Champions League 2015 – 2016 Group H: Zenit St. Petersburg Make Strong Impression in Game Two
Zenit St. Petersburg have never won a UEFA Champions League title, or even gotten very close to doing so. In fact, the Russian club’s European success is pretty much limited to a UEFA Cup (Europa League) victory in 2008 and a UEFA Super Cup title the same year. After a dynamite start to the Champions League 2015 – 2016 Group H, it seems like Zenit St. Petersburg might have what it takes to go a long way in the tournament. The Anti-Aircraft Gunners are up three points in Group H after just two games. Spanish soccer club Valencia are in second, while Lyon (France) and Gent (Belgium) are trailing in the bottom two slots.
Potential Frontrunner Status
So could Zenit St. Petersburg be potential frontrunners or dark horse contenders for the 2015 – 2016 Champions League title? It’s tough to say. On one hand, the first month of the tournament has been remarkably competitive, to the point where Zenit’s two-win record is pretty notable. Of the other 32 teams competing in the group stage, only four others—Real Madrid, Benfica, Juventus, and Bayern Munich—won both of their first two matches.
Offensively, Zenit St. Petersburg have been one of the top-three most impressive clubs in the 2015 – 2016 Champions League. In their first two games, the Anti-Aircraft Gunners have tallied five goals. Only Bayern Munich (eight goals) and Real Madrid (six) have higher “goals for” tallies.
If there’s one thing that’s holding Zenit St. Petersburg back from being a true UCL contender for the 2015 – 2016 season, though, it’s defense. In addition to putting forward stunning offensive performances, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have also conceded zero goals so far in this year’s Champions League tournament. Zenit St. Petersburg, meanwhile, should have been enjoying big wins, thanks to their high-scoring performances, but only won by one point in both matches due to a scattered, sloppy defense.
For instance, in their first game, against Valencia, the Anti-Aircraft Gunners were up two at halftime thanks to a brace by Hulk. They could have continued to bury their opponents in the second half, but actually let Valencia equalize the score before netting a game winner at the 76-minute mark.
Similarly, in their second match of the group stage, Zenit St. Petersburg took the lead at the 35-minute mark, but allowed Gent to equalize early in the second half. Oleg Shatov and Hulk were able to team up to take the lead back not long after, and the Anti-Aircraft Gunners ultimately won the game 2-1. Still, the narrow margin of victory seemed like a missed opportunity for a football club that clearly has such a strong offense. Hulk has been particularly impressive in the first two games, netting two of the three goals in the first match, and providing assists for both goals in the second.
The Rest of the Group H
Even with an imperfect defense, Zenit St. Petersburg are still easily dominating Group H. Valencia faired better against a different team, winning their second group stage match 1-0 against Lyon. Gent and Lyon, meanwhile, are both winless at the moment, having drawn their first game 1-1.
Already, it seems fairly clear that St. Petersburg and Valencia will be the football clubs to advance from this particular group. Both teams play at home for match three (scheduled for October 20th), with Zenit hosting Lyon and Valencia hosting Gent, and should be able to snag easy wins in those respective fixtures. And if Zenit and Valencia do win those games, then Group H will look like even more of a foregone conclusion than it already does.
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