualified for Champions League for the first time and have quickly become a club to reckon with in German (and European) competition.

Through 10 matches this season, they find themselves where they ended last season: third place, with a 5-3-2 record. Those two losses came to two teams currently tied with RB Leipzig with 18 points (SC Freiberg and Schalke 04), but they lead those two clubs (and Bayern Munich) thanks to a league-leading +15 goal differential – and the most goals scored as well.

European History

Both clubs were automatic qualifiers for the group stage this year thanks to those stellar performances last season, though Zenit has the leg up when it comes to European competition.

Zenit has a European title to their name, winning the 2007-08 UEFA Cup Final over Rangers. This is their first appearance in Champions League since they reached the Round of 16 during the 2015-16 competition, and they have never advanced past that round in their eight previous trips to the top European competition. Last season, they reached the Round of 16 in Europa League, losing to Villarreal.

As mentioned above, RB Leipzig’s history at the top of German football is short, but they have played in European competition in the three seasons since reaching the Bundesliga. Their first time in Champions League, during the 2017-18 season, they finished third in their group behind Beşiktaş and Porto. They then went to Europa League and reached the quarterfinals, losing to French club Marseilles. In last season’s Europa League, they had to play through qualifying and reached the group stage, again finishing third.

This Matchup

This season’s Champions League has gone much better for RB Leipzig, and they currently lead Group G with six points. They are coming off of a 2-1 win over Zenit at Red Bull Arena three weeks ago. Zenit is right behind them in second place with four points, and claim second place thanks to a tiebreaker over Lyon.

Despite RB Leipzig’s limited history, these clubs have met previously in European competition, with the German club coming out on top in the Round of 16 during the 2017-18 Europa League. With their win during Matchday 3, RB Leipzig now holds a 2-1-0 record over Zenit with a +2-goal differential, though both victories have now come at home.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the home club is favored in this one, with Zenit given a 44% chance of claiming the three points. RB Leipzig wins in 31% of simulations, and a draw is expected the remaining quarter of matchups.

Overall in the group, RB Leipzig is favored to come out on top, claiming first place 52% of the time. The group remains one of the most competitive groups thus far, with all clubs having at least a 24% chance of advancing through to the Round of 16.

RB Leipzig needed two second half goals to win at home three weeks ago, so they will need to play a more complete match if they want to avoid having to come back yet again. Though they lead the group, they haven’t exactly been as dominant as some of the other current group leaders, so a win in Russia would cement their status as front-runners for a spot in the Round of 16 from the group. I think the Germans take this one, and enter the last two matches in the stage with at least a three-point lead.

Until next time…

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