This was the first match between these two teams in their history. Fenerbahce has huge problems this season: Ersun Yanal is already the third man to take the job this campaign, as the previous two managers, Phillip Cocu and Erwin Koeman, got sacked in the process. Yanal was appointed on December 14th, 2018, and after 21 games in the Turkish Super Lig, Fenerbahce has only five wins to their name, and are 14th place on the table, with only one point above the relegation zone.
Also, it might be worth mentioning that they were eliminated from the Turkish Cup. Second-tier side, Ümraniyespor, eliminated them. Fenerbahce played in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, but after two matches, Benfica was the better side and sent the Turks to the UEFA Europa League, group D, together with Dinamo Zagreb, Spartak Trnava, and Anderlecht. The Turkish team recorded two wins, both at home, against Anderlecht and Spartak Trnava. At the end of the group stage, Fenerbahce had eight points after six matches. That was enough to give them second place in a generally horrible season. At this point, only with a good appearance in the Europa League can they save it.
Zenit waited for the game in a much better mood. After 17 games in the Russian Premier League, Zenit is in the first place on the table. But, they lost the last two games in the league. Just like their counterpart Fenerbahce, Zenit were also eliminated from their domestic Cup and started the UEFA Europa League competition from the third qualifying round. In that round, they eliminated Dinamo Minsk, and then in the playoff round, they got the better of Molde.
Zenit were in group C, together with Bordeaux, Slavia Prague, and Copenhagen. After six matches, Zenit took the first place in the group with a total of 11 points. Sergei Semak is their manager as he was appointed on May 29th, 2018.
As for this clash, Fenerbahce has an advantage because they had a season break. In Turkish football, the duration of the season break is around one month. In 2019, Fenerbahce played four games. Duration of the season break in Russian football is around three months. The first part of the season ends in December and the second part of the season starts in March so Zenit didn’t play any football for nearly two months. That was a huge advantage for Fenerbahce right of the bat.
Fenerbahce has played in many different formations this season. But, their new manager, Yanal has opted for 4-2-3-1 most of the time, including this game. In this transfer window, five new players joined the team: Sadik Ciftpinar, Serdar Aziz, Tolgay Arslan, Miha Zajc, and Victor Moses. Moses, ex-West Ham United, and Liverpool player joined Fenerbahce from Chelsea on an eighteen-month loan deal. Ciftpinar and Moses were already in the first 11.
Semak experimented with formations this season so Zenit has played in many systems like 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 3-5-2, 3-4-2-1 etc. In this match, Semak decided to go for a 4-4-1-1 formation. In the winter transfer window, Leandro Paredes left Zenit and joined PSG. He was a very important player for the Russian but in his absence came a number of other players. Sardar Azmoun, Wilmar Barrios and Yaroslav Rakitskiy joined the team in the winter transfer window. Barrios and Rakitskiy took their place in the first 11 in this match.
Fenerbahce was the better team in the first half. They dominated possession with 65%. From the very start, Fenerbahce pressed high, and Zenit could not deal with it. When the Turks pressed them in a high block, they usually did it with four or even five players, as can be seen in the image below. Other players stayed back and man-marked Zenit’s players, and disabled them to secure numerical superiority in the first line of build-up play.
In this situation, Zenit had four players in the back line plus the goalkeeper. Fenerbahce pressed them with four players. They closed down all short passing options which forced the goalie to go long. Fenerbahce’s players at the back marked Zenit’s player, so they couldn’t win the ball back.
Usually, Fenerbahce defended in 4-1-4-1 in a middle block. They were concentrated in the central area. They usually left three players in the first build up line free and marked all the other players, especially players in the central area. Then, one player, usually Slimani, tried to manipulate these three players to force them to clear the ball rather than build from the back. The general pattern was to force Rakitskiy long.
In this image, we can see Fenerbahce’s middle block. They occupied the central zone. Jailson marked Barrios. Slimani left Kranevitter to play the ball to Rakitsky and then closed him down. Also, he uses his cover shadow to negate Kranevitter and Ivanović.
When Fenerbahce organized the attack, central midfielder Topal dropped deep to help in the build-up play. He dropped between centre-backs or to the right side as the right center back. But Fenerbahce had a lot of problems in build-up play, especially in the first minutes of the match. Despite that, they achieved numerical superiority, their position was not good and they had to go long. When they played long, Slimani was their target. He dropped deep for aerial duels and positioned himself between midfield and defence lines. In build-up play, Slimani often dropped deep and Elmas went forward. The latter was dangerous and had two chances.
In this image, we can see six of Fenerbahce’s players plus the goalkeeper versus four Zenit’s players. Still, the goalkeeper was forced long. Fenerbahce’s players positioning wasn’t good enough. Also, they didn’t have enough composure on the ball.
In the attacking phase, Fenerbahce played in a 3-4-3 formation, and attacked with seven players. Topal dropped deep to help the centre-backs while full-backs Isla and Kaldirim pushed higher. Kaldirim generally played in the wide area but Isla also usually played just as wide, but sometimes also moved in the central area. The wingers, however, stayed wide most of the time.
Far side winger moved to the central area and both full-backs secured width and the one ont he opposite side offered ball switching options. Attacking midfielder Elmas and central midfielder Jailson also joined the attack constantly. Valbuena moved all over the pitch and tried to dictate tempo. In general, the Turks attacked down the flanks, especially down the right. Moses, Valbuena, and Isla were their key players. Moses started as a right winger and Valbuena started as the left winger but they switched positions several times during the first half. The plan was to isolate Isla on the right side.
In this image, Fenerbahce’s exploitation of the right side of the pitch is shown. Five players occupied the central zone. Moses moved himself to the half-space area and pinned the left back down. Isla was free.
