Zenit 2 – 0 Torino

Europa League, Last 16 First Leg
March 12, 2015
Zenit 2 – 0 Torino
Goals: Witsel 38, Criscito 53
St.Petersburg, Petrovsky Stadium
Att: 17200

Zenit: Lodygin – Criscito, Neto, Garay, Smolnikov – Javi Garcia, Shatov (81 Ryazantsev), Witsel (90 Tymoshchuk) – Hulk, Rondon, Danny (c)
Torino: Padelli – Moretti, Glik, Maksimovic – Molinaro, El Kaddouri, Gazzi, Benassi (28 sent off), Darmian – Josef Martinez (34 Vives, 52 Farnerud), Quagliarella (74 Maxi Lopez)

      Danny - Rondon - Hulk
         Witsel - Shatov
           Javi Garcia
Criscito - Garay - Neto - Smolnikov
             Lodygin

What a boring game. In the first half, Zenit dominated possession but hardly threatened the Torino goal. Hulk was mostly invisible, possibly because he had been sick and missed a few training sessions lately. Just before the half-hour mark the hosts got some unexpected help from the opponents: Benassi who had been booked already went into a silly unneeded reckless two-footed challenge against Witsel in midfield and earned his second yellow so the visitors have been left with a man down for more than an hour. A few minutes before half time Zenit finally managed their first shot on target but it was a good one: Padelli only parried Smolnikov’s angled effort and Witsel scored on the rebound, 1-0.

A few minutes after the restart Hulk played a one-two with Danny, the Brazilian’s weak shot hit the post and Criscito was the first on the rebound to score against his compatriots. It was a quiet game for the rest of the second half, Zenit still dominated possession but almost never threatened while Torino created nothing at all.

I didn’t have time to write about the first leg earlier (neither did I want to write about this boring game), and now it’s Wednesday March 18 and the return leg in Turin will be played tomorrow so I’ll write a few words about the tomorrow’s game:

What to expect in the return leg? Zenit is not in the greatest condition at the moment. They were not convincing in the first leg where they didn’t create much in the attack even having a one man advantage for more than an hour. The two goals were scored with a help of lucky rebounds, and rolling the ball around near the opponents’ box doesn’t count for domination for me. Zenit did even worse in the league last Sunday when they failed to beat outsider Torpedo, albeit on a pitch which was hardly playable. The visitors will have one important missing on Thursday: DM Javi Garcia is unavailable through suspesion. He always plays in front of the defense, with the other two central midfielders normally located higher up the pitch, closer to the attack. In particular, Witsel supports Zenit attack much better since the arrival of Javi Garcia. In the absense of JG though, Witsel will be playing in the defensive midfielder role alongside the second DM (probably Tymoshchuk), so basically two people will be filling Javi Garcia’s place. Only one central midfielder will be supporting the attack, and this will lower Zenit’s attacking potential. But that should be fine, because with the comfortable 2-0 advantage from the first leg the Petersburgers won’t really need to attack. Their aim will be to defend and to prevent Torino from scoring twice. Speaking of defense, central defender Lombaerts has recovered from his injury and came on as a sub on Sunday, so he might play in Turin, which would be a defensive improvement for Zenit.

I didn’t see any Torino home games lately, only watched their away fixtures in Florence and in St.Petersburg. I’m curious if they are able to score goals. The result of their last home game versus Lazio (0-2) suggests that they aren’t. In the first leg in St.Pete they created absolutely nothing in attack. In Florence they did some good counter attacking but Zenit most likely will take defensive approach on Thursday and probably won’t get caught on counters here. So how is Torino going to score? Is Bruno Peres going to play? He looks the most impressive player at Torino at the moment and can make a difference. Also they have Quagliarella who is very inventive and can create a goal out of nowhere, for himself or for Maxi Lopez who is a rather reliable finisher. Actually Quagliarella is one of my favorite Italian players, with all his crazy goals. He already scored against Zenit in this tournament back in 2009 playing for Udinese. I somehow believe Torino will have enough attacking power to score a goal or maybe a couple. After all, they have nothing to lose and will be forced to go forward.

Overall though, with such a good handicap from the first leg I definitely expect Zenit to progress to the next round even if they lose the second leg.

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