Tactical preview of Twente – Zenit

Posted on 10 March 2011


Twente’s season so far

Twente has had a very respectable season so far. Given the fact that their successful manager Steve McLaren and several influential first team members had left during the summer, a sort of ‘transition season’ might have been expected. But those expectations have been superseded as the club had a respectable Champions League campaign, with home draws against defending European Champions Inter, and against Tottenham and Werder, finishing third in their Champions League Group. In the first Europa League knock-out stage they defeated Russian side Rubin Kazan, with a solid 2-0 away win proving the base for that victory.

In the Eredivisie meanwhile, Twente did very well not to suffer from European hangovers and keeping the pace set by league leaders PSV to be only three points behind in second place now. With only one Eredivisie home defeat and an unbeaten home European record this season, Twente are definitely are tough team to beat at their own ‘Grolsch Veste’. But in order to progress beyond Zenit, they’ll probably have to do better than the previous four European games that all ended in draws.


Zenit’s season so far

Zenit played four matches so far in this season: two in the Europa League against Young Boys (1-2 and 3-1), one in the Russian Cup against the new club of Roberto Carlos, Anzhi (3-2 win), and most recently in the Russian Super Cup against CSKA (1-0 win). These were no one easy matches for manager Spalletti. In the first match, in Switzerland, Zenit’s 4-2-3-1 faced a 3-4-3, and they had a lot of problems, as 3-4-3 might be a smart formation to play against a 4-2-3-1. Keeping the formation narrow, the wing-backs were the key on the flanks, and the three strikers, who played in narrow style too simply outnumbered Zenit defense in quick breaking attacks.

In the home match against Young Boys, Zenit played with pair of wide forwards for the first time in the last two years, and it was a first step to the famous 4-6-0 formation. And indeed, Spalletti did play the 4-6-0 in the second half of the Russian Super cup. Danny and Lazovic, the former PSV man, moved to the wide areas to stretch the opponent’s defense line, and it proved the key to success.

At the moment Zenit has a lot of injured players. Bucharov, Kerzhakov (probably), Semak, Bystrov, Hubocan and Lombaerts are out because of injury, and that’s why Spalletti turns back to 4-6-0, the unconventional formation that he had so much success with in his Roma days of 2007.


Twente’s formation

The presumed starting line-ups, Zenit in this case with Lazovic (or Kerzhakov if fit) as the most advanced midfielder in the 4-6-0 system and Danny on the left wing.

Twente manager Preud’homme enjoyed a short taste of his predecessor’s narrow midfield 4-3-3 formation, but he quickly switched, after two goalless draws to open the season with, to a formal 4-2-3-1, which he now uses in the majority of games. This allows Twente to use the double pivot of two holding midfielders, while at the same time it allows them to field both tall striker Mark Janko and talented striker/midfielder Luuk de Jong. As an alternative, forced by suspensions of injuries, Preud’homme does switch to the 4-3-3 system at times, with Landzaat coming into the squad in central midfield.

Against Zenit a near full-strength 4-2-3-1 line-up is to be expected. But the one injured player happens to be superstar Bryan Ruiz, who still suffers from the consequences of a knee injury that also sidelined him earlier this season. Against AZ, when he was substituted at half time, first Landzaat and later Bajrami replaced him and in the next match against Utrecht, Luuk de Jong was drafted into an unfamiliar right wing role. Both changes did not go all that well, but the option to play Bajrami, a left-footed left winger, on the right wing seems most likely for the Zenit match. A more unlikely option would be to start young Ola John, who made an excellent impression as a substitute in Twente’s most recent game, the 2-0 home victory over NAC. His inexperience though, makes another substitute role more likely.


