When Vladimir Bystrov found out that he was heading back to Zenit after a four-year stay with archrival Spartak Moscow, he must have been humming a familiar tune.
I see skies of blue, clouds of white,
Bright blessed days, dark sacret nights.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!
Bystrov rejoined former teammates in goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev and good friend Igor Denisov. And not 48 hours after bringing him back from Spartak, Bystrov was immediately inserted into Zenit's starting lineup when they traveled to the northwest Moscow town of Khimki.
How the mighty have fallen. Not even four years ago, Khimki reached the Russian Cup final, where they were defeated at the hands of UEFA Cup champions CSKA Moscow.
Now, the club have only won two times in 20 matches in the Russian Premier League and carry the worst goal differential by a large margin.
But Zenit weren't exactly striding into Rodina Stadium on top of the world, either. With only one victory in their last six league contests, the Sky Blues also limped out of UEFA Europa League play at the hands of CD Nacional earlier in the week.
Sitting in eighth place courtesy of Saturn Moscow's annihilation of Terek Grozny on Saturday, Zenit badly needed three points if they had any aspirations of making a late climb in the table.
Anatoliy Davydov would be very proud.
From the opening of the match, chants of "Sine-byelo-goluboy, Hey! Hey!" rained down from the very vocal Zenit supporters who made the journey east. Meanwhile, whatever Khimki fans did show up were drowned out in their own stadium.
Much as the Zenit crowd controlled the environment, the players did their job and dominated from opening kickoff. Alessandro Rosina was finally inserted into the starting 11, but it was Bystrov who made an early impact.
An audacious deep feed from Konstantin Zyryanov had Bystrov off to the races and, as Khimki keeper Mikhail Kamarov came out to challenge him, the speedy midfielder tried to lob him.
The only problem was the field felt like playing extra bouncy today, and the ball jumped over the net and left Bystrov hanging. Literally.
As Maxwell Smart would say, "missed it by that much."
But, no fear. Zenit continued on the attack, pressing for an all-important first goal. They had conceeded early goals in many of their last matches, including one in the second minute against Amkar Perm two weeks ago.
A few chances came here or there for Khimki, who was struggling for possession. Young Jamaican striker Errol Stevens had the best opportunity on goal, but missed far left and Malafeev didn't even need to make a save.
The visitors would finally get that breakthrough in the 24th minute when Zyryanov drove into the box and dumped it off to Turkish striker Fatih Tekke. Tekke dribbled to the left, created some space, and then fired a shot past Kamarov, who had nearly no chance.
That makes three goals in the last three matches for Tekke, who has been substituted off in two of those.
Russia coach Guus Hiddink was also in attendance for today's frivolities, most likely taking a close look at the form of his players as Russia will take the field at the Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5. Zenit now fields six players from Hiddink's roster.
Khimki was booked for an aggressive challenge—a trend they have practiced all afternoon and finally got penalized for.
Igor Semshov had a superb chance before halftime but smashed it off the post. Kamarov was beaten once more but got saved by the woodwork. Not an easy play for Semshov either, as he needed to kick the feed out of the air.
Half Time: Zenit St. Petersburg 1, FC Khimki 0.
As the players took the field again, Zenit made it completely obvious that they had no intention of keeping that score.
Four minutes in, it was Zyryanov feeding Bystrov—and this time there was no mistake. Bystrov took the pass in stride, zoomed past three defenders and deposited it past a helpless Kamarov. The goal set an incredible standard.
Each of the three players who have joined Zenit this summer—Bystrov, Rosina, and Sergei Kornilenko—have all scored scored in their debut match.
If Khimki had a chance of making the contest respectable, that soon went out the window.
A yellow card to Sebastien Sansoni for an aggressive tackle began a string of horrific events for the locals. A few minutes later, Yevgeny Gapon was issued his second yellow of the afternoon, effectively ending his outing. A red card was the last thing Khimki needed.
A third goal seemed like it would wrap things up.
This time, it was Rosina. Zyryanov fed him down the left side where Khimki defender Yuri Kirilov attempted to trip him up, but Rosina just kept going and fired a missile top shelf.
Rosina might not be the world's largest midfielder at 1.68m tall (5'6"), but he does not shy away from physical play at all, and more often than not just plays right through it.
Adding insult to injury, Khimki took another red card in the 83rd minute as Sansoni was again booked for hauling down Bystrov. This time it was in the box, but no penalty was awarded. Khimki manager and former Zenit director of sports Konstantin Sarsania doesn't even waste his time to protest.
As the match comes to an end, one final embarrassment for Khimki is in order. Bystrov once again attacked, but this time attempted to feed it back to substitute Roman Shirokov. How unfortunate. The pass takes a detour off Khimki defender Maksim Zinoviev's foot and into the back of the net.
Final Time: Zenit St. Petersburg 4, FC Khimki 0.
- See what happens when Rosina starts?
- Shortly after the match, it was announced that Zenit had signed Serbian striker Mateja Kežman on a loan from Paris Saint-Germain. The veteran brings a talented scoring resume, after playing with PSV, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Fenerbahçe.
- The three points were a necessity today, and the team played like it.
- Zenit will now have a week off from Russian Premier League play, as the national team plays host to Liechtenstein and then travels to Wales for two World Cup qualifiers.
GK Malafeev: 6. Made the two saves he needed to. Apart from that, a very simple day at the office for No. 16.
D Anyukov: 6.5. Played great defense and also had a few chances on net. Should have made it five late in the game.
D Meira: 7. Dominated Khimki attackers alongside fellow centerback Nicolas Lombaerts.
D Lombarts: 7.5. Can't ask for much more from a centerback.
D Kim: 6. Although he played most of his time in the midfield, he was never truly tested defensively. Gave the ball away twice too many times. Made a couple nice runs.
M Denisov: 7. Silent but ruthlessly effective in his return.
M Rosina: 8. A force all afternoon. Khimki couldn't catch him or take the ball from him. Bagged his first Russian Premier League goal, after his first came in Cup play.
M Zyryanov: 7.5. Showed off not only his defensive abilities, but also his passing touch as he picked up two assists on the afternoon. Showed no signs of fatigue despite playing the entire 90 minutes.
M Semshov: 6. Wasn't at his best as he missed a few chances, but didn't need to play his best. Played smart while on the pitch and never turned the ball over.
M Bystrov: 9. He was unstoppable.
F Tekke: 7.5. Another solid performance from the Turkish striker. Played 50 minutes, scored, and left the pitch in style.
M Shirokov: 6.5. Jumped on in favor of Semshov late in the game and was a major factor in the final goal.
M Huszti: 6. Delivered a few heart-stopping balls, but never made a huge difference. Provided great relief for Denisov.
F Kornilenko: 5. Not effective, again. If he did one thing right, it was constantly drawing a defender to him and allowing more space for midfielders to operate.