In 21th minute Slimani scored a goal. Valbuena took a corner kick and after a bounced ball, Slimani scored. Combinations on the right side were more unpredictable. On the left side, however, Kaldirim and the left winger (especially Moses) stayed wide and tried to secure a good position in 2v2 situations. Fenerbahce’s press worked very well as they successfully disabled Zenit’s ball progress and also secured themselves a good transition.
This is an interesting situation in the image and an example of a wide rotation. Moses cut inside with the ball, Elmas went into the half-space area and Slimani went to the central zone.
A situation when Valbuena won the ball But made a bad decision. He had a good passing option to Slimani, but he chose to carry the ball instead.
Zenit’s press was their best part of the game in the first half, especially in the first period of the first half. They forced Fenerbahce long. But in other aspects of the game, they had huge problems.
Zenit’s players pressed in the 4-4-2 middle block. They closed down all passing options and forced Ciftpinar long.
When Fenerbahce broke the first pressing line, Zenit retreated to the low block. They defended with eight or even nine players and were very narrow and formed two lines with four players. Their lines were also very close to each other as can be seen below.
Zenit’s deep block. Eight players are in the penalty area.
Zenit’s block was very narrow and left wide areas free. Dzyuba and Driussi stayed forward with the latter coming back to help the defence. This was a problem for Zenit. When they won the ball and passed it to Dzyuba or Driussi they were without support which left them in 2vs3 situations. If Dzyuba was alone, then he had a 1vs3 situation, which was far from ideal.
Zenit was harmless in the first half and recorded only two shots and had 35% of ball possession. In the build-up play, Kranevitter dropped deep to help the centre-backs. He usually positioned himself between them. We saw how Fenerbahce pressed Zenit. They closed down Barrios and forced them long. In that case, Zenit’s back players played long to wide players. But Fenerbahce’s side backs had enough time for an intervention. So, Zenit attacks were totally harmless.
Kranevitter dropped between centre-backs. Rakitskyi played the ball to Barrios, but Jailson closed him down.
Long ball to Nabiullin. But Isla had enough time for an intervention.
A few times Zenit broke the first pressing line, but after that, they made some bad decisions. After Topal’s mistake, the referee points to the penalty spot in the 44th minute. Robert Mak took this penalty but he missed.
The ball is played to Hernani. He had free space but his body shape was not good enough. He did not notice the space shown in the image above. He could’ve carried the ball, but he passed it to the left-back Nabiullin. We can see the free space behind him.
Both sides pressed high at the start of the second half and both teams went long and made many mistakes in the passing game. Fenerbahce were not dominant in the second half like in the first half while Zenit had 52% of ball possession in the second half and had five shots at goal while Fenerbahce had six. But, when we look at the whole match, Fenerbahce had double the attempts of Zenit.
Zenit’s high press. They pressed six Fenerbahce’s players with four players. Like in the first half, Fenerbahce’s players weren’t composed on the ball. Also, off the ball movement wasn’t good. They stood too close to each other and Zenit closed them down easily.
But from the 50th minute, the press of both teams was with much less intensity. Zenit’s build-up play in the second half was much better than in the first half. Kranevitter dropped between centre-backs. Barrios also dropped deeper to help in build-up play. Isla and Kaldirim secured width for Fenerbahce and the front three midfield players had freedom. They switched positions and moved all over the pitch.
Moses went forward and Zenit’s player went after him. Elmas moved to Moses’ place and was unmarked. Isla passed the ball to Elmas.
Kranevitter dropped between the centre-backs. Barrios dropped deeper too and he was unmarked. The goalkeeper played the ball to him as Valbuena left him alone.
Fenerbahce was the better team in the first 15 minutes of the second half. They had more goalscoring chances. But Zenit was better in the attacking phase in the second half than in the first half. Fenerbahce’s press was not intensive enough like in the first half and that made Zenit’s ball progression easier.
Driussi moved to the half-space area. Mak cut inside and Dzyuba passed the ball to him. Mak used his marker’s blind side and ran past him.
Zenit were a big threat from set-pieces while Fenerbahce waited for counter attacks. Zenit had five corners in the second half, and the Turks only one. Fenerbahce attacked down the flanks. Slimani was their target in the penalty area. Serdar Azmoun replaced Driussi on the 73rd minute. Azmoun joined Dzyuba in the attack which made Zenit switch to the 4-4-2 formation.
Zenit’s 4-4-2 formation. But, Fenerbahce defended in the deep block.
We can see pass networks of both teams. Fenerbahce dominated the game. Valbuena was a central figure and he had the most touches in his team. All the players were well connected. Zenit, on the other hand, had problems. Centre-backs, Ivanović and Rakitskyi, and midfielder Barrios had the most touches while the front three players Driussi, Dzyuba and Mak were almost completely isolated. Each of them had under 20 touches in this match. They did not exchange many passes between themselves.
Valbuena vs Driussi
Valbuena was a key player in Fenerbahce’s win against Zenit. He received 45 passes in 90 minutes. This versatile player moved all over the pitch and dictated tempo. He started as a left winger but he often switched positions with Moses, who started as the right winger. Zenit’s attacking midfielder Driussi had a bad game. He was substituted in the 73rd minute while only having received 12 passes, half of them in own half.
Zenit was the clear favourite before the match because Fenerbahce is having a really bad season. But, the Turks were the better side and deserved their win. They pressed high and disabled the opposition’s attacking game, especially in the first half. Leandro Paredes left Zenit and that was a huge loss for their build-up play. This is a big victory for Fenerbahce and it could help them fix their season a bit.
Only time will tell.
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