Zenit 2-0 Tom Tomsk

The starting systems. Yuri Zhevnov in the Zenit goal had absolutely nothing to do, though was called upon during three occasions in the second half.

Two red cards, a goal disallowed just as play was about to be restarted, tons of show-boating, and a delay caused by excessive flare-smoke: all this, yet Zenit’s round 20 victory was still boringly routine.

In fairness to the visitors, Sergei Kornilenko’s recent departure and Artem Dzyuba’s absence was bound to prove blunting, and despite dropping points and positions by the week, Tom are probably content to write this match off.

Zenit didn’t exactly ooze class, but showed and used it at the right moments. Their two goals owed more to defensive mishaps, but as both came in the first half, they were able to play the second period in lesser gears.

Luciano Spalletti’s side boast an enviable quality of appearing to park the bus, only to dupe us all and illustrate their stranglehold on the game by launching unstoppable counter-attacks.

Both sides started with what were effectively 4-4-1-1 formations. However, Zenit’s was more potent in attack, fluid, and sharper on the break. Continue reading

Zenit 2-0 Rubin Kazan

Two-goal hero, Aleksandr Kerzhakov. Can he again do the job for his side in this week's crucial Champions League qualifying round?

Luciano Spalletti’s Zenit go 10 points clear at the top of the Russian Premier League after overcoming stern resilience from the defending champions. As is customary when top teams go head-to-head, this was a scrappy, scruffy and foul-littered affair.

The tone was set early on, when Lasha Salukvadze’s ambitious carry was met by Tomáš Hubočan’s poised bicep. The Georgian failed to recover from the incident, and Yevgeni Balyaikin was subbed on mere seconds after the referee’s first peep.

This proved handy for Zenit, who tormented the Russian U21 international throughout the remainder of the game. His penchant for trying to cut infield or take the ball upfield as soon as possible wasn’t working, allowing Danny and Aleksandr Kerzhakov to seize control.

The other stretch of the pitch was a graveyard: Cristian Ansaldi, subdued but steely, bolted the lacklustre Vladimir Bystrov, and Alan Kasaev did all his work infield for Rubin. Continue reading

Will Steve McClaren resuscitate Wolfsburg?

England’s Wally With The Brolly left FC Twente at just the right moment. Having delivered the league title and a spot in the Champions League group stage, McClaren will forever hold a place in the club’s history.

But with the centre-forward bound for MLS, the left-winger returning to Chelsea after a loan spell, chief playmaker nearing retirement, and the right winger, left-sided centre-back, and left-back potentially lured elsewhere, the replication of last season’s feat looks very difficult.

FC Twente, 2009/10

McClaren’s Overijssel outfit operated in what was deemed 4-3-3. However, the actuality of the system altered from what was stated on the tin. Two hard-working shuttlers flanked a regista in the centre, and the inside-out wingers would drop back. On-ball, they’d always cut infield – Miroslav Stoch tending to shoot, and Bryan Ruiz making disguised through-balls.

Twente weren’t much fun to watch, however. They’d start play via very cynical, overdrawn melina. Then, one of Douglas or Dwight Tiendalli would carry the ball forward at pace. Alternatively, one of the showing widemen or Kenneth Perez would drop, collect, and instigate. McClaren stuck by this system with great rigidity, and it served him well.

The tools currently available at his new employers, VFL Wolfsburg, won’t allow him to employ a similar system. So does McClaren bring his tried and tested tactics across, or adjust to the formula currently in place at the 8th-placed Bundesliga finishers? Continue reading