Preview: Zenit St Petersburg vs. Chelsea

Preview: Zenit St Petersburg vs. Chelsea

Champions League holders Chelsea will be looking to finish top of Group H with a victory away against Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday night.

The hosts, meanwhile, are already bound for the Europa League after a 1-1 with Malmo last time out guaranteed their third-place finish in the group.

For the third successive campaign, Zenit St Petersburg have been eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage; however, this time they have avoided finishing rock bottom after claiming four points from their fixtures against basement club Malmo.

Since their score draw in Sweden last month, the Russian giants have beaten CSKA Moscow 2-0 on the road, before drawing 2-2 at home against FC Rostov last Friday, a game in which they were trailing by two goals before the half-hour mark.

Sergei Semak’s side remain top of the Russian Premier League, two points clear of Dynamo Moscow, who they will face next on Sunday. Although one eye will certainly be on this eagerly-anticipated league clash, Zenit now turn their attention to Wednesday’s battle with Chelsea, which will be their 200th game in European competition – becoming only the second Russian team to reach this milestone after Spartak Moscow.

Zenit’s only previous meeting against the Blues was their opening Group H game earlier this season, when they lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a 69th-minute header from Romelu Lukaku.

After frustrating Chelsea for large spells in London, Semak’s men will be hoping to replicate their performance and come away with a more positive result this time around, to end their group campaign on a high.

Wednesday’s fixture will be the third time Zenit have hosted an English team in Europe and they will be looking to claim their third successive victory, having previously beaten Bradford City 1-0 in the 2000 Intertoto Cup and Liverpool 2-0 in the 2012-13 Europa League.

Chelsea’s 12-game unbeaten run across all competitions came to an end last weekend, as they let a one-goal lead slip twice to lose 3-2 away against London rivals West Ham United.

Despite leading 2-1 at half time thanks to a Thiago Silva header and a brilliant Mason Mount volley, second-half strikes from Jarrod Bowen and Arthur Masuaku – the latter catching Edouard Mendy off guard with a mishit cross in the 87th minute – ensured the Hammers went away with all three points.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel stated after the game that “individual mistakes” have crept into their recent performances which has seen them concede five goals in their last three matches, as many as in their previous 12 across all competitions.

The Blues have now slipped down to third in the Premier League table, two points behind leaders Manchester City, and as keen as they will be to move back to the top-flight summit, their primary focus is now on Wednesday’s final Champions League group game in Russia.

Chelsea have accumulated 12 points from their five Group H matches, claiming four victories by an aggregate score of 10-0, with their only blip away against Juventus in September, when they lost 1-0. The Blues got their revenge against the Italian giants last month, cruising to a 4-0 triumph at Stamford Bridge, meaning a win on Wednesday would guarantee their place at the top of the group.

Tuchel’s side have won each of their three away games against Russian opponents in the Champions League, and could become the first English side since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2003-04 and 2010-11 to win four consecutive games in the competition while keeping a clean sheet.

Zenit St Petersburg Champions League form:
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Zenit St Petersburg form (all competitions):
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Chelsea Champions League form:
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Chelsea form (all competitions):
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We say: Zenit St Petersburg 0-2 Chelsea
Even though Zenit will be fired up to face the Champions League holders, Chelsea have more to play for on Wednesday night as they aim to finish top of the group.

Tuchel is likely to name a strong side at the Krestovsky Stadium, which should have enough quality to claim all three points.

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