Zenit dominate Europe as CSKA Moscow fail in weakened group

Olympique Lyon's Henri Bedimo (C) challenges Zenit St. Petersburg's Javi Garcia (L) during their Champions League Group H soccer match in Lyon, France, November 4, 2015. © Robert Pratta
With a perfect record in Group H, Zenit St. Petersburg are Europe’s on-form club, qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages with a game to spare. CSKA Moscow are failing to keep up the pace with their Russian rivals.

When considering the very best teams in Europe, it’s hard to look past the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. The trio will all compete in the Champions League knockout stages, but not one of them can match the form of Zenit this season.

Spearheaded by Hulk, Danny and Russian international Artyom Dzyuba – with the latter currently second top scorer in this year’s competition behind Cristiano Ronaldo – Zenit have become a fluid attacking team full of confidence.

With five wins from five, twelve goals scored and four conceded, Andre Villas-Boas’ side have the best record in this season’s Champions League group stages. While not demolishing opponents like their more illustrious European counterparts, scoring no more than three in each game, the Russian side have quietly dispatched Lyon, Valencia and Gent with ruthless efficiency over the last three months.

Credit must go to manager Andre Villas-Boas who has instilled a belief in his side, calling from his Europa League winning experience with Porto in 2010/11.

Zenit St. Petersburg coach Andre Villas-Boas © Robert Pratta

In the Russian capital, meanwhile, CSKA are looking on with envy.

Rock bottom of Group B, with a small chance of squeezing into the Europa League in third place on the final day, Leonid Slutsky’s CSKA have just one win from five, and are heading for an early exit.

A 2-0 defeat to Wolfsburg on Wednesday, with a crucial error from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev allowing the German side to take the lead, ended any hopes of Champions League progression. 

CSKA have scored just once in the four games played against Wolfsburg and Manchester United respectively, and have not managed to translate their domestic form into a decent European run.

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The club sits at the top of the Russian Premier League with 36 points, five ahead of second placed Rostov, and seven ahead of AVB’s Zenit. Since 2010, the Russian top flight has been dominated by both Zenit and CSKA, with the latter hoping for a league triumph to draw them level with their rivals at three a piece by the end of the season.

CSKA had successfully reached the Champions League knockout stage in their previous two campaigns, making the quarter finals in 2009/10. Before this season, Zenit, only made it through to the knockouts once in their history, in 2011/12, losing to Portuguese side Benfica.

They will be hoping to emulate CSKA in reaching the quarters this season, and possibly beyond.

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