Andrew Flint –
The Russian Premier Liga 2019/20 season has already seen some exciting matchups. On the weekend a re-tooled Dinamo Moscow featuring new signing Maximilian Philipp will face champions Zenit. Time to take a look ahead to the matchday 5 and the possible outcomes of all games.
Dinamo Moscow (10) vs Zenit St. Petersburg (1)
Last week: Spartak Moscow 0-0 Dinamo Moscow; Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 Krasnodar
One of Russia’s longer running transfer sagas was completed by Dinamo just in time for this weekend when Maximilian Philipp was finally confirmed on Friday for a huge fee of €20 million. Borussia Dortmund had been trying to offload their young attacker and have found a willing home for a new constellation of RPL stars. Joining Philipp is Russian international Roman Neustädter, who will be playing in Russia for the first time his career. One thing is clear; Dinamo mean business.
Last weekend’s fiery derby draw with Spartak was a heated affair, and not only for Ezequiel Ponce’s moment of madness. The Argentine poleaxed Anton Shunin with a full-blooded flying karate kick to the chest and was rightly sent off, after which Aleksandr Maksimenko was kept busy with a string of athletic saves. Clinton N’Jie and Vyacheslav Grulev were thrown on late on but couldn’t prise open Spartak’s defence despite taking 25 shots.
Zenit relied on their almost mythical superhero Artem Dzyuba to rescue a point at the death against Krasnodar at the Krestovsky in the clash of the round last week. Expectations may have been ramped up by the previous meeting – the epic 3-2 Zenit win down south that effectively decided the title once and for all – and in the end for all the huffing and puffing was a relatively low-key affair. The match averaged an overall combined 76% pass completion rate, and produced just six shots on target from a total of 20 attempted.
Douglas Santos has settled into the left-back role comfortably so far but was unfortunate in his positioning and communication breakdown for the own goal. His header looped it almost comically over Andrey Lunev as the keeper rushed out. Once again Serdar Azmoun and Dzyuba combined to salvage the point, the latter applying a deliciously delicate chip to score in added time. Zenit have seemingly completed their incoming business, while Anton Zabalotniy and Christian Noboa take Sochi’s tally of former Zenit players to seven.
Shunin – Parshivlyuk, Rykov, Sunjic, Rausch – Yusupov, Kabore – Szymanski, Panchenko, Joaozinho – N’Jie
Zenit St. Petersburg
Lunev – Terentyev, Ivanovic, Rakitskiy, Santos – Malcom, Barrios, Ozdoev, Driussi – Azmoun, Dzyuba
Score prediction: Dinamo 0-1 Zenit
Orenburg (16) vs (14) Tambov
Last week: Akhmat Grozny 2-1 Orenburg; Tambov 0-1 Arsenal Tula
Orenburg are once again ruing a mismatched result and performance. In fairness, Akhmat Grozny have one of the more stubborn home records, and with less than half an hour to go the league’s bottom side were level thanks to an utterly stupendous Djordje Despotovic overhead scissor kick. There is now strong talk of interest from Lokomotiv Moscow for the Serbian striker, which would effectively be the death knell for a club that pushed for Europa league qualification at times last season. Four games in and they are already playing catch-up with four points to safety, but somehow they keep pulling out glimpses of a dangerous side.
Tambov were brought slightly back down to earth after Europa League failures Arsenal Tula shook off their disappointment to snatch a 1-0 win on the same Saransk stage that had witnessed the historic 2-0 win over Spartak a week before. Those three points will already give them a little composure as their near rivals drop even more points. When they finally do get to return home and develop something resembling an intimidating home atmosphere, they could be a threat. For now, former women’s football coach Aleksandr Grigoryan is up against it.
Score prediction: Orenburg 1-0 Tambov
Krasnodar (6) vs (5) Rubin Kazan
Krasnodar entered unchartered territory midweek with their historic first-ever Champions League tie at home to last season’s quarter-finalists Porto. From being a dominant, possession-hungry domestic giant they played the part of eager but naive European minnows. Scrapping for their life they held off considerable first-half pressure before turning the screw later on, but experience told. This youthful, energetic side are not the type to sulk – even if there is talk of young striker Ivan Ignatyev engineering a way out after being left out of the whole matchday squad on Wednesday – and will be bursting to reassert their vigour.
Rubin Kazan’s feel-good factor remains under rock afficionado Roman Sharonov’s motivational masterclass, despite losing 1-0 at home to CSKA Moscow. The single goal of the game was a wonderful piece of samba juggling from Mario Fernandes that fed the goalscoring instinct of Fedor Chalov for a firm finish rather than the structure of the side being worn down. For all the positivity, there is still a chronic lack of goals in the side after just three scored in four games.
Score prediction: Krasnodar 3-0 Rubin Kazan
Arsenal Tula (8) vs (12) Ufa
Last week: Tambov 0-1 Arsenal Tula; Sochi 0-0 Ufa
Perhaps it was always going to be too big an ask for a new-look squad to combat three competitions. Arsenal Tula have maintained a similar approach to last season even if the personnel has changed significantly, but Neftchi Baku were simply too well-organised and clinical in the Europa League qualifiers. To bounce back from such disappointment was promising, and almost fitting that the goal came from the veteran presence up front of Evgeniy Lutsenko. Now the European shackles are reluctantly off, there is ironically less pressure on Arsenal.
Ufa played out perhaps the dullest game of the season so far down in Sochi – the hosts didn’t even manage a single shot on target all game – but they won’t care in the slightest. The point extends their brief unbeaten run to two matches, and lifts them a little bit further from the drop zone. Arguably the most important factor will be their first clean sheet, but there is still the sizeable monkey on their back of just one away win in over two years.
Score prediction: Arsenal Tula 1-0 Ufa
Lokomotiv Moscow (4) vs (7) Ural Ekaterinburg
Last weekend: Krylya Sovetov Samara 1-2 Lokomotiv Moscow; Ural Ekaterinburg 2-2 Rostov
Everything seemed to be going according to plan for Yuriy Semin against Krylya Sovetov Samara. After a solid early lead from Fedor Smolov’s planted header, Lokomotiv soaked up whatever pressure was thrown their way until the man of the moment Aleksandr Sobolev scored a spectacular equaliser two minutes from time. In true Loko fashion though, by hook and crook of Grzegorz Krychowiak’s opportunistic presence to bindle the ball over the line, they saved face.
Ural have started the season on fine goalscoring form, with only Rostov outscoring them so far. While there isn’t an obvious 10-12 goal-a-season striker on the books, Andrey Panyukov and Vladimir Ilyin will most likely be rotated by Dmitri Parfenov as usual. Both scored against Rostov at home last weekend, with Panyukov’s finish showing considerable athleticism and imagination, but they are still plagued by the same problems of defensive insecuirty. With Othman El Kabir out injured, there might be a debut for Polish winger Michal Kucharczyk.
Score prediction: Lokomotiv 2-2 Ural
CSKA Moscow (2) vs (15) Sochi
Last week: Rubin Kazan 0-1 CSKA Moscow; Sochi 0-0 Ufa
CSKA have not had the smoothest start to the season in front of goal. Of the current top half, only famously goal-shy Rubin Kazan have scored fewer than their four league goals. Having said that, Crystal Palace target Fedor Chalov – who confirmed his commitment to the club amid interest that included a ₤27 million bid – is pleasingly already in the goals. His fine finish from Mario Fernandes’ inspired assist in Kazan last weekend was exactly what they need to keep the pressure up on the other early high-fliers. Once his teammates hit their stride it will be hard to stop them.
Sochi are in the odd position of having still not scored after four games, but not actually being bottom of the table. As they scramble together a rag-tag collection of the Premier League’s castoffs which include the recent additions of Anton Zabalotniy and Christian Noboa, any old point will do. Ufa duly obliged by providing their part in the dullest goalless draw imaginable. With the range of experience and reputation now part of the relatively expensive ensemble, the pressure will only grow.
Score prediction: CSKA 2-0 Sochi
Akhmat Grozny (9) vs (11) Spartak Moscow
Last week: Akhmat Grozny 2-1 Orenburg; Spartak Moscow 0-0 Dinamo Moscow
The Denis Glushakov derby could ironically see the former title-winning Spartak captain make his first start for his new team. He has recovered from injury to make his first minutes in the green and white of Ramzan Kadyrov’s club, and appeared to be surprisingly humble about the opportunity to resurrect his career. Dispatching an ailing Orenburg at home isn’t a monumental achievement on paper. That would, however, be doing a disservice to the unsung spark that Akhmat’s opponents have shown.
Spartak Moscow fans can hardly complain about standing still with their playing squad, even if they are increasing the pressure on manager Oleg Kononov. Andre Schürrle has been joined in the capital by Jordan Larsson and Guus Til for not inconsiderable fees, while Ezequiel Ponce has finally opened his account (albeit in the Europa League). There is something to be said for the ambition still shown after going down to 10 men in the derby with Dinamo, and the determination to hold out.
Score prediction: Akhmat 1-1 Spartak
Rostov (3) vs (13) Krylya Sovetov Samara
Last week: Ural Ekaterinburg 2-2 Rostov; Spartak Moscow 0-0 Dinamo Moscow
Not many would have predicted Valeriy Karpin’s notoriously conservative Rostov to be top goalscorers after four gameweeks, but they currently have more goals to their name than anyone. This can be partly explained by them taking more shots per game than anyone. Eldor Shomorudov again showed his class with a beautifully controlled volley in an awkward twisted position for his third goal in four games. They have conceded two goals in each of their last three matches and surprisingly have the lowest pass completion percentage of just 72.8%, but play the most long key passes per game.
Aleksandr Sobolev has been in blistering form for Krylya so far this season, leading to speculation that he is being lined up to replace Fedor Chalov if and when the CSKA striker is tempted to leave Moscow. Not content with just leading the league scoring charts with four, he also competes for an eye-watering 12 aerial challenges per game. Shaking off three consecutive defeats will be difficult though.
Score prediction: Rostov 2-0 Krylya Sovetov Samara
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.