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    5. “Spartak” again held out in St. Petersburg. But Zenit comes ..


    “Spartak” again held out in St. Petersburg. But Zenit comes next

    Repeat cup match of the semi-finals of the Russian Premier League ( RPL) in St. Petersburg ended in a goalless draw: for the second time this spring, Zenit was unable to beat Spartak at home, but thanks to an away victory, it reached the final, where it will meet twice in CSKA.
    Correspondent – about the goalless confrontation on Krestovsky Island.
    Russian Football Cup April 17, 2024 • starts at 19:30 CompletedZenitRussia0 : 0Spartak MoscowRussia

    It is no coincidence that the matches between Zenit and Spartak were called the derby of the two capitals, although experts in terminology object to such a definition. Some people do not consider one of the cities to be the capital, others believe that the 600 km separating Moscow and St. Petersburg does not give reason to talk about a derby. Only the players and fans of both teams tune in to such matches as if it were the last, decisive battle.

    The current fight had an additional implication associated with the dismissal of Guillermo Abascal. I am convinced that Sergei Semak was not lying when he spoke about the problems associated with this. He simply reminded that a new coach always brings new emotions. Yes, and prepare for the match, not knowing what to expect from the acting. Vladimir Slishkovich, it’s really more complicated.

    It is worth recalling that Semak himself won his first victory in European competition as an acting head coach of Zenit, when Luciano Spalletti had already been suspended from work, and Andre Villas-Boas had not yet approached the Hulk. The St. Petersburg team then, after a home defeat to Borussia with a score of 2:4, won in Dortmund (2:1). Apparently, the coaches of the German team also didn’t know what to expect from Semak, whom Vladislav Radimov, who was then coaching Zenit-2, rushed to help.

    After Abascal’s resignation, information appeared in some Russian publications that Sliskovic, whose appointment was lobbied for by Luca Cattani when he was Spartak’s sports director, was in conflict with the head coach. Sources close to the team do not confirm it. Even after his appointment, the Bosnian specialist himself clearly defined his role in the headquarters as the first assistant and emphasized that he was familiar with Abascal and crossed paths with him in Italy.

    At Spartak, Vladimir was responsible for studying the opponents and, judging by how the Muscovites played in the first match after the restart of the championship, he did his job well. Sliskovich, who speaks Russian, also served as a kind of link between the home-grown part of the team and the foreign coaching staff. The mission was largely thankless due to the fact that it was necessary to report on many points that the players would prefer to keep secret. First assistant head coaches are always at a disadvantage in this regard.

    In the match that took place in March, Spartak, in the absence of Quincy Promes, not only survived at the Gazprom Arena, but also did not concede to the hosts in any way. In the end, he could even snatch victory if Mikhail Ignatov scored in stoppage time. During that game, many noticed that Sliskovich had a very good assistant, Georgiy Dzhikia. The captain of Spartak played the same role as Anatoly Timoshchuk at Zenit.
    Dzhikia last appeared on the field for Spartak, coming on as a substitute in the home championship match against Fakel. Both before and after, Abaskal stubbornly refused his services. The background of the conflict, if there was one in reality, as well as the details of the negotiations on extending the defender’s contract with Spartak, which expired at the end of the season, were not disclosed by the parties.

    Sliskovich, having the opportunity not to be responsible for the decisions of his former boss, could release Dzhikia in the most important match from the first minutes. Moreover, Srdjan Babic, who was ill, did not come to St. Petersburg. Only new acting the chief left the captain in reserve. The pair of central defenders were Alexis Duarte and Danil Prutsev, the flags were covered by Tomas Tavares and Daniil Denisov.
    In cup matches, all RPL teams, as a rule, give the opportunity to play to those who have little time in championship matches. In Moscow, in the first cup game, Semak started Rodrigao, Gustavo Mantuan, Alexander Kovalenko, and Ilzat Akhmetov in the starting lineup. Pedro, who immediately staked out this place and became a fan favorite, made his debut in the team. Only the turning point in the game came when, after substitutions, Wendel, Claudinho, and Alexander Mostovoy appeared on the field, and after his minor injury, Arthur appeared.

