Richard van Poortvliet
Richard van Poortvliet

Zenit fans should expect a tense finale

Monday 11 November 2013, 9.11CET
Russian sides often keep their supporters on edge when reaching the knockout stage and Richard van Poortvliet explains why FC Zenit fans should fasten their seatbelts.
Published: Monday 11 November 2013, 9.11CET

Zenit fans should expect a tense finale

Russian sides often keep their supporters on edge when reaching the knockout stage and Richard van Poortvliet explains why FC Zenit fans should fasten their seatbelts.

Russian clubs have often made qualification for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage a nail-biting experience for their fans and this season looks no different for the FC Zenit faithful.

Indeed FC Spartak Moskva, back in 2000, were the last side to have sealed their passage before matchday six, and it seems unlikely Luciano Spalletti's men will have that luxury. They host section winners Club Atlético de Madrid next before a final group game at FK Austria Wien, the team who held them to a goalless draw on matchday two.

The St Petersburg club have a decent-sounding home record, losing only twice at the Stadion Petrovski in 12 UEFA Champions League outings. However, in those dozen matches they have won just three times, with a staggering seven draws. That is what has proved to be Zenit's downfall in Europe's premier club competition, and another stalemate against Atlético on 26 November could leave their fate out of their hands on matchday six.

Captain Nicolas Lombaerts was right to point out that FC Porto are a "very good side" after the teams played out a 1-1 draw last week, but a more ruthless outfit would have earned all three. Zenit missed a number of chances as well as a penalty, not to mention the fact they had already got the better of the Portuguese Liga leaders at the Estádio do Dragão a fortnight previously.

After watching Zenit in the UEFA Champions League these last couple of seasons, one thing that has struck me is their lack of consistency. This was encapsulated by the most recent meeting with Porto. Spalletti's charges were well below-par in the first half, before putting in a much-improved second-half display, something the Italian coach admitted: "I can't explain why we started this Champions League campaign so badly, but it's not the first time we are in such a situation."

Zenit's Jekyll and Hyde form can be traced back to last term's competition, when disappointing first-half showings against AC Milan and Málaga CF left them with too much to do and they failed to make the knockout phase.

©Getty Images

Hulk and Kerzakhov have found goals hard to come by

Three goals from four games this time around is not the greatest return and could be the cause of their inconsistency. Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who recently became the all-time leading Russian goalscorer in all competitions, has found life tough in the UEFA Champions League.

The 30-year-old has netted just twice in 15 appearances at the elite level, including the winner at Porto on matchday three. Meanwhile, Danny may be setting the domestic league alight with ten goals, but he is yet to score or add an assist on the continental front. The Russian Premier-Liga frontrunners have therefore become reliant on Hulk, with the forward scoring or setting up all three goals in Group G.

So, while there are signs that Zenit could become a force in the UEFA Champions League, inconsistencies, home draws and the inability of the likes of Danny and Kerzhakov to shine mean that fans are likely to be kept on edge until the last.

The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.


Last updated: 30/04/14 12.36CET