Borussia Dortmund have hammered Zenit St. Petersburg 4-2 in their opening leg of the Champions League Round of 16. The Russians struggled to deal with BVB's dynamic attack, spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski.
It was a dominant showing from Dortmund on Tuesday evening in Russia. A rusty Zenit St. Petersburg, who had just come off a more than two-month break, were overrun by their German opponents. Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski stole the show as BVB ran out 4-2 winners.
Dortmund came into the match as favorites, despite Saturday's embarrassing 3-0 defeat to bumbling Hamburg still fresh in their memories. With Sven Bender the latest addition the club's growing injury list, coach Jürgen Klopp started Sebastian Kehl alongside Nuri Sahin in midfield. Robert Lewandowski had recovered from the flu, and was able to start.
While Zenit's highly-paid stars Hulk and Axel Witsel were on the pitch for the Russians, the ultras section of the Petrovsky Stadium was empty. The absence was punishment for the fans' racist behavior, as well as the use of fireworks and other crowd disturbances.
Dream start for BVB
The match could hardly have began more perfectly for Dortmund. In the fourth minute Marco Reus charged past two Zenit defenders before stumbling in the box. Luckily for Henkrikh Mkhitaryan, the ball rolled right to his feet. He sent a powerful finish from close range past goalkeeper Juri Lodygin to open the scoring.
Less than a minute later, Dortmund found themselves on the attack again. Mkhitaryan sent a low cross into the box from the right flank. Kevin Grosskreutz knocked the ball to Reus, who slotted home. Just five minutes into the match, and suddenly the visitors were leading 2-0.
"It was obviously important to score the two goals in two minutes," Kehl told broadcaster Sky. "We started the game in the right direction and unsettled Zenit."
It was an impressive way to open the match, but Dortmund's early lead was as much about poor defending as it was about good finishing. Zenit's last competitive encounter before Tuesday was a 4-1 Champions League group stage loss to Austria Vienna on December 11. The Russians were out of form, and it showed.
Although a pulled hamstring was cited as the official reason, Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti's substitution of Andrei Arshavin for Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in the 15th minute had a clear tactical objective. Arshavin had played poorly up to that point, and Tymoshchuk could at least somewhat clear up Zenit's messy football in the middle of the pitch.
But the former Bayern Munich midfielder's introduction could only slow Dortmund's attack so much. While the Germans failed to score for the rest of the half, their offensive barrage continued. Belgian defender Nicolas Lombaerts was so preoccupied keeping Robert Lewandowski at bay, the rest of the Zenit defense were left to deal with Mkhitaryan and Reus.
The two continued to run circles around the Russian side as Dortmund dominated possession. The half ended 2-0, with Zenit unable to truly test goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller in the 40 minutes after conceding.
The excitement picked up considerably in the second half. Oleg Shatov pulled one back for Zenit in the 57th minute when he got on the end of a pinball play in the box. First Hulk took the ball up field, Salomon Rondon's shot hit the post, and it bounced out for Shatov, who made it 2-1.
The Russian's good spirits were short-lived, though. Four minutes later Lewandowski played a one-two with Lukasz Piszczek on the right side of the area before sending a shot across goal and into the net.
Zenit were handed a lifeline in the 69th minute when Piszczek gave away a penalty that Hulk duly dispatched. But just 1 minute 31 seconds later, Reus marched into the Zenit third, laid off to Lewandowski, and the Polish striker finished neatly to make it 4-2.
The goal capped off a terrific evening for Reus and Lewandowski, and highlighted Zenit's performance. The Russians were unable to contain Dortmund's attack, and failed to capitalize on the opportunities afforded to them. The result leaves Dortmund well-positioned for the return fixture March 19 at the Signal-Iduna Park.
"Tonight we were close to optimal," Klopp said after the match. "It was a classic game, no question."
The Dortmund coach was cautious, however, in taking too much for granted ahead of the second leg. "We have the feeling that we aren't into the next round yet, we still have a little work ahead of us in the second match," Klopp said.
Olympiakos defeat United
Manchester United's difficult season got even more difficult with a 2-0 defeat away to Olympiakos in Tuesday evening's later game. Hoping to put their Premier League struggles behind them in a tie many saw as favorable to the English side, it was Olympiakos who made the most of their opportunity.
Alejandro Dominguez's deflected shot from the top of the box in the 38th minute wrong-footed United keeper David De Gea, and sent the Greek hosts into the break with a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes after the restart, Olympiakos striker Joel Campell, on loan from Premiership side Arsenal, cut in from the wing towards the top of the box and curled a shot into the bottom corner of the net.
The result sets up Olympiakos to equal their best-ever Champions League performance, reaching the quarterfinals.
Europe's top club competition resumes on Wednesday when Real Madrid host Schalke and Chelsea travel to Galatasaray.