    Semak once again proved his ability to rebuild not only the tactical scheme, but also the team’s play during the unsuccessful meeting in Krasnodar. In the match of the championship leaders in the absence of the disqualified Wendel, he did not guess the position for Claudinho. Only during the break I brought Arthur onto the field and the game miraculously changed.

    Even the starting protocol for the cup game was awaited with great interest. There was practically no doubt that Wendel, who had missed key matches, would start the game from the first minutes at Zenit. Who else? There was a place for Arthur, and Mantuan, and Sergeev. The pair of central defenders were Brazilian – Nino and Rodrigao, and Strahinja Erakovic replaced Vyacheslav Karavaev on the right flank of defense. Zenit captain Douglas Santos acted in his usual position on the left, often joining attacks.
    Cassierra, Claudinho, Pedro remained in reserve. Let's not forget about the limit. Today, choosing even three players with the necessary passports and not spoiling the Brazilian-Colombian game is a difficult problem for the Zenit coaching staff. Denis Adamov took his place in goal for the hosts. After a mistake in Samara, he lost his number one position to Mikhail Kerzhakov and ended up in the “cup rotation”. Although Semak always talks about not even two, but three equal goalkeepers at his disposal.

    After the championship match, Sliskovich emphasized that Spartak played according to the classic “4-4-2” formation. In the cup game, seeing the second forward next to Alexander Sobolev, who came out with the captain's armband, was problematic. The scheme was more likely “4-1-4-1” with Ruslan Litvinov as a defensive midfielder. He was actively helped by other midfielders. Was this the tactical surprise that Semak feared?

    Zenit is varying its tactical schemes this season. Against Spartak in the cup game at the home stadium I played “4-3-3” with Sergeev in the center of the attack and two Brazilians on the flanks. However, it is not the schemes that score goals, but the players. In the first half, the guests had several approaches to Adamov's goal, and even Sobolev's long-range strike in stoppage time. The hosts have a couple of good chances and one is a 100% scoring chance.
    In the 27th minute, Zenit quickly played a set piece, Santos crossed into the penalty area from the flank and Akhmetov shot straight away, seemingly for sure. Maksimenko parried the blow with his feet. Due to the illness of Alexander Selikhov, who usually defended the goal in cup matches, Maksimenko had an increased workload. In all statistical indicators, before the break, Zenit was superior to Spartak, but the score was not opened.

    At the beginning of the second half, the Muscovites seized the initiative and moved the game towards Adamov's goal. In the 59th minute, Semak made a double substitution, bringing on Claudinho and Mostovoi instead of Mantuan and Akhmetov. Sliskovich immediately responded with a triple substitution and, along with Dzhikia, Theo Bogonda and Manfred Ugalde entered the Gazprom Arena field. Of course, this was an increase in attack and a signal for attacks.
    But the next move of the Zenit coaching staff was unconventional: instead of Artur and Sergeev, Cassierra and Vyacheslav Karavaev entered the game. Replacement of the center forward in position, but the nominal defender Karavaev acted as a real striker. He could have scored by finishing a cross from the flank, but even before that Maksimenko saved his team once again when Nino headed in a cross from the corner mark. The spectators saw another rescue by the Spartak goalkeeper after Erakovic's cross and Cassierra's header.
    The RPL's top scorer scored on the second attempt after a corner kick. Here Maksimenko was powerless. Evgeniy Turbin, who worked for VAR, saved the Spartak team. He spotted Santos, who crossed the ball from the flank, was offside. The referee added seven minutes to the regular time. Almost all this time, Zenit had the ball, calmly, one might say, solidly maintaining the result that suited it. And Maksimenko was rightly recognized as the best player of the meeting.

    The author’s opinion may not coincide with the position of the editors.

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