Until 2019, Zenit never took the last place in the league championship group. Since then, Semak twice came fourth, and now they say about the torment of the St. Petersburg club in the Champions League: “Oh, as usual they will not go anywhere.” Chronic champions of Russia are rightly trolled for a high seeding (before this year – the first basket), an easy draw (there were no giants for 13 years) and a terrible away streak (zero victories in European competitions under Semak), but now Zenit has a real opportunity to perform with dignity in the Champions League.
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Firstly, Malcolm is finally healthy – in 2019 he was taken under the Champions League, but he stably fell down with serious injuries. Now the Brazilian has played out: he stopped hurting, drove the winning ball in the Olympic final, and regularly throws feints at the defenders in the RPL. Considering that this guy played for Barça and generally expects to return to Europe, the Champions League is a splendid chance to light up not only at the level of the Urals and Akhmats.
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Malcolm at Stamford Bridge prepares for Chelsea vs Zenit
Photo: Getty Images
Secondly, goalkeeper Kritsyuk was brought from Portugal – a man who spent a year playing in a strong championship (the Super League is head and shoulders above the RPL) and plays great with his feet. It seemed that Semak would put Mikhail Kerzhakov before the first mistake, but Stas probably so convinced the Zenit coach that he immediately got not only a sweater with the first number, but also a place in the base.
Thirdly, Azmun and Dziuba will not be cut off tightly, like last season. Even if Malcolm doesn’t work, Zenit has Claudinho – the main thing is that his adaptation doesn’t take too long. So far, it is noticeable that this Brazilian holds the ball well, but sometimes he chooses too difficult decisions – it’s time to abruptly abandon this.
Fourth, Zenit no longer has last year’s tragedy with a two-week break between seasons. In Russia, it was customary to kill Petersburgers for dead matches in Europe, but then the players honestly admitted that they had simply sagged physically. In the summer of 2020, they did not have a break or traditional training camp, so in the fall, even the strongest guys like Barrios crawled more often than ran. At the same time, in the pre-pandemic 2019, Zenit failed only one match – the last one against Benfica away. If even now we have enough strength right up to December, it will be great.
Fifthly, there is an alignment in which Zenit will play the last round at home against unmotivated Chelsea. Londoners are noticeably stronger than all the rivals in the group, so they have to leave the first place ahead of schedule. Then Tuchel, perhaps, will do something like Lampard did with Krasnodar a year ago – he would save the base and send a half-reserve to St. Petersburg.
Artem Dzyuba and Sergey Semak
Photo: Getty Images
Another advantage for Zenit is a clear hierarchy in the group. Chelsea are at the top, Juve are nominally second, Peter is third, and Malmo is a clear underdog. It is important that the game with the Swedes will be in the second round, and not at the start. A year ago, Zenit shook from the need to immediately score three points with Club Brugge – it all ended in an absurd defeat and Liga-Champion depression. Now this will no longer happen: you need to get comfortable with Chelsea away (it’s just a game of high), and then get together and bang Malmo at home.
Moreover, judging by the matches of the current Juve, you can certainly hack to death with him no worse than with Lazio a year ago. It is clear that Allegri is going to comeback as in the 2015/16 season, but it will take many weeks – it is likely that Max will forget about the Champions League for the return of the Scudetto.
Therefore, Zenit has exactly two options: either a confident third place and reaching the Eurospring (since this season the LE has decreased and has become more prestigious), or the second place and the first bailout in six years in the Champions League playoffs. But it is definitely impossible to occupy the fourth line anymore. It will no longer be possible to blame the circumstances for this – Semak will have to leave, despite the expected fourth gold in a row. Moreover, a new coach is growing up for Zenit in Nizhny.
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