Zenit Saint Petersburg added acute switches of play in offence to their central compactness in defence to knock Scottish champions Celtic out of the Europa League.
After succumbing to a narrow defeat at Celtic Park, Zenit Saint Petersburg put three past Celtic at the Krestovsky Stadium to progress to the Europa League Ro16. In the first leg, the Russian side played solid defensively but offered nothing forward. On the other hand, the Hoops dominated possession but only showed one goal for it all the while needing a touch of class from Charly Musonda. In the second leg, Roberto Mancini tweaked the attack of Zenit and his side played the plan to perfection.
— Roberto Mancini (@robymancio) February 22, 2018
Zenit switch play from side to side
When in possession, Zenit Saint Petersburg proceeded to make quick switches of play from side to side. Celtic proved slow in reorienting their defensive shape to adjust to Zenit’s change of attacking front. As mentioned in the first leg, Alexander Kokorin and Emiliano Rigoni again provided pace down the flanks. The two proved instrumental in the lead up to two of the three goals the hosts scored.
While the opener came from a corner (the setpiece goal, splendid in itself, will be discussed later), the corner kick stemmed from Zenit switching play from right to the left. Kokorin first linked play from side to side before Leandro Paredes struck and forced a save from Dorus de Vries. Afterwards, Lvi perfectly executed the resulting corner set piece with Branislav Ivanovic powering a header home.
Ivanovic setpiece goal
Now we discuss the corner that led to the opener. Zenit players set themselves up around the six-yard box while Celtic set themselves up defensively via man-marking. As Paredes signaled to take the kick, Ivanovic, at the left edge of the six-yard box, made a curling run into the central area, leaving Jozo Simunovic behind.
At the same time, Domenico Criscito moved towards the left from the centre (where Ivanovic had gone into), taking his marker Mikael Lustig with him. But more vitally, the Argentine defender provided a ‘screen’ against Kristoffer Ajer who man-marked Miha Mevlja. Due to the traffic Criscito had caused, Simunovic had to circle around to get to Ivanovic. The Celtic centreback never got near Ivanovic, leading to the former Chelsea defender heading free past de Vries.
Branislav Ivanovic: "We believed that we could win big at home"
The first goalscorer and birthday boy spoke to the press after Zenit saw off Celtic 3-0 at Stadium St. Petersburg #ZENCEL #UEL
— FC Zenit in English (@fczenit_en) February 22, 2018
Kokorin bundles home
The hosts’ third goal proved important as it came just as Celtic got on the ascendancy. And again, it came from Zenit switching play from left to right. After a halted attack down the left-hand side, Lvi recirculated the ball into the back. But while the visitors proceeded to press, the hosts’ front three stayed high up the pitch. This stretched the visitors vertically and left a big gap in between their pressing players and rearguard.
Paredes exploited this pocket of space in the central axis. After getting the ball, he immediately switched play to the right side for fellow Argentine Rigoni. Suddenly, the Celtic defence are on the backfoot. The Hoops only half-cleared Rigoni’s pullback and Ivanovic put the rebound back into the box for Kokorin to bundle home.
Zabolotnyi and Kokorin lead Zenit press
Zenit shaped up into a loose 4-4-2 when defending. Kokorin lining up with Zabolotnyi centrally instead of the left-hand side back in the first leg. In the high block, the hosts performed a press, which got triggered when ball reaches any of the two outside centrebacks of Celtic. It allowed Zenit to win the ball high up the pitch and hit against the run of play. In these cases, Kokorin performed as the target man who got in behind the Celtic rearguard via throughballs or high balls from Paredes.
Hoops still hog possession
Like the first leg in Glasgow, Celtic hogged possession with the same build-up phase. Their backthree provided a firm base to launch their forays forward. Scott Brown operated just in front of the rearguard while Eboue Kouassi and Olivier Ntcham linked the ball from the back to the final third. Kieran Tierney again provided threat down the left-hand side though this time it was against the 34-year-old Ivanovic. The 20-year-old enjoyed some success against the Serbian defender though none resulted in direct chances.
After the first goal, Celtic knocked the ball about and seemed to have stabilised but then the hosts doubled their lead. A long-range Daler Kuzyaev effort flew past de Vries although the Dutch keeper maybe should have done better. After going two goals down, the visitors moved the ball side to side. Zenit’s central compactness only allowed the wide areas for the Hoops to operate on to look for opportunities into the final third.
However, the visitors were slow in knocking the ball about, allowing Zenit to stay organised defensively and not be horizontally stretched. The Hoops failed to find any pockets of space in the final third. Moussa Dembele looked isolated upfront and to top it all off, Celtic had no shots on goal in the first half.
Celtic improve but Zenit stay compact
After the restart, Brendan Rodgers addressed his side’s lack of cutting edge. The Celtic boss introduced the attack-minded Tom Rogic for Kouassi. The visitors improved on the offensive end in the second half. The Hoops got more assertive and found more success in making their way to the final third (although a couple of moments later, Zenit would go 3-0 up).
Rodgers also introduced Scott Sinclair. These positive changes saw the visitors make their first shots on target with Ntcham and Rogic forcing Andrey Lunev into saves. With twenty minutes to go, Rodgers also introduced Musonda but to no avail.
— Celtic TV (@CelticTV) February 23, 2018
Zenit stayed defensively compact in the middle and always looked ready to break as soon as they win the ball back. Mancini made a defensive substitution, introducing Aleksandr Erokhin for Anton Zabolotnyi to switch his side’s formation into a 4-5-1 and beef up the midfield. While Celtic pushed the hosts’ defence deeper and deeper, the visitors struggled to make any breakthroughs against the hosts’ compactness. Zenit Saint Petersburg move on into the Europa League Ro16 where they will face RB Leipzig.