Borussia Dortmund continued the trend of away victories in the Champions League last-16 with a 4-2 victory at Zenit St Petersburg to put themselves firmly in the driving seat to reach the last eight.
Perhaps suffering from more than two months without competitive action due to the winter break, Zenit were masters of their own downfall throughout against a Dortmund side not at their best but still having far too much for their opponents. After a shock 3-0 defeat to Hamburg at the weekend, they were given the boost of two goals in the first five minutes, through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus.
Zenit held it together and twice pulled within a goal in the second half, courtesy of a strike from Oleg Shatov and a debatable penalty slammed home by Hulk. But on each occasion, Zenit immediately let their guard down to allow Dortmund and Robert Lewandowski to reassert a two goal margin that makes the Bundesliga side massive favorites to continue their quest to go one better than last year’s loss in the final.
After a troubled season domestically, and with injuries still ruling out a host of first-team players, Jurgen Klopp will doubtless be delighted with the result. Yet, like his counterpart Luciano Spalletti there will be concerns at how much his defense, which was missing Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, was exposed. But against a Zenit outfit who became the first team to reach the knockout phase with just six points, their fast transition game proved too much going forward.
It was Domenico Criscito in particular, whose mind still appeared to be on his winter break in the early going. For the first goal Roberto Lewandowski’s clever flick got Reus in behind the Italian left-back with all too much ease before both Criscito and Luis Neto failed to make a telling challenge as Reus cut inside. While the midfielder couldn’t complete the move himself, the ball ran to Mkhitaryan whose low finish beat Juri Lodygin.
Just a minute later it was 2-0, with Criscito again at fault. This time he was turned far too easily by Mkhitaryan, allowing the former Shakhtar Donetsk man to put in a low cross that Kevin Grosskreutz cleverly laid off for Reus who volleyed the ball with authority low inside the near post.
The disastrous start for the hosts soon got even worse when Andrei Arshavin was forced off with an injury to necessitate a reshuffle of the midfield after the introduction of veteran anchorman Anatoliy Tymoschuk. Zenit did at least steady the ship and escape further punishment for the rest of the period, with Reus placing a shot just wide of the post. Still, there was very little to suggest that the Russian league leaders were capable of getting their way back into the contest.
They could have found themselves further behind, as they were again caught cold at the start of the second half. Again Criscito failed to cover himself in glory, allowing Lewandowski to run through but see his shot turned behind.
Yet, Dortmund’s defensive problems this season reappeared to give Zenit a lifeline. Salomon Rondon was in an offside position as he tried to get on the end of a ball over the top but what followed next was hapless from both sides. Rondon’s inability to control the ball saw him pass up two chances, either side of Marcel Schmelzer putting in a poor defensive header. But fortunately, after Rondon had hit the post, Shatov restored some composure to affairs by hammering the ball into the net.
Not for the first time, the home fans’ joy was to be short lived. Just four minutes later, Lewandowski exchanged passes with fellow Pole Lukasz Piszczek down the right before taking a touch and hitting a low shot that was far from the cleanest he’s ever struck but still beat the poor attempt of Lodygin.
Zenit came back again, once more with a helping hand from Dortmund. Hulk showed a flash of his ability to allow Viktor Faizulin to go stumbling through into the box past a timid challenge from Schmelzer with little subtlety. The midfielder then appeared to simply career into Piszczek but saw the referee surprisingly point to the spot. Hulk did his bit by hammering the ball in off the crossbar from the spot.
But, incredibly, Zenit would switch off once more to allow a Dortmund press not even at its most intense to bring about a restoration of their two-goal lead. Tymoschuk was caught all too easily on the ball by Reus, who immediately slipped a pass to his right for Lewandowski who never looked likely to miss and drilled the ball low and hard into the far corner.