Andrew Flint –
The Russian Premier Liga 2019/20 season had an exciting start. Time to take a look ahead to the matchday 3 and the possible outcomes of all games.
CSKA Moscow (11) vs (5) Lokomotiv Moscow
Last week: CSKA Moscow 2-1 Orenburg; Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 Tambov
The first Moscow derby of the season is already upon us, with neither side having leapt out of first gear yet. CSKA relied on a fabulous laser-guided finish from permanent summer recruit Nikola Vlasic to secure the points against Orenburg’s slightly less threadbare squad having been comfortably blocked all game on matchday one against Krylya Sovetov Samara. Of course, it is far too early in the season to call this a must-win fixture. It will, however, provide a fascinating litmus test to the early momentum of Viktor Goncharenko’s young side.
It is surely a positive sign of the Russian Premier League’s competitive health in the upper echelons that arguably the most enterprising young manager and innovative scouting systems can only reach the Europa League. One saving grace at least is that CSKA are spared the added workload of requiring qualifiers to reach the group stages. Last season’s top goalscorer Fedor Chalov is yet to get off the mark, but his delightful scooped assist to Arnor Sigurdsson was a signal that he is as alert as ever.
Lokomotiv rarely do unleash the full extent of their potential. Tambov even took the lead last weekend against the Russian Cup champions before succumbing to the narrowest of comebacks. Yuriy Semin is infamous for a cautious approach, and his main reinforcements both being athletic and versatile defenders – Dmitry Zhivoglyadov and Murillo Cerqueira – further strengthen his favoured department. It is a concern in the long term that little appears to have been done to replace the majestic creativity of Manuel Fernandes while city rivals have all stocked up on young, hungry attacking talent.
For now, however, Aleksei and Anton Miranchuk are on sparkling form, and all is well at the RZD Arena. It is hard to see them breaking from the mould for a game of this calibre. World Cup winner Benedikt Howedes scored an opportunistic goal in the last meeting back in April this year but is unlikely to be given a first start of the season after 22-year-old Cerqueira’s impressive start alongside skipper Vedran Corluka.
The question is, who will crack first?
Akinfeev – Diveev, Vasin, Magnusson – Fernandes, Bistrovic, Akhmetov, Oblyakov – Sigurdsson, Vlasic – Chalov
Guilherme – Zhivoglyadov, Cerqueira, Corluka, Rybus – Ignatyev, Al. Miranchuk, An, Miranchuk – Smolov
Score prediction: CSKA Moscow 1-0 Lokomotiv Moscow
Dinamo Moscow (12) vs (1) Ural Ekaterinburg
Last weekend: Dinamo Moscow 0-1 Rubin Kazan; Ural Ekaterinburg 3-0 AKhmat Grozny
The grand relaunch of Dinamo Moscow – complete with sparkling new home, the multi-purpose VTB Arena – has been more of a damp squib so far. Last weekend should have been a glorious celebration of their newfound impetus, and yet they failed to finish off 10-man Rubin Kazan before being floored at the end of the 12th round by a last-gasp sucker punch. They have moved into the market again to bring in former Marseille and Tottenham Hotspur forward Clinton N’Jie, who will offer far more pace and ingenuity than Ramal Sheydaev. Whether he is deemed fit enough to start already is another matter.
Ural Ekaterinburg shot to the top of the RPL table with an emphatic 3-0 win over Ahmat Grozny last weekend, all without their talismanic playmaker Erik Bicfalvi who was rested with a minor knock as a precaution. Polish winger Michal “King Kuchy” Kucharkzyk has joined compatriot Rafal Augustinyak with rave reviews from Polish media over his attitude. With Nikolay Dimitrov recovered from injury, suddenly Ural’s once barren attacking options are looking a lot more dangerous. However, despite their clean sheet, defensive uncertainty remains over a central defensive partnership of a central midfielder and last season’s fourth-choice centre-back.
Score prediction: Dinamo Moscow 1-1 Ural Ekaterinburg
Ufa (14) vs (8) Krylya Sovetov Samara
Last weekend: Ufa 2-3 Krasnodar; Krylya Sovetov Samara 2-3 Arsenal Tula
The table doesn’t lie, but it can be sly. Ufa have started the season with two defeats and are already playing catch-up, and yet they have run the league leaders and then Krasnodar mightily close. Two 3-2 defeats, the latter last weekend after taking a two-goal lead into halftime, have left them frustrated but by no means down and out; the only Ural have scored more this season, and all-time top goalscorer Sylvester Igboun hasn’t even opened his account yet.
Krylya Sovetov Samara boast the league’s top goalscorer in Aleksandr Sobolev, the hulking frontman with a touch and instinct to die for. His acrobatic goal last weekend couldn’t help his side to a second consecutive win against Arsenal Tula, but his confidence will be a crucial part of their campaign. Alexandru Gascan has finally completed his move after making his last ever Rostov appearance last weekend – his grit and drive in the middle will theoretically allow more freedom further forward.
Score prediction: Ufa 2-1 Krylya Sovetov Samara
Tambov (15) vs (4) Spartak Moscow
Last week: Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 Tambov; Rostov 2-2 Spartak Moscow
If anyone was uncertain about who would Tambov’s start this season after an underwhelming summer of recruitment – especially when compared to fellow newly-promoted side Sochi – nobody is now. Benito is fast becoming a cult hero already for his bursting pace and confident dribbling. Tambov themselves have shown a commendable amount of fight in their daunting first two games. Now they have a home game; the challenges don’t end; they are taking up residence 400km away in Saransk so that they will miss out on partisan home support.
