Three Things: Zenit vs. Borussia Dortmund
Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Borussia Dortmund earned a valuable 4-2 win at Zenit St. Petersburg. Here are three things from their Champions League round of 16 first-leg clash ...
1. Reus leads by example Thanks to Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos, Marco Reus may not be the flavour of the season. But for Dortmund, the 24-year-old Germany international has been a constant during a mediocre domestic season. The opening five minutes at St. Petersburg were enough to show Reus' influence on the game, as his sheer will pushed Dortmund to a two-goal lead just four minutes into the game at the Petrovsky Stadium. Played on the right wing by Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp, Reus was not interested in giving the ball away to Zenit's Domenico Criscito. He sped past him and managed, while being fouled by the Italian, to play the ball to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. After the Armenian midfielder converted from Reus' pass, the Dortmund-born midfielder struck home a Kevin Grosskreutz assist barely 60 seconds later. Despite sometimes being cursed by Dortmund supporters for hiding in Bundesliga games, the midfielder now has been involved in 26 Dortmund goals in all competitions. He has played just 38 games. In a season full of injury setbacks, the former Borussia Moenchengladbach attacker has been an integral player in saving Dortmund's season. Though Reus can leave the club for 35 million euros in 2015, he made no mistake in showing on Tuesday just why he'll be one of the players to watch at the World Cup.
Quiet for most of the second half, Reus displayed his prodigious skill when providing Robert Lewandowski with his second goal of the night some 20 minutes from time.
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Clubs will surely soon battle for his signature as BVB finally look to get rid of his 35-million-euro release clause. It will be a battle worth watching.
2. Dortmund still strong in Europe On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund were not up to speed in the Bundesliga. The 3-0 defeat at struggling Hamburg was the result of an attitude that has hindered the 2013 Champions League finalist all season. In early October, right after a 3-0 Champions League win against Olympique Marseille, they suffered a 2-0 defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach, fatally unable to get any shots past future Barcelona keeper Marc-André ter Stegen.
This Tuesday, Dortmund never started a discussion that they are out to regain their dark horse status in Europe. While results domestically might have put the hipsters off, they have done all that needed to be done in the Champions League.
In December, Kevin Grosskreutz's 86th-minute effort and Arsenal’s presumptuous 2-0 defeat at Napoli put Dortmund in the driver's seat and BVB have shown no signals that they are willing to deviate from their UCL plan ever since. Here Zenit St. Petersburg pulled back twice, but Dortmund twice replied within seconds. Klopp's side showed their determination when instantly replying to Oleg Shatov's 58th-minute goal, which resembled Hamburg's second goal on Saturday.
The visitors took St. Petersburg's back four apart when they were busy giving it their all in search of an equalizer. For once, Sokratis Papastathopoulos defended the ball well and Lewandowski made no mistake in showing he is one of the continent's most prolific strikers at the moment.
The Pole battled off two St. Petersburg defenders and supplied Lukasz Piszczek, the long-injured Dortmund right-back, with the ball. Running into position, Lewandowski then converted the cross and gave Dortmund a two-goal lead again.
And with Hulk's penalty in mind, it was up to Lewandowski to reply once more, leaving witnesses wondering if the first match of Zenit's new year really has to be a Champions League tie. Like many Russian teams, St. Petersburg will have to hope for a shift in their seasonal calendar in order to increase their hopes of making it past the last 16.
On the other hand, Borussia Dortmund have shown that they can still be the dark horse in the 2014 Champions League season. It is just a risky game, with their starting place in the 2014-15 Champions League season far from confirmed back home.
3. Visitors' delight It has been a walk in the park for the away teams in the round of last 16 and Arsene Wenger will certainly be looking at the fixtures over and over again. If it had not been for Grosskreutz, Arsenal might have played Zenit St. Petersburg but, instead, it was Dortmund to take the spoils, the fifth team so far to come out on top after winning the group.
With United at Olympiakos, Real at Schalke and Chelsea at Galatasaray, there is not a lot of hope for those teams that finished second in their group.
The home defeats suffered by Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan and Arsenal have already been an indicator that the 2014 Champions League season will be more ruthless than in previous years. But for now, the group toppers have dominated the fixtures and have shown that targeting a first place in the Champions League group is a worthwhile target, much to Wenger's discomfort.