Sunday 31 August 2014
Russian Premier League
Lokomotiv Moscow 0-1 Zenit St. Petersburg
Despite scoring in the midweek Champions League decider, Salomón Rondón was relegated to the bench with Aleksandr Kerzhakov taking his place in the line-up for the biggest game to be played in Russia over the weekend, as last season’s third-placed side hosted the runners-up. Overall, though Zenit had the better of the chances and deserved to edge the victory, it was often a tense game with seven yellow cards dished out and it was actually the home side who had the best chance of the first half when, with 23 minutes on the clock, experienced international Alexander Samedov floated in a free-kick that former Tottenham man Roman Pavlyuchenko ran onto, stretching his right foot out only to see the ball go agonisingly wide of the post. Conversely, Zenit’s best chances of the first half came from a powerful Witsel header that was acrobatically parried out and a Samedov lay-off to Hulk who shaped to curl in a pearler with his left from the right edge of the area but instead got his angles wrong and saw his effort go several yards over.
Nevertheless, into the second-half Zenit persevered and achieved the break-through on the hour as Venezuelan-born creative maestro Danny curled in a corner that was nodded back by the Belgian Lombaerts to Javi Garcia who endeared himself to the Zenit faithful with a clinical right-foot strike to record his first goal since arriving for £13 million from Manchester City. Lokomotiv attempted to rally but Zenit had the better of the chances, most notably from Rondón himself who came on as an 83rd minute substitute for Hulk and, in the third minute of stoppage-time, was set free in the area ten yards out one-on-one with the goalkeeper but sliced a left-footed shot into the side-netting. Although it is possible that he lost his footing, for a man with such an impressive scoring ratio (now 6 goals in 10 games in all competitions) it has to be said that so far this season he could have scored several more than he has done so had he put away some similarly gilt-edged opportunities.
The final whistle sounded soon after to maintain the 100 per cent record of André Villas-Boas’s men who are now three points clear of Dynamo Moscow who they will next meet on 13 September in a re-run of a highly contentious match played in May which Dynamo won, effectively knocking Zenit out of the title race and which led to some rather unsavoury scenes. Given their start to the season, Zenit should feel confident going into this match but will be rocked by the news that their Brazilian powerhouse Hulk, arguably their player of the season so far, has recently suffered an injury and will reportedly be out for six weeks. A blow for the team, undoubtedly, but for Rondón, who may well find himself in a line-up that accommodates both him and Kerzhakov, this could be a rather liberating opportunity for him to stake a claim to be the team’s leading talisman.