Canopy of gold: how Zenit won the RPL for the third time in a row

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The home defeat of Lokomotiv Moscow (6: 1) allowed Zenit St. Petersburg to win gold medals in the Russian championship for the third time in a row. Two rounds before the finish of the season, the football club from the northern capital created a sufficient lead over the pursuers not to give up the first place. The “railroad workers” are now in limbo. They still keep the second line in the standings, but on Monday they may drop to third if Spartak Moscow beats Arsenal Tula away. Then Loko will win silver medals only if they win the two remaining matches of the championship, and the red-and-white lose points.

Prechampion hype

The match against the red-greens was Zenit’s last home match this season. Accordingly, the team would no longer have a chance to arrange a triumph in St. Petersburg in the event of a misfire. It is unlikely that the blue-white-blue, in the event of a failure with Loko, would have missed the gold in away games with two RPL outsiders – Ufa and Tambov. But it was important for the team to celebrate gold at their own stadium, in front of most of their fans.

Zenit haven’t lost at home since October 24 last year, when Rubin Kazan took three points from St. Petersburg (2: 1). Lokomotiv, in turn, won all official matches this year – eight in the championship and three in the Russian Cup.

The joy of victory was reinforced by the fact that the authorities of St. Petersburg allowed to fill up to 75% of the stands of the Gazprom Arena. With the total capacity of the stadium on Krestovsky Island over 68 thousand people, taking into account the social distance, the Sunday match could be attended by 40 thousand spectators. So much came to the game.

The crowd of fans was such that the line in front of the turnstiles at the entrance to the stadium stretched almost to the adjacent embankment. Pandemonium was also at the exit from the Zenit metro station, which is opened on match days. It is not yet completed, although trains started stopping here during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

On the eve of the game, information appeared that Zenit did not provide Lokomotiv with the minimum required quota of tickets for the fans of the railroad workers. According to the current regulations, fans of guest teams must be provided with 5% of the total number of tickets. In a specific case – 2 thousand. Some telegram channels wrote that Loko received only 1.8 thousand tickets, and Zenit refused to allocate more.

But Izvestia had at its disposal a letter to Zenit signed by Lokomotiv CEO Vladimir Leonchenko with a request to allocate 1,617 tickets to the club for the guest sectors, that is, even less than the St. Petersburgers issued. The railwaymen asked for 1317 tickets to be sent for sale in Moscow at the box office of their home Russian Railways Arena. The remaining 300 were to be sold at the guest box offices of the Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg.

The crash of the “steam locomotive”

In the first minutes of the match, Zenit tried to attack in vain. Sergei Semak’s charges had a territorial advantage, they spent a lot of time on the other side of the field. But almost the first raid into the possession of the blue-white-blue almost ended in a goal. After a series of passes Dmitry Barinov shot from the right flank, the ball bounced off the defender of Petersburgers to Maxim Mukhin, who hit the crossbar.

After the winter break, Lokomotiv invariably scored first. This played a big role in his victories, taking into account the emphasis of the team of Marko Nikolic on playing on defense and counterattacking in free zones, where the majority of goals were obtained due to the individual actions of Fedor Smolov, Francois Camano, Rifat Zhemaletdinov and Grzegorz Krykhovyak.

Leading the score, the red-greens forced the rivals to go forward, recoup and leave a lot of space in their defense. But Loko has never at the official level found itself in the shoes of opponents when it needs to go forward, recoup and reveal itself. The first such experience ended in failure.

On the 19th minute Serdar Azmun shot from outside the penalty area, Marinato Guilherme parried the ball, Malcolm picked it up, hitting the defender, but Artem Dziuba watched over the rebound and parachute made a candle behind the collar of the Loko goalkeeper who came out of the gate. At that moment, Maciej Rybus was already lying on the lawn, into which Dziuba crashed. The main referee of the match, Sergei Karasev, went to watch the video replay, but as a result, the goal was counted, although already during the match, such a decision raised big questions for many.

Five minutes earlier, due to Wendel’s injury, Semak had to change the Brazilian to Sebastian Driussi. And after the hosts opened the score, Loko tried to attack, sieged someone else’s penalty area for a few minutes, but it turned out to be ineffectual.

On the 39th minute, after Driussi’s cross from the corner, Loko’s defense left only Azmun on the goalkeeper’s line, who sent the ball into the net with his head. And just before the end of the half, Karasev appointed a penalty kick to Guilherme’s goal, which Dziuba confidently converted. But the nightmare for the red-greens was not over – just a minute after the break, Azmun scored a hat-trick. And in the 52nd minute, after a series of rebounds, the Iranian forward hit the crossbar, but Dziuba finished off the ball into the empty net.

Very quickly Kamano got back one goal, but this did not affect the outcome of the meeting. In the last half hour, Zenit acted in a relaxed manner, and Loko carried out several dangerous attacks, although this did not produce significant results. But in the 68th minute, a blow from outside the penalty area of ​​Malcolm was too tough for Guilherme. The score became 6: 1, and for Lokomotiv there was a prospect of suffering the biggest defeat in the history of playing in the Russian championship.

The previous record was set in the same season – in December, the railroad was defeated by Krasnodar (0: 5). As a result, this “achievement” was surpassed – the score remained 6: 1.

“Zenit deserved this championship and had a worthy third consecutive season in the RPL,” Nikolai Naumov, the former president of Lokomotiv, told Izvestia. – Not even the class of players speaks about the team, but its stability, the ability to win in most matches, and not from time to time, like the competitors of St. Petersburg. Nobody else has played enough gold, so everything is natural. And, of course, the form of disgrace is how the competitor played against the Petersburgers. I think the point is in the tactics of the head coach, who for some reason decided to play an attack with Zenit, and this is suicide. A very strange approach, since this spring Loko took most of the victories due to iron discipline from behind. Even against Tambov, he did not hesitate to play from defense at times. And with Zenit it is absolutely impossible to miss the first. Loko did it, and then fell apart. I’m afraid now it will be difficult for him to keep the second place. Much depends on the next Spartak match in Tula. If he beats Arsenal, he is unlikely to miss the second line.

In the remaining two rounds Lokomotiv will play at home with Dynamo Moscow and Ural Yekaterinburg. Between them, the team is waiting for the final of the Cup of Russia against Samara “Wings of the Soviets” in Nizhny Novgorod.