Game in a Sentence

A thrilling match sees Zenit come back from two goals down, only for a Hubocan OG to cede the three points to Milan.

Observations

  • Zenit put out a 4-3-3, with Denisov conspicuously absent. The front three consisted of Bystrov (who was terrible in patches), Kerzhakov (off day) and Hulk (slow starter). Shirokov played very well in the hole, with Axel Witsel to his right, although the Belgian often cut in and created one or two plays.
  • AC Milan meanwhile did the ole 4-2-3-1, with Bojan up front mostly flopping around like a deranged seal, Emanuelson, Boateng and the 19-year-old star boy El Shaarawy, and De Jong and Montolivo playing clean up.
  • Wow, what a first half of football. Both sides looked anemic, although Zenit conceded Milan a ton of space and possession in the early stages. The Italian side looked disjointed but followed through with some good luck in the 13th minute when Urby Emanuelson’s free kick was deflected past a flailing and wrong-footed Malafeev.
  • Zenit continued to look sloppy in defense three minutes later when El Shaarawy cut in from the left channel in a diagonal through the box which upended the entire Zenit defense, assisted himself with a lovely touch to beat the final defender, and then fell down scoring past Malafeev.
  • Zenit didn’t look smart for the first twenty-five minutes or so. Bystrov wasted possession with a few searching shots well over the net. Hulk didn’t appear until about twenty minutes in. Witsel didn’t have enough space in front of. No in Zenit closed down well with Milan in possession, who were good but hardly rampant.
  • Then Shirokov got into the game and Hulk settled (2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline!). Abbiati was suddenly stopping shots left and right, including a wonderful save on a hammered Hulk free kick awarded when El Shaarawy fouled Viktor Faizulin on the edge of the box.
  • Zenit’s impressive pressure (and some slack marking from Milan) allowed the Russian club back into the game, and Hulk found himself onside with his traction engine left peg to smash it under the otherwise excellent Abbiati right at the end of the first half.
  • But Milan held firm and didn’t let the late goal phase the—Ha ha! No they didn’t. Some very poor defending from the two Milan CBs led to the already-awesome Shirokov heading home off a corner almost immediately after the restart.
  • Allegri understandably took off Bojan for Pazzini shortly thereafter. Bojan was not good. Not good at all. Pazzini, the “Madman”, came on in his stead. Presumably for the muscle.
  • Hulk continued to have a belter, but Zenit seemed to tire a bit as the half progressed, and there were signs they might try to contain Milan for the draw. They allowed Milan run of the flanks though which eventually led to Milan’s go ahead goal, an OG courtesy of the centreback Tomas Hubocan in the 75th minute from a whipped in cross on the right.
  • Zenit worked desperately from then on to recoup the draw, and Anyukov sent a bullet from outside the area in the 82nd minute which swerved around and was saved in acrobatic fashion by the incredible Abbiati. The Milan keeper had a fine, fine match.
  • Zenit though were unable to rescue the tie. Conclusions: the chinwaggers will say this is redemption for Allegri’s depleted Milan side, but there are signs this team is very, very vulnerable in their own half. A prolonged Champions League run would seem on the evidence of this match a tall order.
  • For Zenit, they desperately need to resolve the contract issues with Denisov and his stupid beef with Hulk. Perhaps showing him the match reel from this game would help? I fear Hulk may have made an enormous mistake in agreeing to come to Russia, considering how he’s been treated.

Three Stars

1. Hulk
2. Shirokov
3. Abbiati