Zenit’s formation

As stated above, there’s a big chance we will see a formal 4-6-0 come back to European football, although Zenit has usually played 4-2-3-1 formations away from home so far. Without any fit strikers in squad, Spalletti will probably play with Danny and Ionov as wide players and Shirokov in the ‘Totti role’ of most advanced midfielder. Central midfielder Zyryanov will act as the central midfielder that will make runs from deep to the center forward position, and Denisov will act as the holding midfielder. Left winger Danny and Shirokov might also be switching positions, either in the starting line-up or during the game.

Another option for Spaletti: to strengthen the defense on the potential weak left side he can move Danny to a central position instead of Lazovic and field Husti on the left wing.

Another option would be that Shirokov will play beside Zyryanov in the centre of midfield, with the Portuguese star Danny playing as a trequartista and Husti as wide player on the left to offer more defensive cover on that flank. One of the strengths of the 4-6-0 formation is the amount of variety is offers in the midfield positions and this combines very well with the flexibility of the midfielders in Zenit’s squad.

But a constant among all the variety will be Zyryanov’s runs from deep. He is very good at this role and scores a lot of goals for the Russian national team and Zenit in this style. Think for example of his goal for Russia against Greece during Euro 2008.

To be fair, Zenit must be considered as the strongest Russian team at present, with the best manager. Luciano Spalletti is a very experienced man and he won the Super Cup match against CSKA using his huge tactical knowledge that he learned during his time in the Italian Serie A. He simply outplayed CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky in the tactic battle, and Michel Preud’homme should be well aware of Spaletti’s capacities to make excellent in-game adaptations.

The main weakness in Zenit’s squad is their left-back, A. Lukovic. He is not a regular first team player, and when a less defensive minded player like Danny or Shirokov plays on the left wing, there is the potential of a lot of 2v1 situations on that flank.


Twente players to look out for

Luuk de Jong

This 20-year old Dutch talent has missed only one Eredivisie game and no European match so far. He is equally capable of playing as a lone striker or as the man behind Austrian striker Mark Janko, which offers flexibility to his manager. With 17 goals and 11 assists already he will be a key man to watch for Zenit.

From left to right: Chadli, De Jong and Janssen

Theo Janssen

If you say Twente, you say Theo Janssen. The talented midfield is gifted with the best left foot of the Eredivisie and his free kick skills are renowned. He often acts as a deep-lying playmaker beside Twente’s ‘destructive’ midfielder Brama.


Nacer Chadli

A quick rising star in the Eredivisie, Chadli was bought from second tier side AGOVV during the summer and counts as one of the best summer deals made in Holland. He is a skilled dribbler, known for his pace and has scored most of his goals when drifting inside, looking to curl balls into the far post.


Zenit players to look out for


Simply the best attacking midfielder in Russia, who has magnificent dribbling skills, good pace and passing, and he is very good at finishing. His transfer to Zenit cost 30.000.000 euro, and today the Portuguese, who played his first match in Russia six years ago, is a key element of Zenit’s attack. Look at his movement and his technique, and enjoy.

Thirty million euro man Danny

Bruno Alves

Another player whose transfer fee has been exorbitant high. Zenit paid 22.000.000 euro for this central defender – but he prove his value during his fourteen matches in the Russian Premier League last season. With his compatriot Meira he is an essential part of Zenit’s success. But in the last match, against CSKA, both had similar problems with Dumbia’s pace, and this might offer an opportunity for Twente.


Alexandr Anyukov and Konstantin Zyryanov

Both are very experienced members of the first team. Anyukov is the captain of the team and the best full-back in the Russian Premier League. With his movement ability and his solid game in defense he is a British style full-back who plays an important role for Zenit, in defense as well as in attack.

Zyryanov, may not be as quick and resilient as he was three years ago at Euro 2008, but he holds up Zenit’ midfield in defense and still is very dangerous in attack. Like his injured teammate Sergey Semak he is also spiritual leader of the team.


This contribution to 11tegen11 was partly guest-written by Russian tactical blogger Eugeny Shevelev. You can find him on Twitter as @shevelevee or visit his blog here.

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Posted in: Europa League