The confrontation between Lokomotiv and Zenit aroused great interest for two reasons at once. Firstly, the Railwaymen had the opportunity to stop the opponent at home and, in the event of Rostov's victory over Orenburg, to revive the intrigue in the fight for the title. After all, in the next round, the southerners will just have to take st. Petersburg. Mikhail Galaktionov's charges were quite capable of taking points from the defending champion and even beating him for the first time since 2019, since they showed the best results in the RPL after the resumption of the season, having won four victories in four meetings. Sergey Semak's team lost to CSKA in this stretch and barely squeezed the modest Khimki and the strong Ural.
Such a rise would not have happened if it were not for Artem Dzyuba, who scored six goals. The experienced striker has completely come to the court in the new team and was eager to upset his former club, with whom he won ten trophies, and to prove that the decision not to renew his contract last year was wrong, and he himself is still capable of showing bright football. It is not surprising that Semak on the eve of the match even had to answer the question whether he was afraid of meeting with the ex-ward.
"It's football. The more interesting it will be to see. And Artem is charged, and Lokomotiv has made a great move, and we need a victory. Fans love such games, "the official website of the club quotes the specialist.
For the visitors, the return to action of Wilmar Barrios, who had recovered from injury, should have been a huge help. However, the midfielder remained on the bench and entered the field only at the end. But Semak from the first minutes threw into the battle Ivan Sergeev, who scored a brace in the game with Ural. In turn, his counterpart relied on a 4-4-2 formation, in which François Camano formed a duet in attack with Dzyuba.
In the first half, Galaktionov's plan for the game almost worked. He prepared a hybrid formation for the leader, in which the players performed different roles. During the attacks, Kamano and Sergei Pinyaev were located on the edges. However, on defense, both dropped lower and covered the midfield. A large amount of work was also performed by Maxim Glushenkov, called not only to break into free zones, but also to help Artem Karpukas and Dmitry Barinov in the support room.
This idea justified itself, because before the break the visitors had almost no free space in the other half. Picking up the ball, they came across two layered lines. We had to rely only on individual mistakes and the skill of their own performers, especially Malcom, who often received passes from the right. Sergeev was completely invisible and almost did not meet with the ball.
The Railwaymen, making selections, immediately tried to deliver the ball on horseback to Dzyuba. And Artem successfully clung to him, including in someone else's penalty area. As a result, he won a total of five horse martial arts. His discounts also worked on the fast Glushenkov and the technical Pinyaev. Before the break, they created a lot of problems for their opponents.
Not surprisingly, it was Maxim who managed to open the scoring in the 26th minute. Moments earlier, he had forgiven Mikhail Kerzhakov by failing to hit the far corner after an astonishing heel save by Dzyuba. But the midfielder immediately corrected himself for his mistake, and Zenit legionnaires helped him to score. Renan, having received the ball from Kerzhakov, gave a not very successful pass to Wendel, and he immediately came under pressure from Glushenkov. He made a surprisingly easy tackle at the entrance to the box and calmly shot low into the far.
Having missed, st. Petersburg residents became angry and pressed the Muscovites to the gate. However, for the time being, they calmly defended and did not allow the visitors to penetrate into the box. Still, the high class of the individual players helped equalize shortly before the break. Malcom found Wendel in the box with a cutting pass, and he threw the ball between Barinov and Karpukas and shot from under Yegor Pogostnov.
However, the second half of the match was completely left to the guests. Lokomotiv briefly got involved only after the appearance of Rifat Zhemaletdinov and Anton Miranchuk on the field. But you can only remember a couple of passes by Pinyaev, who was tired closer to the 70th minute and was replaced. Dzyuba was not so noticeable either, although he continued to regularly win the fight on the "second floor". As a result, the hosts did not fire a single shot on target and hardly disturbed Kerzhakov.
The merit of St. Petersburg is also great in this, who began to meet their opponents much more tightly in the middle of the field and did not allow them to run away, as in the first half. So the attacking trio was cut off from their partners. Substitute instead of the inert Kamano Zhemaletdinov did not show himself.
But Semak's castling worked. In particular, Cassierra became the protagonist of the confrontation. Replacing the inconspicuous Sergeyev, he added aggression up front and was much better than the Russian in beating his teammates. As soon as he appeared on the turf, he almost gave an assist to Malcom. However, the Brazilian after the Colombian's cross could not strike, but only corrected the ball to Mostovoy. On the other hand, the midfielder struck the post from a killer position and Wendel headed into the near corner.
The end of the second half, as well as the first, the defending champions were as active as possible and still scored a logical goal. It's a bit of a shame for Pogostnov, who made a fateful mistake. After Douglas dos Santos' shot, the ball bounced straight from it to Cassierre, who struck an empty target in the fall. The defender tried to carry the ball off the line, but only sent it into the net. At the same time, the 19-year-old defender did not deserve criticism in his address, as he held a decent meeting and, for example, became the best in the team in the number of takeaways (six).
In the end, Semak competently killed time with a number of castlings. Lokomotiv did not have a single chance to escape. And Zenit once again proved to be a team with character. After the break, St. Petersburg scored the most goals this season - 31, while before - 21. They also beat the railwaymen on the road for the first time since 2017. The Muscovites suffered their debut defeat in the RPL under the leadership of Galaktionov.
Dzyuba, despite the lack of goals, after the final whistle still gave reason to discuss his behavior. He approached his former partners and congratulated them, but did not shake hands with Semak, who was heading in his direction. Later, the forward explained his act by the fact that he simply did not see the coach, and therefore turned around and went to the locker room.