The calendar year 2009 had many ups and downs for Zenit St. Petersburg. Disaster struck the club early on, as fan favorite and star forward Andrei Arshavin left for the riches of England. Swiftly following his departure, Portuguese midfielder Danny went down with an injury, that would force him to miss the remainder of the Russian Premier League season.
As the snow thawed in St. Petersburg, the club learned of the departure of two more valuable pieces to the UEFA Cup-winning puzzle from a season ago. Captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk would be leaving for Bayern Munich during the summer, followed by Dick Advocaat, who would be taking over the duties of managing the Belgian national team.
But things turned sour in the summer as team performance began to decline. Following a run of four straight winless matches and a 2-0 defeat to relegation candidates Tomsk at the Petrovsky Stadium, command decided to terminate the contract of Advocaat before he was prepared to leave. The club found itself sitting in 8th place with less than half the season remaining.
Club hero and all-time Zenit appearance leader Anatoliy Davydov took over the reigns as a caretaker. But with the additions of former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman, St. Petersburg-native Vladimir Bystrov and Italian midfield maestro Alessandro Rosina, the tide quickly began to change.
Zenit went on a nine match unbeaten streak, vaulting the blue-white-sky blues back into the title race.
Although the mountain ultimately proved too high, the club sealed a Champions League berth for 2010 as the 3rd-place team in Russia. But, an offseason of uncertainty awaited with numerous aging players and no manager to lead the club into Europe.
That's where the club command delivered an early Novy God present to fans, as Luciano Spalletti was hired as the new manager. The Italian specialist, as everyone knows, has an excellent track record in Italy with AS Roma.
But with the new year come new challenges.
Spalletti, now bankrolled by natural gas giants Gazprom, will have as much money as he needs to fill any holes in the roster. Let's take a look at the 2010 edition of Zenit.
Overview: Vyacheslav Malafeev, who has been a member of Zenit since 1997, has over 300 caps to his name along with the UEFA Cup, Super Cup, and Russian Premier League crown. At 30 years young, he has far from worn out his welcome. There is no question who the No. 1 goalkeeper along the banks of the Neva is.
However, long-time backup Kamil Contofalsky has departed for AEL Limassol, signing on with the Cypriots at the beginning of December. A reliable backup throughout his six year tenure, his final performance carries a black cloud. He was inserted into the second leg of Zenit's Europa League play-off with CD Nacional, and his 89th minute blunder cost Zenit its spot in the competition.
32-year-old St. Petersburg native Dmitri Borodin, will likely serve as the new backup after returning from a loan to Khimki. With the 6+5 rule in play, a Russian-born goalkeeper is nearly a must for all RPL clubs.
Potential Additions: None very likely, as Spalletti will not waste his time or money attempting to find another keeper when the position is nearly concrete. If Borodin is not a suitable backup, youth squad netminder Nikolai Zabolotny should receive a promotion.
Players Departing: Kamil Contofalsky (AEL Limassol).
Position Grade: B. Malafeev is anything but flashy, but he gets the job done.
Overview: On the left, the sky blues have a lot of question marks. On the right resides the surest spot of anyone in the entire lineup. Right back and captain Aleksandr Anyukov is easily the best at his position in the Russian Premier League. He provides both solid defense and the ability to join the attack any time he is in the starting 11.
The first-choice left back, Korean international Dong-jin Kim, has had a bout of bad health recently and could not finish the season. Although he plays with passion and skill, he left a large hole in the defense during his absense. His two replacements, veteran Radek Sirl and 24-year-old Slovak Tomas Hubocan, had mixed results.
Sirl, while his defense was no liability, proved that he has lost a step and isn't half as effective attacking as he once was. Hubocan couldn't be more opposite. His defense has been questionable ever since he arrived at Zenit, but he has always been a little too giddy to try and push the play forwards. But Hubocan has gradually learned and can also play on the right side if Anyukov is unable.
Versatile midfielder Roman Shirokov has also been forced into duty at left back, although with nearly no success.
Potential Additions: Andrea Dossena (Liverpool).
Liverpool and Rafa Benitez has been looking to sell several players in order to raise money to spend elsewhere, and Dossena is on the chopping block. He has seen little playing time at Anfield and has badly damaged his career since joining Liverpool in July 2008. The former Italian first-choice left back is a prime target for Spalletti.
With another target, Juventus left back Cristian Molinaro taking a loan to Atletico Madrid, Dossena seems like the winner.
Players Departing: None.
Position Grade: B-. Anyukov is the star, but a left back is desperately needed for the 2010 season. While Dong-jin Kim will be able to play some of the matches, he can not play in them all and looks to be a better second-half substitute at this point.
Overview: What appeared to be the strength of the club at the beginning of 2009, 2010 looks quite a bit different.
When injured Belgian Nicolas Lombaerts returned from an extended injury problem, nobody truly knew what they were going to get. But under Anatoliy Davydov, Lombaerts went from a backup to completely irreplaceable in a matter of weeks. The 24-year-old began to reach the level of excellence that was expected of him when he joined the club in 2007.
He scored the biggest goal of his career when he headed home the winner against Spartak Moscow on the final matchday of 2009 to propel Zenit into the Champions League. But the left-footer has made equal strides defensively as well.
Fernando Meira proved to be the next best choice at center back, but his age and temperament was his undoing. Injuries forced him out of action at the end of the season and he always seemed to be a few minutes away from getting carded. The Portuguese defender will turn 32 in June and hasn't found the fountain of youth yet.
