Claudio Ranieri had warned Zenit he wasn’t planning to fold today and that Champions League matches are never considered “friendly”, with or without the mathematical certainty of qualification. And that is why Juve’s manager sent his boys to play offensive football in Russia, keeping squad rotation to a minimum and concentration at its fullest.
If Wednesday’s match was to prove Juventus had “digested” (Ranieri’s words) their 1-0 loss to Inter this week-end, I’d say “mission accomplished”. Only partly however, because the Bianconeri were also determined to put the first place of Group H on ice, something which after their 0-0 draw today (and Real Madrid’s concurrent win vs. Bate Borisov) will unfortunately have to wait until matchday 6.
(From Gazzetta): Tactically, with the first place of the group clearly in mind, Ranieri veered his faithful eleven with a few minor changes: Olof Mellberg replaced Legrottaglie at center-back, Iaquinta took Amauri’s place up front, while Camoranesi started the match on the right wing. In spite of Juve’s impending fixture vs. Reggina on Saturday, and that the risk of injury in the Russian cold was higher than usual, Ranieri really wanted to win this match.
In the initial minutes, possession of the ball was all Zenit’s. The Russian hosts were forced to take the initiative: they needed a win today and another one against Real Madrid in order to qualify. Mission difficult you might say, but certainly not mission impossible (not forgetting the 3rd-place UEFA Cup consolation prize). Yet despite their desperate situation, the home team struggled to bring danger close to Alex Manninger. Instead, Del Piero was battling away on the other end, excelling with his passing & ball control and trying to take advantage of the slow Russian central defenders.
Thus, while Zenit’s short-passing game attempted to penetrate the Juve defenses, the Bianconeri armed their counter-attacks with sudden raids through the middle of the pitch, arriving very close of Malafeev’s goal and hitting the woodwork twice. Once on a Mellberg-redirected Camoranesi free-kick, and a second time through Vincenzo Iaquinta (receiving a good low cross by Molinaro).
The third real chance of the half fell to Del Piero, whose close range effort was blocked by Malafeev into corner. Only shortly before the break did the Russians make their presence felt, with Anatoliy Tymoschuk going for power from set-pieces (saved by Manninger), then finding the back of the net through Pogrebnyak (disallowed for offside). After the first 45 minutes, the score remained tied 0-0.
Juve began the second half as well as they started the first. Del Piero immediately got a good chance, controlling the ball on his chest and firing a left-footed effort (parried by Malafeev), on which Nedved’s follow-up shot went over the bar. ADP made double misses later (with only the goalkeeper to beat), receiving a cross by Iaquinta from the right side. A out-of-the-ordinary mistake for the Juventus captain, which spoiled his otherwise good performance tonight.
Eventually Zenit stepped up the pressure, and things got difficult for Juve. Danny Alves came very close to scoring three times: one was well saved by Manninger, another blocked by Marchisio, and the last chance narrowly missed the target. Then Zenit got their piece of the woodwork, a powerful howitzer by Pavel Pogrebnyak from long range. Post. It was the last scare for Ranieri and his boys, who walked away from the cold weather of St. Petersburg with a point.
| ZENIT (4-3-3): Malafeev – Anyukov, Lombaerts, Kryzanac, Sirl – Denisov, Tymoshchuk, Zyrianov – Danny, Pogrebnyak, Arshavin (70’ Fayzulin). (bench: Contofalski, Kim, Hubocan, Shirokov, Dominguez, Tekke). Coach: Advocaat.
| JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Manninger – Grygera, Mellberg, Chiellini, Molinaro – Camoranesi (84’ Marchionni), Sissoko, Marchisio, Nedved – Iaquinta (88’ Amauri), Del Piero (78’ Giovinco)) (bench: Chimenti, Legrottaglie, De Ceglie, F.Rossi). Coach: Ranieri.