The fruits of rotation

Zenit played its match in Split with an unusual starting lineup that gave Luciano Spalletti’s team first place in its Europa League 2010/2011 group.

Thursday started in an unexpected way for Zenit. Returning from the pre-match press conference, Zenit’s representatives informed the club that Poljud Stadium would not be completely full for the match with Zenit. Not even the employees of the Croatian club could explain why not. Apparently, the main reason is that the Hajduk fans aren’t satisfied with their team’s play. According to Joško Svaguša, Hajduk’s chairman, the change in coach last week was made because Hajduk couldn’t beat its main opponent, Dynamo Zagreb, and all of Split is waiting for victories and titles.

All of Zenit’s fans are expecting the same from their club. The blue-white-sky blues’ head coach is confidently leading his team to its first ever Russian Cup and Russian League double, and also expects the team to do well in the Europa League. Spalletti said already in the pre-match press conference that he would give the chance to his footballers who don’t start so often to play in Split. In the end Spalletti kept his word, and surprised many with his starting lineup. The 11 starters included Vyacheslav Malafeev in goal after almost a month’s absence, while Fernando Meira, Alessandro Rosina, Szabolcs Huszti, and Igor Denisov also started. It was a surprise to many not to see Danko Lazović in the starting lineup. Igor Cheminava and Roland Gigolaev were part of Zenit’s lineup for the Europa League for the first time.

But a change in the lineup is not a reason to make changes in the game. By the 20th minute of the match Zenit had gained control of possession so well that the only attack launched by the home team was met by such applause by the home fans that you would have thought they earned a penalty kick. In fact if anything Zenit could have argued for a penalty, since Alexey Ionov was brought down in the penalty box. But the referee didn’t believe it, and showed the left halfback a yellow card for diving. Alexander Anyukov has two chances to score over the next three minutes minutes, and Bukharov almost scored once as well. Alessandro Rosina was everywhere on the field, and almost had a goal, but his move down the right flank followed by a shot was rejected in the near lower corner was saved by the Hajduk keeper.

Zenit scored its first goal in the 32nd minute. Alessandro Rosina sent in a corner kick from the right flank, and Fernando Meira shot towards the left corner, only to see the Hajduk keeper push his shot off the post. But Alexey Ionov was fastest to the rebound, and sent the ball through the keeper’s legs into the net. The end of the half was similar to the start: Zenit increased its time of possession and confidently led the game, while Hajduk hoped to counterattack. Zenit didn’t manage to score a second goal, but the whistles from the home fans made it clear that Poljud’s faithful were not satisfied with the way the half went.

The beginning of the second half was compensation for all of the moments the team failed to execute in the first half. Firstly Alexander Bukharov got free from his market to go one on one against Subašić, but was brought down 11 yards out. Huszti calmly sent the ball into the lower right corner from the goalkeeper. After that, just two minutes later, Huszti was rudely taken down himself in the penalty box after a run down the left flank. After a short talk Huszti gave the ball to Alessandro Rosina, and the Italian hit his penalty right at the goalkeeper, but was able to make up for it on the rebound. Luciano Spalletti substituted Ivica Križanac with Maxim Kanunnikov shortly after. The Croat was accompanied off the field by a real ovation from the home crowd. Igor Denisov was substituted by Sergey Semak several minutes later.