The RPL leaders played a crazy match. A cautious first half gave way to a fiery second – Krasnodar's goal woke up Zenit. The visitors withstood the onslaught and finished the first round at the top of the table. But the championship race is just beginning.
Both teams prepared well for the game, primarily in terms of neutralizing each other’s strengths. The extremely cautious first half is proof of this. Even the main referee of the match, Sergei Karasev, succumbed to the general mood and blew a few extra whistles in situations where he could have continued the game – just in case something didn’t work out.
Both Zenit and Krasnodar were not very active in pressing and allowed each other to go to the middle of the field. However, there the density of the game increased and the positional attack stalled for both the hosts and the guests. Zenit, thanks to a hybrid scheme with Gustavo Mantuan on the right flank, managed to neutralize Joao Batchi, and Rodrigao and Strahinja Erakovic together dealt with John Cordoba.
Krasnodar, in turn, closely monitored the flanks – Olusegun and Batchi actively worked back and did not allowed opponents to freely serve into the penalty area. The central midfielders of the guests were very active in the fight and did not give a meter of free space to the Zenit Brazilians.
In such a careful game, set pieces play a special role. And here Vladimir Ivich’s charges were closer to success. Twice after corner kicks the ball was thrown into the penalty area by Mikhail Kerzhakov, but no one was able to push it into the goal. The hosts responded only with a tight shot from Claudinho from the rebound area.
In the last minutes of the half, the teams, amid fatigue, suddenly exchanged sharp moments from the game. First, Krasnodar lost Ivan Sergeev in their penalty area, but his volley was blocked by a defender. And in the response attack, Eduard Spertsyan hit his header from several meters, but missed the empty corner of the goal. These attacks became the harbingers of an eventful second half.
Second half: do not wake up the sleeping champion During the break, both coaches made adjustments to the attacking actions, but at first Ivic's changes were more effective. Joao Batchi began to move more often from the flank to the center, thanks to which Krasnodar regularly gained an advantage in the space between the lines and was able to escalate the game. Several dangerous inclusions of Batchi, Spertsyan and Nikita Krivtsov did not bode well for Zenit.
This is exactly how the first goal of the match was scored. Batchi received the ball behind the Zenit midfielders and with a penetrating pass brought Cordoba to strike. Kerzhakov parried the Colombian's shot, but Spertsyan, who arrived in time, managed to push the ball into the net after two attempts. The goal as a whole followed from the logic of the game – Krasnodar was not stronger, but stubbornly stuck to its line and deservedly took the lead.
However, this goal only awakened the beast. “Zenith” turned on at full power and literally crushed the opponent. It immediately became clear that the St. Petersburg team does not always have enough motivation to confidently lead the championship. But as soon as Semak’s players really want to win, hardly anyone can resist them.
Zenit quickly fought back through the weak point of the visitors’ defense. Surely Sergei Semak pointed out to the players the vulnerability of the opponent’s half-flanks. And it worked. The Krasnodar team were too passive in defense and allowed Wendel to penetrate into the penalty area and make allowance for Barrios. Accurate serve, Matteo Cassierra wins the top of the goalkeeper's box – 1:1.
And Zenit did not stop at one goal scored and continued to put pressure, squeezing the guests into the penalty area. The Southerners' lack of aggressiveness in playing without the ball became a serious problem for the first time this season. Ivic's team only reacted to the actions of their opponents, and gradually moved closer to their goal. This allowed them to control the penalty area, but did not save them from dangerous long-range shots.
If the hosts had been more precise, they could have won. Andrei Mostovoy missed his best chance – he slipped between two defenders and fired powerfully from the corner of the penalty area, but Krasnodar was saved by the post.
Perhaps a draw was a logical result. The teams were truly equal today. “Zenit” showed that it can be stronger if it wants, but “Krasnodar” managed to compensate for the small advantage of the St. Petersburg team in class due to a good game plan and character. Sergei Galitsky's club finishes the first round as a leader, but Zenit is very close. An exciting race for gold awaits us, in which for the first time in many years Semak’s team does not look like the undisputed favorite.