The ideal combination

“Our Zenit” analyzed which players were used by Zenit`s coaching staff at this and that positions this year, as a result of which we formed the optimal lineup for the championship team in a 4–2–3–1 figuration.

Goalkeeper

Vyacheslav Malafeev played between the posts for the most part of the season, as was expected. That said, Luciano Spalletti showed here too that he understands what the word "rotation" means. Yury Zhevnov waited patiently for his chance, although it`s hard to say whether he managed to take advantage of this chance or not. Zhevnov started for the first time in the 14th Russian league matchday against Rostov. However the captain of the Belarusian national team got a regular starting place in Zenit only in the fall. Zhevnov had some good matches, although he didn`t do well at the end of the season. The goalkeeper position is probably the only one in which Zenit`s coaching staff didn`t always make the right choice on whom to count on.

Defenders

However unlikely it may seem, the optimal four defenders played only four matches together. The reason for this is that Bruno Alves, Zenit`s main summer acquisition, did not play for the team in the first half of the season, and Tomáš Hubočan, the best left-back in the Russian Premier League in the opinion of Sport Express newspaper, was injured for much of the fall, and gave up his spot on the flank to Aleksandar Luković.

There was practically no alternative to Alexander Anyukov on the right flank. However, if there was a need for a back-up to Anyukov, it was quickly solved by the fact that Hubočan showed from the first days of the season that he can play on the flank just as well as in the center of the pitch, where he started his career. Furthermore, the right-footed Slovak said himself that he feels less comfortable on the left side than on the right.

Zenit`s top pair of central defenders, Bruno Alves and Nicolas Lombaerts, started playing well together immediately. The only bench player who could give them any competition was Ivica Križanac. It seems that incredible individual skills were the main thing that helped the Belgian and the Portuguese defender to play so well together. Furthermore, Lombaerts played an excellent season in general, which was a logical outcome of his return to Zenit`s starting lineup after his bad injury in the second half of the 2009 season. And if it weren`t for all the goals scored by Zenit`s attacking specialists, it seems that Lombaerts would have deserved Zenit`s player of the year award.

Fernando Meira, unfortunately, looked competitive to Luciano Spalletti only until his countryman, Bruno Alves, arrived at the club this summer. Once the latter came to St. Petersburg, Meira`s problems with speed and at choosing correct positions moved him to the bench.

Attack

Two positions out of three can leave no doubt – the right flank and the center of the attack were consistently filled by Vladimir Bystrov and Alexander Kerzhakov, respectively. There were no questions about the quality of their play or about their statistical results. Bystrov scored 6 goals and had 8 assists, while Kerzhakov had 17 goals in the Russian Premier League and European cups. The only competitor to Kerzhakov in the center striker position was Alexander Bukharov. But the ex-Rubin Kazan player had no luck. As soon as he arrived in Zenit, Kerzhakov started demonstrating absolutely cosmic football, so Bukharov had no chance at getting into the starting side. Furthermore, the idea of playing two central strikers never took on in Zenit, despite the constant requests on the part of Petersburg journalists to coach Luciano Spalletti to do so.

The situation was just the opposite on the left side of the field. Five different Zenit players played in the left winger position over the course of the year. Danny played most often in the position. Danko Lazović was second after the Portuguese. Lazović, usually a right winger, lost this position to Bystrov. The Serb, along with Bystrov, were substituted for quite often during the year. This gave other wingers more playing time. One of the surprises of the Russian season was the almost total absence of Szabolcs Huszti on the field this year, probably the only “natural” left winger in Zenit. The Hungarian lost this competition not only to Danny and Lazović, but also to Alessandro Rosina, who played about the same amount of time as the young players Maxim Kanunnikov and Alexey Ionov.

Halfbacks

There were two main schemes used by Zenit`s coaching staff in the center of the field over the course of the season – with one or two defending halfbacks. Zenit played with two defensive midfielders in 19 out of 30 matches. This is the so-called triangle. One central midfielder played as an attacking midfielder in the triangle. The defensive halfbacks, Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov, were beyond all competition. This tandem was the main defensive power in the center of the field, and broke down the opposing teams` attacks, giving the central attacking midfield absolute freedom to go forward. It`s surprising, but under this scheme there was often no place for Roman Shirokov. Of Shirokov`s 17 starts this season, half came with Shirokov playing in a scheme with one defensive halfback and two inside halfbacks, one of which was Shirokov. Danny served as the other central halfback in this scheme most often. If the base of the midfield triangle was at the top, on offense, then the Portuguese most often played on the left flank, where he seemed to be more comfortable. On the other hand, in the center of the field Danny could choose his own direction for developing the attack and had more freedom. Danny played half of his matches as a central halfback and half on the flank.

Resume

Even though many people talked about Luciano Spalletti`s excellent rotation skills, in fact the starting Zenit side looks entirely obvious and without any alternative. Of course rotation isn`t a goal in and of itself, and the coaching staff used it to give players a break at certain times during the year. The main problem with Zenit`s starting side is that not all positions have an equally high-level reserve player. Such lack of an alternative in some positions creates certain fears about Zenit`s prospects for the Champions League next year, and means that the team will have to improve its lineup this winter. The especially problematic positions are central attacking midfielder, where there is no alternative to Danny, and the right fullback position, where Anyukov has been saving the team year after year thanks to his strong discipline and consistently good health.