But that's where the depth ends. Normally useful Croatian defender Ivica Krizanac only managed to play at half his former level and was a defensive liability on numerous occasions.
Shirokov has also tried his hand at the position, but to the surprise of nobody, had almost no positive results.
Potential Additions: Younes Kaboul (Portsmouth), Pablo Ibanez (Atletico Madrid).
It's no secret that Portsmouth is begging for money and need to sell players. Younes Kaboul is one of them. Although he would not come at a cheap price, Spalletti would have about €10-15 million to sign him. It would be awful difficult for Portsmouth to decline that number, and Kaboul would pair with Lombaerts for a very productive back line.
Pablo Ibanez has seen his playing time at Atletico drop significantly since 2008 and only has six appearances in La Liga in 2009. Tomas Ujfalusi and Juanito have seen the bulk of the time, and Luciano Spalletti could potentially offer him a €2-3 million raise from his current contract, which expires this year.
Players Departing: Possibly Ivica Krizanac.
Position Grade: C+. Lombaerts is the leader with Meira providing solid play, but depth is desperately needed. Spalletti will use as much money as needed to bring in reinforcements.
Overview: In all honesty, defensive midfield has been Zenit's best position consistently over the past several years. With Igor Denisov and Anatoliy Tymoschuk, the stars have been there, as well as depth. Although Tymoschuk has moved on to Bayern, Igor Denisov has been named an assistant captain and has earned his spot as the first choice defensive midfielder for the Russian national team.
Although not his position, Konstantin Zyryanov is a more than capable defender and can play central midfield or defensive. By position, Roman Shirokov is able, as well as Victor Fayzulin.
An entire host of Russian players have the position sealed off.
Potential Additions: None.
Players Departing: None.
Position Grade: A. Talent, depth, and experience. This spot has it all.
Overview: However deep the defensive midfield may be, Zenit has a wide wealth of attacking options through the midfield, both central and on both wings.
Portuguese star Danny will be returning from injury and remains on schedule to participate in February training camp. The void he left as a central midfielder was enormous, as his creativity was never replaced at any point during 2009.
On the wings feature a trio of Alessandro Rosina, Szabolcs Huszti and Vladimir Bystrov. By any definition, a potent and possibly deadly attacking force. From the moment he arrived in St. Petersburg, Bystrov couldn't stop scoring, netting six times in six games while showing off his world-class speed. Rosina should prove to be even more effective under Spalletti and build off his initial success in a new city.
Huszti will most likely be moved to a substitutes role, but that hardly means he won't see the field. The free-kick specialist proved his immense value with pinpoint passing and will see a fair share of starts. When he does not start, he figures to be a second half substitute on a weekly basis.
Aleksei Ionov remains buried on the depth chart, but he can be a more than effective player when called upon, especially as an 80th minute substitution. Highly talented 19-year-old Anton Sosnin attracted attention from several Serie A clubs in December, but the youth star chose to remain in St. Petersburg and hopes to make his senior side debut in 2010.
Potential Additions: None.
Players Leaving: Igor Semshov (Dinamo Moscow).
Position Grade: A+. Luciano Spalletti will sleep like a baby knowing he can wake up with this many midfield options to work with.
Overview: Where to start. Over the past few years, every player who has lead the club in scoring has departed. Arshavin is now in London. Pavel Pogrebnyak now plays for Stuttgart. Aleksandr Kerzhakov plies his trade with rival Dinamo Moscow. Now, Turkish striker Fatih Tekke is as good as gone, making his return to his homeland.
In fact, of the four strikers that were a part of Zenit's roster in 2009, only one remains on the roster. That's Sergei Kornilenko, a pure center forward with very limited uses. He is the classic case of a man playing himself out of a starting role. He had every chance to succeed as the replacement for Pogrebnyak, but his total lack of speed proved to be his undoing.
The only striker even remotely capable of starting appears to be hyper-athletic 20-year-old Pavel Ignatovich, who continues to devour the youth level. He led Zenit's youth side to a Russian Championship in 2009 with 18 goals and is hungry to make his league debut after getting a taste of Europa League action under Davydov.
But one man is nowhere near enough for Zenit or Luciano Spalletti.
Potential Additions: Mirko Vucinic (AS Roma), Paolo Guerrero (Hamburg), Eder Citadin Martins (Empoli), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham Hotspur).
Vucinic appears to be the most likely candidate. While Spalletti was at Roma, he had a great relationship with the Montenegrin national, who now appears to be the odd man out with Roma's loan of Luca Toni. Vucinic however, will not be cheap, but any pricetag under €25 million is a price that must be paid.
Paolo Guerrero was a target of Zenit during the summer, but a move never came through. Dick Advocaat was very high on the Peruvian assault force, and Zenit should still be. Another man that nearly any price must be paid for his services.
Eder Citadin Martins, also known as Eder, is a hitman for Serie B side Empoli. The 23-year-old has caught the eye of Zenit command with two straight impressive seasons in Italy, and would serve as a backup option. A pairing of Eder and Ignatovich is a salivating duo for the future, with a tremendous combination of speed and athleticism.
Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko have also been linked with the club, but a move of either of them to St. Petersburg would be unexpected.
Players Leaving: Fatih Tekke (Trabzonspor), Mateja Kezman (end of loan from Paris Saint-Germain), possibly Sergei Kornilenko (Tom Tomsk).
Position Grade: D-. It would surprise nobody if Spalletti added 2-4 strikers during the winter transfer period, and he will have as much money he needs to add depth at the position.
Have a different opinion? Who do you feel Zenit should sign in the January transfer period?