Manuel Veth –
Once again Zenit’s marketing machine had gone into overdrive. Posters around the city displayed the upcoming Saint Petersburg derby in the fifth round of the Russian Cup between Dinamo and Zenit. Posters ahead of the match highlighted the Soviet traditions of this tie in which Zenit was a massive favourite to advance against a Dinamo Saint Petersburg side, who are currently in third place in Russia’s Football National League (second division).
The latest pet project of the Rotenberg family, who have somewhat distanced themselves from Dinamo Moscow, Dinamo Saint Petersburg hope that they can establish themselves as Saint Petersburg’s second club in the long run—for now, that position is held by Tosno, who play their home games at the Petrovsky Stadium. Zenit in the meantime remain the biggest club in the city and a giant in Russian football unreachable even by the competition within the Russian Football Premier League.
— FC Zenit in English (@fczenit_en) September 19, 2017
Coached by Roberto Mancini Zenit’s spent €85 million on new players this summer. Argentine stars, identified by Mancini as the perfect players for the Russian Football Premier League, like Matías Kranevitter, Emiliano Rigoni, Sebastián Driussi, Leandro Paredes and Emanuel Mammana all were added to an already expensive squad. Zenit’s entire team is worth €120.2 million according to transfermarkt.de—more than any other side in the league.
Dinamo Saint Petersburg’s Squad is Worth Just €4 Million
In comparison, Dinamo Saint Petersburg’s entire squad has a transfer value of just €4 million. With an average squad age of just 25.7, they are also a relatively young side—a typical phenomena in Russia’s second division. Coached by Aleksandr Tochilin, who was signed by the club in 2015 straight from Dinamo Moscow’s youth academy, Dinamo Saint Petersburg was re-founded in 2014 after a merger with Petroset Saint Petersburg.
It was a tough beginning, however, as Dinamo were relegated to the Professional Football League (third division). It was there that Tochilin was charged with the rebuild and with the mission to get the team back into professional football. This far his mission is on track. The club is back in the FNL and is among the teams that could achieve promotion to the Russian Football Premier League at the end of the season.
On Thursday Dinamo got a taste of Russian Football Premier League football. Drawn against Zenit Dinamo had a mountain to climb. They did, however, have a significant advantage. Zenit, and Mancini, underestimated the team. Faced with the headache of having to play in the Europa League next Thursday (the preview will be available on the Futbolgrad Network) Mancini fielded a highly experimental side.
Mancini’s Experiments Fail
Using the 4-3-3 formation Mancini started Yuri Lodygin in goal. In defence Denis Terentyev, Miha Mevlja, Ivan Novoseltsev and Aleksandr Anyukov all got a rare start for Zenit. In midfield the inexperienced 18-year-old Belarusian Kirill Kaplenko, playing as the defensive pivot behind Paredes and Christian Naboa, debuted for the club. Up front Yuri Zhirkov, Dimitry Poloz and Emiliano Rigoni provided plenty of experience, but it was evident that they had never played together in this kind of setup.
Playing in front of 37,123 fans at the Krestovsky Stadium Dinamo took full advantage of the situation—especially after Mevlja was sent off in the tenth minute for a professional foul. In the 37th minute, Artem Kulishev brought Dinamo ahead and Maksim Barsov doubled the lead just six minutes later. Dinamo took the 2-0 lead in the dressing room.
— Roberto Mancini (@robymancio) September 21, 2017
Not surprising Roberto Mancini made significant changes in the second half bringing on Daler Kuzyaev for Zhirkov in the 55th minute. Shortly after Zenit were back in the match Leandro Paredes shot from distance in the 61st minute found the net thanks to a massive mistake by Dinamo keeper Denis Kniga. The goal shocked Dinamo, who were unable to respond and just one minute later Dmitry Poloz equalized for Zenit. From here on the fans expected that Zenit would crush their local rivals.
Dinamo, however, quickly settled and kept their composure. Even Mancini bringing on Driussi did little to change the flow of the game. Dinamo simply held on all the way to get the game into extra time. There the match appeared to go into penalties until another defensive laps by Zenit gifted Dinamo Saint Petersburg a penalty. Artem Kulishev stepped up and scored to get Dinamo through the next round of the Russian Cup.
Ten out of 16 Russian Football Premier League Teams Fall in the Fifth Round of the Russian Cup
Although Zenit will not be to sad about not having to focus on the Russian Cup. At the same time going out against the city rivals in this fashion is an embarrassment. Zenit can perhaps take some comfort in the fact that fellow Russian Football Premier League sides Dinamo Moscow, who lost 4-2 after penalties to Spartak Nalchik. The two are not the only sides, who were defeated in the fifth round.
CSKA Moscow were defeated 1-0 after extra time by Avangard Kursk, Krasnodar, lost 2-1 Tom Tomsk and Anzhi Makhachkala, eliminated 2-0 by Luch Energiya Vladivostok. Other RFPL teams did not do much better Ural Yekaterinburg were defeated 3-0 by Shinnik Yaroslavl, Lokomotiv Moscow lost 3-2 to Krylia Sovetov Samara, and Akhmat Grozny lost 3-0 in Siberia to Yenisey Krasnoyarsk. Finally, Ufa lost 5-2 to Olimpiyets Nizhny Novgorod, and Arsenal Tula were also eliminated in the fifth round of the Russian Cup.
Altogether ten out of the 16 Russian Football Premier League sides were eliminated in the fifth round, the first round in which top division clubs participate, of the Russian Cup. An astonishing number gave the fact that the Russian Cup does not hold the same importance than it does in other countries. Only Spartak Moscow, Rostov, Tosno, Rubin Kazan, SKA Khabarovsk and Amkar Perm are left in the competition.
Given that the cup is the fastest route to the Europa League group stage and that there are only four rounds left to the final expect the likes of Spartak Moscow to put more value in this competition. In the meantime the story of Saint Petersburg’s city derby and the surprise victory of Dinamo Saint Petersburg shows that small teams will have to be taken serious in this competition.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.