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06 October 2018

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Russia

Zenit Coach Luciano Spalletti Battles Lacklustre Russian Premier League Start




Joel Amorim


Although most major European football leagues are facing the final countdown before the beginning of the season, the Russian Premier League is already on its third round of games and the all-powerful Zenit Saint-Petersburg are experiencing some unexpected difficulties.

The Saint-Petersburg men have only managed to collect four points in three league matches at the time of writing, and the team’s performances have left something to be desired, with concern growing.

After being smashed 3-0 in the Russian Super Cup by the Premier League title holders CSKA Moscow, Zenit started the season with a victory over Krasnodar in a very even match, where only moments of individual inspiration from Viktor Fayzulin and Danny helped the team to conquer the three point victory.

In the second round of games, the Sine-Belo-Golubye (the sky blues) travelled to Kazan to play against the home side, Rubin, and despite an early goal from Danny, Zenit didn’t manage to hold onto their advantage and conceded two goals in the second half that dictated the match’s final score: 2-1 for Rubin Kazan.

 

The ghost of the defeats against title contenders was back and the fans expected a powerful comeback at home against Kuban Krasnodar, but once again it didn’t happen. After the break, Andrei Arshavin came from the bench to give Zenit the lead, but with only twelve minutes left to play, Gigel Bucur, an experienced Romanian striker, scored the equaliser and helped his team to grab a valuable point in the tough environment that is the Petrovsky Stadium.

Zenit are clearly underachieving at the beginning of this new season. The performances of Luciano Spalletti’s boys are worrying the fans, and the domestic media are constantly claiming that the environment in the team’s dressing room is not very pleasant.

Last season, the arrival of Hulk and Axel Witsel and their extraordinary pay packets caused a sort of a rebellion in the dressing room, led by Igor Denisov and backed up by some of the most experienced players at the club. Denisov moved to Anzhi Makhachkala this summer, but the foul taste of disagreement continued among some players. One year after that incident, the Italian manager still hasn’t been able to solve this problem and not even the arrival of charismatic players such as Andrei Arshavin and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk has helped to put an end to this unpleasant situation. 

Arshavin and Tymoshchuk have not managed so far to claim a place in the starting line-up and this fact is leaving Zenit fans even more apprehensive about their team’s future. The lack of goals from Aleksandr Kerzhakov is also causing fans to despair and the defensive line’s lack of consistency is a major problem as well. 

The clock is ticking and Spalletti’s time at the helm of Zenit may well be coming to an end if he cannot turn things around. A glance at the Russian Premier League this season reveals a stronger and highly motivated Spartak Moscow, with Valery Karpin stressing his team’s commitment to win the title that has eluded them since 2001; a motivated FC Rostov with Artem Dzyuba are already leading the league top scorers; and a CSKA Moscow outfit that want to prove that they can repeat last season’s campaign and win the title once again look powerful. If their opponents’ motivation was not enough, Zenit may still have to deal with the eventual departure of Hulk, who is said to be feeling unsettled at club and has claimed interest from a number of clubs.

Looking at this scenario, there seem to be no sunshine or rainbows in Spalletti’s immediate future, although a slender 1-0 win against FC Nordsjaelland in the first leg of the club’s Champions League qualifier has at least given the Italian cause to smile. But in the Russian Premier League Zenit will need to mount a strong comeback in order to bring back the good old times of Dick Advocaat’s era – and that is definitely not an easy task.


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