Zenit St. Petersburg’s management will have breathed a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday evening after the Russian club notched up their first win of this season’s Champions League campaign with a fortunate 1-0 result over Anderlecht.
Zenit were expected to challenge for the trophy this campaign after spending huge money in the summer on Hulk and Alex Witsel, but have been unconvincing so far.
Indeed, Zenit were heading to a certain goalless draw until 18 minutes from time, when Alexander Anyukov earned a penalty off a quick free-kick while the majority of players were still getting together to form a wall. Alexander Kerzhakov stepped up to smash the ball home and were it not for this stroke of luck the game would have gone down as one on the dullest ties in European football history.
Playing on a drenched Petrovsky Stadium surface, both sides looked unable to play progressive football and the game suffered from a distinct lack of goalmouth chances.
Of the 26 goal attempts in the game, only two hit the target – one of which was Kerzhakov’s penalty.
Dribbling in a straight line became impossible and balls skipped off the surface and out of play far too easily. Strikers were unable to turn properly due to the weak surface and even Zenit’s €37m signing Hulk – clearly frustrated – failed to find the target or team-mates throughout the game.
Indeed, Hulk’s performance was one of the worst of the night and many Zenit fans will have been wondering why the club invested so much money in the striker. He offered very little going forward compared to Anderlecht’s Liverpool flop Milan Jovanovic, who looked composed and comfortable despite the greasy conditions.
If Zenit are to do anything this campaign stars like Hulk must step up. The Brazilian could do a lot worse than study Jovanovic’s game on Tuesday and understand composure and team-work, not luck, is the key to Champions League success.
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