Rubin 2-3 Zenit: Rubin blow a two-goal lead thanks to Spalletti’s Plan B

September 20, 2011

The starting line-ups

Danny scored twice to give Zenit St Petersburg an important win over Rubin Kazan.

Kurban Berdyev changed things around after the previous week’s defeat to FC Krasnodar, with Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez both dropping out. In came Vladimir Dyadyun upfront, with Gokdeniz Karadeniz on the right.

Luciano Spalletti made widespread changes after an embarrassing collapse against Lokomotiv Moscow, with four players coming into the defence and midfield, though the forward trio remained the same.

This wasn’t so much a game of two halves as one of three thirds – first Rubin deservedly took a two-goal lead, then Zenit battled back well to turn the game around, and then the final 25 minutes consisted of Rubin trying to get back into the game, but ultimately being unable to find a goal.

First half

Both of these sides are known for their counter-attacking approach, which can result in a stand-off in midfield – neither wanting to attack for fear of being exploited on the break. For the game as a spectacle, the best thing that can happen in this situation is an early goal, which arrived after eight minutes for Rubin from the penalty spot.

The penalty was awarded after good work down the left from Salvatore Bocchetti, who was shoved in the back by Danko Lazovic. This was the key battle of the opening period, with Lazovic being forced back by the Italian left-back, and rarely having an impact with the ball at his feet. On the other side, Sergey Kislyak did a similarly good job getting forward, with Danny slow to get back and right-winger Alexander Ryazantsev showing good awareness to come inside and open up space.

As always with Zenit, their midfield was something of a puzzle – all three central midfielders have license to break forward, which can take the opposition by surprise, especially as Rubin’s attacking central midfielder, Roman Eremenko, only wanted to track back a certain distance. This meant that Igor Denisov could break forward into the attack unmarked, usually leaving Konstantin Zyryanov to cover.

Rubin’s striker Vladimir Dyadyun, played an interesting role, coming deep, holding the ball up, and forcing Bruno Alves out of the back. The centre-back dived in and made some needless tackles to concede free-kicks, but what Rubin needed was a runner in behind to exploit the space created. Eremenko was rather peripheral, and overall Rubin weren’t a great threat on the counter. They were better when they built up play more gradually through the full-backs, although this risked Zenit pouncing on the counter.

Second half

Having got one goal back to make it 2-1, Spalletti made a substitution at half-time and turned to his Plan B. That Plan B was former Rubin striker Aleksandr Bukharov, who played as a central striker with Aleksandr Kerzhakov going wider, usually to the right. Zenit’s approach changed completely from the first half – they played longer balls for Kerzhakov to challenge for in the air. Presumably, Spalletti decided that with Rubin ahead, they would come forward less and leave fewer spaces at the back, so Zenit could no longer afford to rely on counter-attacking for their chances.

Kerzhakov created the equaliser – although it was by using his strength in a wide area and then teeing up Danny, rather than through an aerial approach. At 2-2, Rubin somewhat self-destructed tactically – moving forward to launch attacks, but being sluggish in getting back into shape, the one thing you can usually guarantee from Berdyev’s side. A great transition from Zenit saw Alves win the ball, play it forward to Danny, who played a one-two with Kerzhakov to motor into space. Kerzhakov had drawn Cesar Navas out of the back which made space for Kerkhakov, who Danny played a second one-two with, to score an empty goal. It was a perfect counter-attacking goal, and a fine goal to win a good contest.


How come this fixture is suddenly so open? This 2-3 followed two 2-2s, which doesn’t seem to make sense when two counter-attacking sides come up against each other. The results of 2009 – two 0-0s – were what we expect.

The opening goal coming within the first 20 minutes of each game has helped, but perhaps the truth is that the two sides are not as reliant on the counter-attack as previously thought. Rubin’s first two goals came when Zenit had men behind the ball, and then Zenit played to a big man upfront.

The key in the victory was Danny – the game’s best player so far, and one who makes¬†consistently¬†good decisions with the ball at his feet. He seemed more comfortable when Zenit brought on Bukharov, able to play one-twos and find space in the opposition defence.

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