ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview Tuesday night's Champions League action...
Arsenal may have seen Milan’s starting XI at the San Siro and wondered quite who their main playmaker was. Kevin-Prince Boateng focuses on getting himself into scoring positions in the box, the three other midfielders play much deeper, while Robinho is more of a second striker.
The surprising answer to that question is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan’s main goalscorer. He surprised the Arsenal defence with his movement into deep positions, particularly to the left of the pitch. Laurent Koscielny was uncomfortable moving out to that side – he usually plays slightly deeper than Thomas Vermaelen, who moves towards the ball more readily. Arsenal will have to watch out for Ibrahimovic’s movement tonight.
While Ibrahimovic’s display in the first leg has put an end to any claims that he doesn’t play well against English clubs, he’s previously played very well at the Emirates. Two years ago he scored very similar goals against Arsenal for Barcelona – from long balls in behind the defence into an inside-right position. Both Koscielny and Vermaelen will need to play very well to stop him tonight.
Zenit take a 3-2 lead to Lisbon for tonight’s second leg against Benfica, having won a crazy first leg in freezing conditions that was littered with errors at the back. Benfica seemed troubled by the unusual nature of the Zenit midfield, where Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov play fluid roles, and rotate in order to get out of the opposition’s press.
Zyryanov generally plays between the other two, who take on interesting roles. Denisov is the holder and therefore sees a lot of the ball, but rather than keeping his passes simple as you’d expect from a player in that position, he plays a high number of forward passes – which means he gives the ball away frequently.
Further forward, Roman Shirokov started his Zenit career playing at centre-back, but has evolved into a Frank Lampard-style powerful attacking midfielder, who makes late runs into the box to become a real goal threat. He scored twice in the first leg, and Benfica will need the returning Javi Garcia to watch him closely.
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