Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lokomotiv 1-1 Zenit: Exhilarating title clash ends in fair draw

A ridiculously entertaining match between the two main contenders for the RPL title has ended in a draw, maintaining Zenit's advantage in the title chase with only two matches left to play.

Lokomotiv lined up a little strangely, as Lassana Diarra and Maicon continued to miss out due to injuries, while Vedran Corluka was dropped thanks to his suspension. However, the more controversial lineup decision was the inclusion of Renat Yanbaev over regular left back Vitali Denisov. On a more positive note, Mbark Boussoufa and Dame N'Doye were able to return to the lineup, however in the latter case, this required dropping the in-form Roman Pavlyuchenko from the starting XI. Zenit, on the other hand, lined up mostly as expected.

Neither side was particularly dominant in the early stages, although Lokomotiv were perhaps the better of the sides, having two good chances early on. After just eight minutes, Aleksandr Samedov sent him a cross that N'doye headed at goal, but Yuri Lodygin was able to make the save easily. It was twelve minutes before either side really had another good chance, and it was Lokomotiv again when a Samedov free kick rattled the crossbar, but ultimately came to nothing when the rebound was put out by Sergei Tkachev. However, it proved to be the next major chance that broke the deadlock fifteen minutes later. Jan Durica's overhead clearance failed dramatically, falling straight to Salomon Rondon, who fired through Durica's legs and past Ilya Abaev to give Zenit the lead. Zenit then held the ball for much of the rest of the half, not really threatening Lokomotiv's goal again but also not really being threatened themselves.

football formationsHalftime saw no changes from either team and Zenit came out in much the same way they had finished the half, but that soon changed as Lokomotiv started circulating the ball more and forcing Zenit into defence. However, before they could put any chances at goal together, the stadium was filled with smoke as fans set off flairs and smoke bombs, temporarily preventing the game from continuing. When the game resumed, Lokomotiv continued to push, but were almost hit on the break by Hulk, but Abaev was equal to his strong effort. The game then developed into something of a comedy, as both the referee and one of the linesmen inadvertently interfered with play, and the referee was injured in the process, leading to him being replaced by the fourth official, which took up roughly five minutes. A few minutes after play restarted, Danny went through on goal and gave the ball to Oleg Shatov in front of an open goal, but Roman Shishkin was able to make a game saving tackle and force a corner which came to nothing. Lokomotiv went straight back up the other end and Lodygin fumbled a cross to Sergei Tkachev, who slotted away coolly. Suffering an equaliser forced Zenit into action, and they almost took the lead when Hulk played Aleksandr Anyukov through with an excellent pass, but the right back cross for nobody in particular.

Both sides had a few half-chances in regular time, but ultimately the referee (now fourth official) indicated that there was to be seven minutes of stoppage time. Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko had a chance to score but got the ball caught up in his feet and was dispossessed, before Boussoufa created space with some excellent footwork and floated in a cross, but it was too high for Samedov and Pavlyuchenko. Witsel then created space down the other end and had a shot on goal, but it was blocked by Yanbaev and the game then ended in a draw.

Man of the Match: Axel Witsel
Witsel was excellent all game, dictating Zenit's play when they were in control, but also defending well when they were under pressure in the second half.

Honourable Mentions:
Nicolas Lombaerts - Defended solidly and distributed well from the back. A solid performance from the Belgian.
Sergei Tkachev - Scored the equaliser and was good cutting in off that left flank right until he was substituted.
Lassana Diarra - Came off the bench and really got Lokomotiv back into the game with some great all around play.

- This game really had everything. Keeper mistakes, referee injuries, spectator interference and boots to the head (Nicolas Lombaerts on Roman Pavlyuchenko late on), as well as some fantastic and entertaining football.
- The inclusion of N'Doye and Yanbaev really can't be explained. Roman Pavlyuchenko looked much better than N'Doye once the switch was made, while Yanbaev did a poor job of stopping Hulk.
- The narrow play of Zenit caused real problems for Lokomotiv in the first half, but the hosts managed to counteract that after the break (especially after Diarra's introduction) and were outnumbered in midfield far less.
- Seriously, this game. Wow.

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