Preview: SL Benfica vs FC Zenit

UCL 2016. Round of 16. Leg 1.

Portuguese side SL Benfica host Russian side FC Zenit to open UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday. Top-of-the-table in Primeira Liga, Benfica will face Portuguese coach André Villas-Boas and three former players among the visitors from St. Petersburg. A strong performance in Lisbon would go along way for FC Zenit who look to defeat Las Aguilas to earn its first appearance in the UCL Quarterfinals.

Benfica finished second in Group C with 10 points, and Zenit finished first in Group H with 15. The visualizations below depict the patterns established during the six group stage matches of each team.


Data provided by Opta

Benfica created the majority of their opportunities slightly right of center where the larger hexagons are. Those chances led to seven of Las Aguilas’ nine goals in the group stage, clearly marking that area as a risk to its opponent. Nicolas Gaitan scored Las Aguilas’ two goals outside of that danger area, with both coming from regions in the far left corner of the box. While Gaitan finished a pair of chances from those regions, the expected goal value (xG) created there was comparable to most other parts of the field highlighting Gaitan’s finishing ability from that far left corner of the box.

Data provided by Opta

FC Zenit depends heavily on striker Artem Dzyuba who is having an incredible season with 6 goals from 6.16 xG. The Zenit attack was a force to be reckoned with in the group stage, with a conversion rate of 51% on all opportunities. Dzyuba together up top with Shatov, Danny and Hulk combined for 12 of Zenit’s 13 goals on an xG value of just 8.75. Zenit created its best opportunities on the right side, but was also effective in converting four smaller opportunities from outside the box


Data provided by Opta

Benfica’s defense conceded eight goals, one of those a penalty that led to a 2-1 comeback win for Galatasaray. Benfica struggled on the wings where it allowed the greatest xG attacks to penetrate its defensive line. However, the backline did well to deal with shots from outside the box, which may limit Zenit’s creativity from distance.

Data provided by Opta

Zenit conceded six goals in the group stage, but overall allowed very little xG in the left most defensive channels. The quality of opportunities from the opponent increased in the right defensive channel, which may be an opening for Benfica’s Gaitan.


Data provided by Opta

Brazilian goalkeeper Júlio César gave up seven goals in the group stage. Four of the seven goals were low to the ground, with a weakness identified in the right corner where he failed to make two stops. While not uncommon for goalkeepers to struggle on the ground and in the corners, it appears Júlio César is not often tested in other zones.

Data provided by Opta

Yuri Lodygin played four games for Zenit in the group stage, during which he sat out two matches during a month-long stint on the bench. Based on the map, his weakness during the tournament has been stopping goals coming through his left side, while better managing threats in the center and to his right.

The Portuguese powerhouse will lean on its leading scorer Jonas, who has 23 league goals, and current standout midfielder Renato Sanchez. While mexican international Raúl Jiménez has two goals and two assists for Las Aguilas in Champions League play, he has not seen regular minutes for the Portuguese defending champion. The Russian league’s winter break extends through mid-March, making its December 9 loss to Gent in the group stage FC Zenit’s last competitive encounter.


Originally published on Univision Deportes at: