Saturday 13 September 2014
Zenit St. Petersburg 3-2 Dynamo Moscow
Last season in May, this fixture was marred by a violent pitch invasion from the Zenit fans in the dying minutes as they struggled to come to terms with their side’s title challenge evaporating before their very eyes. Thankfully, this top-of-the-table encounter made headlines for all the right reasons as a rather entertaining, topsy-turvy game was decided in the dying moments of regulation time, with André Villas-Boas’s men departing with their 100 per cent record in tact and an extended lead of six points.
However, it was the visitors who took the lead after 18 minutes through an instinctive, elegant goal by Mathieu Valbuena who, upon receiving a short pass just inside the area, intuitively converted his boot into a 9-iron and in a blink of an eye chipped the ball over Yuriy Lodygin into the far corner.
Zenit’s reply came 10 minutes later when Domenico Criscito evaded a challenge on the left side of the area, cut inside and shoT a low effort with his right-foot that 40 year-old Armenian goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky (who enjoyed six years at Zenit, leaving a sobering 14 years ago) will feel he should have kept hold of. Instead, he parried it out and Douglas, a Brazil-born defender who has been called up to the Dutch squad by virtue of having played several years with FC Twente, did not have time to adjust his body, instead having to helplessly watch the ball rebound off his legs and into the net for an own goal.
The hosts then took the lead after 40 minutes when Hulk came forward to play Andrey Arshavin into space just inside the area and Russia’s star of Euro 2008 seized this rare starting opportunity by confidently striking home a powerful shot past the static Berezovsky.
The second-half was certainly not short of incidents, but the comparatively well-behaved fans had to wait until the 82nd minute to see another goal, though it would not have been greeted favourably by the majority of the 15,000 people in the Petrovsky Stadium. A free-kick was lofted in from the left by Valbuena and Congolese forward Christopher Samba rose high to power a header from close-range that Lodygin attempted to get a hand to but could only flick onto the underside of the crossbar, with the ball rebounding downwards and marginally over the line.
Though a draw may have been desirable for some neutrals, AVB’s side were to get the winner in the 89th minute following some nice interplay between Danny and Igor Smolnikov. The Russian passed to the erstwhile Portuguese international, then ran into the area from the right where he took advantage of some slack tracking to collect a through-ball and fire home through the arms of Berezovsky.
As had been noted in the last update, Brazilian powerhouse Hulk – always Zenit’s most conspicuous player and usually for the right reasons – was reported to be injured for approximately six weeks, yet he made a surprisingly quick recovery just two weeks later in this match. His return rendered speculation – which may or may not have come from this column – on whether Salomón Rondón would step up to take over as Zenit’s leading forward threat meaningless and it was not the only unanticipated selection that diminished the role of the Venezuelan.
Indeed, Hulk’s reported condition opened up ruminations on whether Rondón and Kerzhakov could be accommodated into the same line-up, yet rather than play these two strikers in partnership, Villas-Boas did not even start with one of them, instead granting Andrey Arshavin his first start of the season. To do this in a hotly anticipated game against arguably his side’s biggest rivals for the title was difficult to comprehend. One possible explanation is that he wished Rondón to be rested ahead of the midweek Champions League game against Benfica, though as most of Zenit’s leading players – except possibly Shatov – were not afforded similar treatment, this seems unlikely. Perhaps more plausible is that Villas-Boas felt that, for all of Rondón’s goalscoring achievements, he has had a tendency of late to miss a considerable number of good chances and while Arshavin may not always deliver the goods he can display considerable ability from time to time. But to give him an opportunity to do so in this particular match? It is still a rather unexpected decision, though as he scored a goal, AVB will doubtlessly feel vindicated.
Rondón replaced Arshavin just after the hour mark but he must have had some doubts as to whether he would play in the Benfica game which was played earlier tonight and which will be discussed in the next update.