Zenit v Utrecht
Thursday August 24, 18:00
Zenit St Petersburg have built up a fine tradition in both the Champions League and Europa League in recent years. Last season they reached the knockout phase of the Europa League, the eighth season in a row that has seen them playing continental football after Christmas. They were Europa League quarter-finalists in 2015, and in 2014 they reached the last 16 of the Champions League. They now have Roberto Mancini at the helm, who had European success as a player, and has won a slew of domestic titles as a coach.
However, Zenit are now under pressure, having lost 1-0 in the Netherlands against Utrecht. A tight contest was decided by a late header from Zakaria Labyad, and now Zenit hope to turn the tie around at their new Stadion Petrovskiy. Zenit have won their last four home games in the Russian Premier League, including an eye-catching 5-1 demolition of champions Spartak Moscow. In their last Europa League game in St Petersburg, Zenit were surprisingly beaten by Israeli side Bnei Yehuda, but they had already won the first leg 2-0.
Striker Aleksandr Kokorin has started the season very well, scoring six goals and setting up three more in just seven appearances. Leandro Paredes has settled in well in midfield after his move from Roma, and Daler Kuzyaev has shone since his switch from FK Akhmat.
Utrecht finished fourth in the Eredivisie last season. Coach Erik ten Hag has done a fine job, and his side has made a 100% start to the Eredivisie season, winning both games against ADO Den Haag and Willem Twei. However, against a talented Zenit team with some players on fine form. Utrecht haven't exactly sparkled on the road in this competition - they were held to a draw at Maltese side Valletta, and they had to resist a late fightback in a nerve-shredding 2-2 draw at Polish side Lech Poznan.
Despite Utrecht's fine start to the season, this feels like a big step up for them against quality opposition. Zenit have to push for goals to turn around a 1-0 deficit, and I think they are well capable of winning by more than one goal. To illustrate the difference between the two sides in terms of resources - Zenit paid seven million euros more than Utrecht's entire yearly budget to sign Paredes from Roma. Zenit will laso be helped by a sell-out crowd at their new home.
Zenit are 1.95 on the Sportsbook to beat a one-goal handicap, and that's the way I'm heading.
Recommended Bet
Back Zenit -1 on the Sportsbook at 1.95 

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