Zenit St Petersburg vs BenficaUEFA Champions League, KO: 20:00 Oct 2, 2019, Gazprom Arena
ZENIT St Petersburg will be aiming to build upon their solid start in Group G when they welcome Benfica to the Gazprom Arena on Wednesday night.
The Russians earned a point away at Lyon on matchday one, while Benfica will be looking to get off the mark in St Petersburg after losing 2-1 at home to RB Leipzig.
Domestically both sides have enjoyed fairly solid starts to their respective seasons with Zenit joint-second in the Russian Premier League and Benfica sitting second in the Portuguese top-flight – one point behind surprise leaders Famalicao.
Bruno Lage's side have responded positively to their setback against Leipzig, having since recorded back-to-back league wins against Moreirense and Setubal respectively.
Zenit on the other hand narrowly lost out away to Lokomotiv Moscow on Saturday – with the capital club squeezing out a 1-0 win.
However, the weekend before last Zenit crushed Rubin Kazan 5-0 at home, so all things considered this tussle is a tough one to call.
A rowdy Russian home crowd could certainly help give Zenit the edge in this encounter and they will be hoping their towering target-man Artem Dzyuba can take down the Eagles.
Dzyuba recently scored against Scotland for Russia and he has netted five times in 11 appearances for Zenit this term.
The powerful forwards aerial prowess will present Benfica's backline with problems and I like the look of the 6/4 (Ladbrokes) on offer for the big battering-ram to make the net bulge.
With striker Haris Seferovic failing to replicate his fine form from last season and after cashing in on wonderkid Joao Felix during the Summer, it would appear that Benfica don't have a talisman to turn towards for inspiration.
The Lisbon sides top goalscorer this season is midfielder Pizzi who has netted six times in seven league outings and he is 3/1 (PaddyPower) to find the net in St Petersburg.
Switching gears, it might also be worth exploring the card markets whilst focusing on a Zenit side who have clocked up over 2.5 cards in five of their last seven Russian Premier League outings.
What's more, Sergei Semak saw four of his Lions land in the referees notebook against Lyon and given the fact that the Russians are regularly receiving cards backing over 2.5 Zenit bookings appeals at Evens (UniBet) against a technically gifted Benfica team.
In terms of separating the sides I'm going to steer clear of the goals markets on account of Benfica only scoring once in their last two games, not to mention Zenit failed to score on Saturday.
Furthermore, over 2.5 goals would only have landed on two occasions in Benfica's last five games and only three times in Zenit's last 12 matches – and as such a goal fest at the Gazprom arena looks unlikely.
Both sides recent inconsistencies also points towards a closely-fought affair, however, I'm leaning towards a home win here partly due the fact Benfica have lost eight of their last 13 fixtures outside of Portugal.
In addition to that Zenit have won 11 of their last 13 home matches in Europe and after making a positive start to their Champions League campaign a fortnight ago they will be aiming to take maximum points in their own backyard to enhance their quest to qualify for the knockout phase.
With group G ante -post favourites Leipzig and Lyon locking horns on the same night – something has to give in Germany – and I fancy Zenit to capitalise by bagging three points at home to Benfica at the aforementioned price of 13/10 (William Hill)
This UEFA Champions League match between Zenit St Petersburg and Benfica will be played on Oct 2, 2019 and kick off at 20:00