Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg have a lot to look forward to this season, especially after the signings of Axel Witsel and Hulk. Reuters, citing a source within the club, said that the transfer fee for the two new faces was rumored to be a combined £62 million ($100.66 million).
Last season, the first time the club ever qualified for the European tournament, Zenit posted a second-place finish in its UEFA Champions League Group Stage. Ironically, Axel Witsel was part of the Benfica side that eliminated Zenit in the knockout round.The Belgian international will now have to get adapted quickly to his new club if wants to lead them to the knockout stage for a second consecutive year.
Fifty-three-year-old Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti had to play with extreme caution when his side took on Hulk and Porto in the Group Stage last season. Hulk will be on the Russian side this time around, and the Italian manager can now figure out the best way to unleash the Brazilian forward against his opponents.
Spalletti has enjoyed domestic success since joining Zenit, winning the Russian Cup and Russian Premier League in 2010. The final 16 was as far as he could go in the Champions League last year, but with Witsel and Hulk the Russians could really make a significant run this year.
Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov, and Konstantin Zyryanov will be just three of the hard-working players in the Zenit midfield. Shirokov and Zyryanov can provide some very artistic football and they will have another opportunity to show off their talent to all of Europe this week. Witsel will have to earn his spot, but going forward Zenit looks to be very well taken care of.
Up front for Zenit, Aleksandr Kerzhakov will provide offensive firepower, with Hulk capable of performing in a striker role as well as out wide. When it comes to Hulk, it doesn’t really matter where Spalletti decides to play him because he will find a way to create offense regardless.
Zenit could be an exciting side to watch in the Champions League this season.
With their new signings accenting to the talent they already had, Zenit could well top their group. Getting used to the Russian weather will be a test for Witsel and Hulk, but the two new signings will offer Zenit a lot of versatility going forward, as well as defending in regards to Witsel. His lung capacity and ability to be a box-to-box midfielder for most, if not all of the game, is impressive, but the cold Russian temperatures could take a toll on his stamina.
With AC Milan rebuilding, Zenit could potentially take first place in Group C.