Spartak Moscow were left agonisingly close to joining Ural Ekaterinburg and Zenit St. Petersburg on maximum points until Aleksandr Zuev scored an added time equaliser last weekend for Rostov. Ezequiel Ponce arrived under immense promise but has failed to light up proceedings as of yet, a little like his team as a whole. While Tambov are preparing their stadium for top-flight football, this away trip is a blessing in disguise for Oleg Kononov’s team. Out of the spotlight, with less intense pressure to distract them, Ponce himself might find the ideal platform to get off the mark.
Score prediction: Tambov 0-1 Spartak Moscow
Krasnodar (10) vs (16) Sochi
Last week: Ufa 2-3 Krasnodar; Sochi 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
At the half time last weekend away to Ufa, Krasnodar’s imports must have started to wonder if this Russian Premier League lark was a different kettle of fish to that which they had been sold. There was no need to fear however, as Tonny Vilhenna unleashed a stunning, swerving long-range effort and Younes Namli’s outrageous skill created his own goal as they fought back. Vilhenna took his first man of the match award, and spoke of the spirit in the dressing room, something new signing Remy Cabella will be delighted to hear about.
Sochi battled gamely against a club they have so much in common with, and yet very little at all, in Zenit. The difference was just a single goal from Sardar Azmoun right up until the 88th minute, but the reigning champions saw out a comfortable result in the end. Sochi will be anxious to kick-start their season before too long but have four of their next five games away from home. For all their fancy transfer business, they are the only side still yet to have scored this season.
Score prediction: Krasnodar 2-0 Sochi
Orenburg (14) vs (2) Zenit St. Petersburg
Last week: CSKA Moscow 2-1 Orenburg; Sochi 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Orenburg have admittedly started grinding their transfer machine into gear, but there is little sign of a significant influx of cash that has propped them up for years. Joel Fameyeh came off the bench last weekend for his debut without having enough opportunity to affect proceeding, but at least Djordje Despotovic’s goal caused a few nerves in the CSKA defence. In fact, the swift movement of their forward unit was disruptive on the few occasions they had meaningful possession up the pitch. Against Zenit though, there’s little likelihood of them upsetting their big brothers in the Gazprom empire.
Zenit St. Petersburg were businesslike in their ability to close out a satisfying result by the Black Sea without unleashing their attacking arsenal that blitzed the league after the winter break last season. Azmoun will be happy to get off the mark, but it was only from the penalty spot. There is no need to panic, for obvious reasons like the early stage of the season and their impressive resources. When facing a wounded animal in its last throes of life, however, caution is important: Zenit have the savvy know-how to produce when it matters.
Score prediction: Orenburg 1-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Arsenal Tula (7) vs (3) Rostov
Last week: Krylya Sovetov Samara 2-3 Arsenal Tula; Rostov 2-2 Spartak Moscow
Aleksandr Lomovitskiy becomes the latest in a long line of loan signings at Arsenal Tula over the last two seasons, although he will have to fight for his place in a side that boasts the teenage talent of Lameck Banda and former Zenit winger Danil Lesovoy. Arsenal were disappointing in the European debut midweek against Neftchi Baku, going down 1-0 at home to a sloppy goal, but they have shown there are always plenty of goals in this side even without Zelimkhan Bakaev or Reziuan Mirzov.
Rostov have uncharacteristically conceded three goals in their first two home games of the season, and now have to travel north to hold out against Arsenal, who have scored four goals already in the league. Eldor Shomurodov has effectively been installed as the first-choice striker by Valery Karpin; his athleticism and sheer size will be particularly useful for soaking up the pressure in games like this where they are likely to have a less possession. Their opponents will have had only a few days to recover from Europa League exertions, which should count in Rostov’s favour.
Score prediction: Arsenal Tula 1-1 Rostov
Rubin Kazan (6) vs (9) Akhmat Grozny
Last week: Dinamo Moscow 0-1 Rubin Kazan; Ural Ekaterinburg 3-0 AKhmat Grozny
Quite how Rubin came away from the VTB Arena with such a clinical smash-and-grab result on paper is anyone’s guess, especially given that Evgeniy Bashkirov was sent off in the first half. Hang on they did, however, much to the delight of their metal rock fanatic manager Roman Sharanov, who had tickets to see Metallica the following day. Beka Mikeltadze stole the three points at the death to make it two young Georgian prospects to have scored both Rubin’s league goals so far. Two games, unbeaten, and a disheartened Akhmat at home; crisis, what crisis?
Akhmat Grozny were picked apart in the driving Ekaterinburg rain last weekend, despite their best efforts to pack their defence and double-mark dangerman Othman El-Kabir. Denis Glushakov is yet to regain match fitness either, meaning Oleg Ivanov is left to conduct matters from the middle. Both sides have a lack of cutting edge in their respective circumstances; Bernard Berisha is a lethal but predictable style of winger who can be contained with discipline, as Ural showed. Both will take a point willingly at this point.
Score prediction: Rubin Kazan 0-0 Akhmat Grozny
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.