Russia: Can Zenit reach the zenith?
Zenit Saint Petersburg enjoyed great success under the guidance of former coach Dick Advocaat from 2006-09. In that era they won their first Russian Premier League title in 2007 and the treble of UEFA Cup, Russian Super Cup and European Super Cup in 2008. The European success was very special for the team from Russia’s second city as it came only three years after CSKA Moscow had won the UEFA Cup and thus entered an exclusive club of Russian teams to have won a European trophy. Since then things have gone a bit quiet as Rubin Kazan have dominated the league in the last two seasons winning back-to-back titles but things could be about to change under the guidance of Luciano Spaletti.
Zenit Saint Petersburg currently lead the 2010 Russian Premier League table by six points from second place CSKA Moscow after thirteen games, with defending champions Rubin a further point behind in third place. Zenit are currently the only unbeaten side in the league and have already chalked up a win in the 2010 Russian Cup final in May having defeated Sibir Novosibirsk. It is impressive form that Zenit are showing and they have done it without being overly reliant on any one player to score the goals. In fact the goals have been spread amongst a number of players in the squad and the solidity of the defence ensures that not too much gets past keeper and club stalwart Vyacheslav Malafeev who has been with the club all of his career.
Vladimir Bystrov has been an essential part of the team with the right winger scoring five times in twelve league appearances so far and is the club’s top scorer at the moment. Danny has re-ignited his form this season after a difficult 2009 season in which he only played eight games and has scored four times in his attacking midfield role. Roman Shirokov has also contributed to the goalscoring from midfield as Zenit’s attacking players of Alexander Kherzakov and Danko Lazović have struggled to hit the net with such prolific players from elsewhere on the pitch. Even Belgian left-back Nicolas Lombaerts has scored more goals than the attacking pair as Zenit show that they have options all over the pitch when it comes to hitting the back of the net. But it’s not just about the attacking side of matters. Zenit’s defence has only conceded five goals in thirteen matches – only Rubin Kazan have conceded fewer at the moment (three goals). Nonetheless the experienced Italian coach Luciano Spalletti, coaching outside of his native land for the first time in his career, has made Zenit compact but direct at the same time. They are adept at turning defence into attack and have profited, in particular, from the pace of Bystrov down the right side.
Zenit’s most recent game in the league was at home against their opponents from this year’s Russian Cup final Sibir Novosibirsk. Goals from Lombaerts and Roman Shirokov gave the home side a 2-0 win to keep the gap between themselves and CSKA, 1-0 winners away at bottom club Krylya Sovetov, to six points. WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS HERE: