Andrew Flint –
The Russian Premier Liga 2019/20 season had an exciting start. Time to take a look ahead to the matchday 4 and the possible outcomes of all games.
Zenit St. Petersburg (1) vs (4) Krasnodar
Last week: Orenburg 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg; Krasnodar 3-0 Sochi
The last time these two sides met, they produced arguably one the greatest fixtures in Russian Premier League history. With seven games left in a season that had swung back and forth despite Zenit always just about being ahead of the chasing pack, Krasnodar welcomed the leaders to their Colosseum-esque temple knowing a win would put them within three points of their visitors. Artem Dzyuba had endured a testing season with a huge reliance on his shoulders after the euphoric summer for his country and hadn’t scored in 12 matches. When it mattered, though, the big man stepped up and bagged two goals, including a 95th minute winner.
Zenit’s winter recruitment this year has largely been credited with handing them the title, but they haven’t been idle this summer. Out have gone nine players permanently – including expensive flop Claudio Marchisio – and a further two on loan, while Douglas Santos has been brought in from Hamburg. There is serious talk of Malcom coming in from Barcelona as a statement signing, but so far they are the only side with a flawless record. Whether the Brazilian winger arrives or not, Zenit are the team to beat.
Krasnodar have shown that they are also extremely smart on the recruitment front, although already they are playing catch-up having lost to Akhmat in week one. Having finally made it to the Champions League – albeit the qualifiers – it is perhaps no surprise that they have begun to open the purse strings a little. Twice breaking their transfer record this summer with Tonny Vilhena and Remy Cabella, the absence of Viktor Claesson has been slightly offset so far. With Marcus Berg and Cabella both still to make their debuts, Murad Musaev’s side are well set.
It sounds strange to say so at the start of August already, but the pressure on Krasnodar is significant. Four games may not sound like much, but when you consider the short season and the upcoming double-header against Porto – the biggest games in Krasnodar’s short history – dropping six points behind what is already the strongest squad on paper would be almost disastrous. When it comes to character though Krasnodar have shown plenty already, especially in the dramatic comeback from 2-0 away to Ufa in week two. Whether they can summon enough for a momentous win in St. Petersburg is another matter.
Russian Premier Liga – Zenit vs Krasnodar – Possible Lineups:
Lunev – Terentyev, Ivanovic, Rakitskiy, Santos – Erokhin, Ozdoev, Barrios, Driussi – Azmoun, Dzyuba
Safonov – Petrov, Spajic, Martynovich, Ramirez – Kambolov, Olsson, Vilhena – Cabella, Ari, Wanderson
Score prediction: Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 Krasnodar
Ural Ekaterinburg (5) vs (2) Rostov
Last week: Dinamo Moscow 2-0 Ural Ekaterinburg; Arsenal Tula 2-3 Rostov
Ural’s bubble burst somewhat in a nervous opening 45 minutes at the VTB Arena last week as Dinamo tore them to shreds. It was like watching Ural’s defence of old; scattered, ponderous and wide open. The experiment of moving Roman Emelyanov to centre-back is yet to fully convince. However, after halftime Ural did take control and used their strengths on the counter-attack better, and perhaps were unfortunate to not take at least one chance. Michal Kucharczyk could make his bow, and with Nikolai Dimitrov back in action the options are blossoming.
Rostov are the top goalscorers so far, with Eldor Shomurodov threatening to finally fulfill his potential as one of the league’s most dangerous tall forwards. His delicate touch and awareness to cut inside for his goal last weekend showed his talents are far more than just physical. However, they have conceded almost two goals a game so far. This game is set to see plenty of goalmouth action, and will be most likely decided by the better game management.
Score prediction: 3-2
Krylya Sovetov Samara (14) vs (9) Lokomotiv Moscow
Last week: Ufa 2-1 Krylya Sovetov Samara; CSKA Moscow 1-0 Lokomotiv Moscow
Aleksandr Sobolev’s sparkling season continues. The league’s top goalscorer has been involved in all but one of his side’s strikes, setting up Srdjan Mijailovic for the Serb’s stunning equaliser last weekend with some classic, selfless centre-forward hold-up play and movement. Unfortunately for Krylya, they’ve lost two on the bounce since turning over CKSA on the opening weekend. Nikita Chernov has arrived from the Armymen as a versatile defensive option.
Last week saw the first use of VAR in the Russian Premier League as Fedor Chalov was awarded a penalty for a trip by Murilo Cerqueira. The utter mess that ensued – almost a minute passed until play was stopped to review the call – was not the smoothest of introductions of the technology, but Loko can have few complaints as they escaped without an earlier handball call. They haven’t won in their last three away league games though, and haven’t kept a clean sheet in five.
Score prediction: Krylya Sovetov Samara 0-1 Lokomotiv Moscow
Spartak Moscow (10) vs (7) Dinamo Moscow
Last week: Tambov 2-0 Spartak Moscow; Dinamo Moscow 2-0 Ural Ekaterinburg
Spartak crumbling in spectacular, humiliating fashion is nothing new. Even still, Tambov’s relatively comfortable 2-0 win was a jolt to the senses, and has piled huge pressure on Oleg Kononov. There is even talk of him being fired if he fails to make it past Thun in the Europa League qualifiers this month. The firesale of the 2017 title winners continues as Luiz Adriano returns to Brazil while Fernando leaves for a payday in China. Andre Schürrle looks set to join along with Jordan Larsson as the unsettled squad take on a new look.
Dinamo Moscow newboy Clinton N’Jie was rather embarassingly caught with his trousers down, literally, as his sex tape made its way onto social media before the formar Marseille striker has even set foot on the pitch. Samba Sow has reportedly left for Nottingham Forest with opportunities scarce. Drama aside, Dinamo were impressive for the first half of their win against Ural last weekend, and will be confident going into Moscow’s oldest derby.
Score prediction: Spartak Moscow 2-1 Dinamo Moscow
Tambov (12) vs (8) Arsenal Tula
Last week: Tambov 2-0 Spartak Moscow; Arsenal Tula 2-3 Rostov
The only shame for Tambov last weekend was that their historic first ever Premier League win came away from their home city. Mordovia Arena in Saransk will host their home games until their stadium is up to RPL standards. Intriguingly Benito once again was selected on the bench, but by the time he came on his side were already ahead against Spartak. Three points from a start of Zenit St. Petersburg, Lokomotiv Moscow and Spartak Moscow is highly promising, and with Arsenal Tula leaking goals amidst a packed Europa League qualification campaign there is an opportunity.
Arsenal Tula travelled back from Azerbaijan just two days before this fixture with a wild run of form behind them. Only Ufa have conceded more goals in the Russian Premier Liga opening three rounds, but only Rostov have outscored them too. Their form on the road is actually quite promising; they haven’t lost a single away league game this calendar year (W4, D4), scoring 10 goals in their last five. What is different now is the burden of continental travel.
Score prediction: Tambov 1-0 Arsenal Tula
Rubin Kazan (3) vs (6) CSKA Moscow
Last week: Rubin Kazan 1-0 Akhmat Grozny; CSKA Moscow 1-0 Lokomotiv Moscow
Rubin have enjoyed their best start to a league season, statistically, for eight years after another win by the slenderest of margins. Both winners this campaign have come in the final 20 minutes, with Vidar Kjartansson’s cool finish coming from a greater desire in midfield to compete. As per usual they are not finding goals easy to come by – just three teams have scored fewer so far – but the joint best defensive record has helped. Roman Sharanov has forged a powerful relationship with the fans through his rock n’ roll heart-on-his-sleeve style.
CSKA Moscow won’t care about relying on technology to earn their win against Lokomotiv Moscow last weekend; Chalov’s turn and movement outfoxed Murilo at the key moment, and they have kept within touch of the top of the table. Crystal Palace are rumoured to be abling an almost derisory €15m bid for last season’s RPL top goalscorer. It is hard to see CSKA parting with their prize asset, especially with the scarcity of replacement options for that kind of price.
Score prediction: Rubin Kazan 0-1 CSKA Moscow
Sochi (16) vs (11) Ufa
Last week: Krasnodar 3-0 Sochi; Ufa 2-1 Krylya Sovetov Samara
At what point should Sochi become concerned? For a heavy investment in a potential goldmine of a football market on the Black Sea coast, Boris Rotenberg will not contemplate his controversial project failing. Krasnodar were just simply too ruthless and incisive. There’s no shame in a newly promoted side losing out to a Champions League outfit. However, no goals scored after three rounds – the only side to do so – and zero points on the board is already covering their campaign with a slither of doubt.
Justice was finally served from Ufa’s perspective last weekend, after two impressive performances yielded nothing. Yes, they conceded again (and now have the worst defensive record with seven conceded already), and Sylvester igboun has still not opened his account this season, but the first-win monkey is off their backs at long last. There is one huge monkey on their backs however; they have recorded just one away win in over two years.
Score prediction: 1-1
Akhmat Grozny (13) vs (15) Orenburg
Last week: Rubin Kazan 1-0 Akhmat Grozny; Orenburg 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
After another listless display, Akhmat are in danger of struggling this season. Admittedly they still have the experience of Denis Glushakov to come into the side, but failing to take the game to goal-shy Rubin was not inspiring. They are unbeaten in their last five home league games though, and have scored in each of their last nine at home. In fact, the only three defeats in their last 19 home league games have come to sides from Moscow.
Orenburg continue to struggle on paper, although they were able to hold Zenit at bay for most of the game other than a lightning-quick strike and a soft penalty. Three losses from three games to start the Russian Premier Liga doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Nevertheless, frustration and pressure will begin to build sharply unless they get off the mark soon, not to mention making it harder to attract much-needed reinforcements.
Score prediction: Akhmat Grozny 1-0 Orenburg
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.