Danny of FC Zenit St. Petersburg in action during the Russian Football League Championship match between FC Lokomotiv Moscow and FC Zenit St. Petersburg. Zenit played APOEL and struggled in the UEFA Champions League this week.
Reviewing the fortunes of CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg in this week's Champions League fixtures.
One of them battled their way back to snatch a draw against the French champions Lille and the other, less than impressively, contrived to throw away a one-goal lead and lose 2-1 to the Cypriot champions APOEL. CSKA and Zenit, therefore, had differing fortunes in this week's first round of Champions League fixtures.
The Russian press meanwhile were suitably underwhelmed by both results. This campaign was - some had thought - the year when the Russian clubs could make their mark on Europe's foremost footballing competition. With both Zenit and CSKA having had success in the UEFA Cup/Europa League in past years, the clubs have - or so goes the notion - had a reasonable amount time to acclimatise to the pace and styles accustomed to Champions League football. Without wanting to draw knee-jerk conclusions from this week's matches, we can say that some of the predictions may have been a little ambitious.
Whilst CSKA will not see too much wrong with a last minute equaliser away to Lille, real concern lies with Zenit's performance in Nicosia and the downward curve that Spalletti's men seem to be on. In a match that many had expected Zenit to dominate, the Russian champions managed a measly 44% of possession, a red card to Bruno Alves, and shipped two goals. This abject performance comes after a 4-2 thrashing at the hands of Lokomotiv Moscow the previous weekend, leaving Spalletti - as usual clad in a polo shirt two sizes to small - scratching his head.
The former Roma manager, as you would expect, remains positive in the wake of back to back defeats, "in terms of psychologically, we have to sit down and talk and analyse our mistakes in order to fix the situation. Considering the approach that we use, I think everything will be fine." But that positivity may be damped by tough fixtures coming up - against Rubin Kazan this weekend and at home to Porto in the next Champions League match day.
Where Zenit had 44% possession and lost in Cyprus, CSKA managed just 40% against Lille and succeeded in pinching a draw through the excellent finishing of Seydou Doumbia and a neat little flick from the uber-talented Alan Dzagoev. The point stolen from the jaws of defeat combined with the fact that Inter Milan managed to gift a victory to Trabzonspor means that CSKA sit in a slightly more comfortable position that their Russian counterparts, but nevertheless face a difficult game against Inter in the next round. Although, what Champions League fixture isn't difficult these days?
Doumbia, as well as scoring both his side's goals, seems to have latched on to the problems his side faced, telling journalists, "Lille did not allow us to keep the ball and forced us to make mistakes often. All the problems started there. But even when 2-0 down we believed in success." This, many have said, was a fault in Slutskiy's tactics, selecting the unimpressive midfield pairing of Aleksandrs Cauna and Evgeni Aldonin ahead of the sprightlier Sekou Oliseh and Pavel Mamev who, incidentally, both entered the fray in the second half.
With the Champions League now under way and the Russian Premier League simmering close to the boil - CSKA and Zenit both sit level at the top on forty-six points - the Russian football fan may have his work cut out keeping up with the latest twists and turns in this chicane-ridden season. And we haven't even mentioned the participation of the other eastern Europe sides in continental competition. More to follow...