Manuel Veth –
The Russian Football Premier League concluded its final matchday this weekend. But in reality, there were only three decisions left before matchday 30 kicked off on Sunday. Who would finish second and qualify for the Champions League, who would finish fourth, and qualify for the Europa League, and who would be directly relegated?
At the top of the table, Zenit faced the possibility of failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the second season in a row. Going into matchday 30 Zenit were one point behind CSKA Moscow, and therefore had to hope that the Army men would drop points against Anzhi Makhachkala, and at the same time win their match against Lokomotiv.
In the end, both clubs won their respective matches—CSKA beat Anzhi 4-1, and Zenit beat Lokomotiv 2-0. CSKA will, therefore, start in the third round of the UEFA Champions League qualifiers, whereas Zenit will spend another season in the Europa League. The result has meant that Zenit head coach Mircea Lucescu has further come under fire, and it would not be a major result if the Romanian will be replaced this summer.
CSKA have salvaged the Russian Football Premier League season
CSKA in the meantime will feel that they salvaged the season after they had a miserable start under former head coach Leonid Slutsky. Slutsky stepped down before the winter break paving the way for Viktor Goncharenko to become the new head coach, and the Belarusian has done a marvellous job resurrecting CSKA Moscow in the second half of the season. Champions League money should now help Goncharenko to continue the rebuilding process at CSKA.
Meanwhile further down the table, Krasnodar once again managed to reach the Europa League. Finishing fourth Krasnodar will have to take the challenging route through the qualification stages, but thanks to successive group stage qualifications have a high enough co-efficient to avoid significant opposition in the early rounds. At the same time, there are signals that Krasnodar may undergo some changes this summer.
Several players will be out of contract, and with Krasnodar’s youth academy slowly starting to show results the time might have come for Sergei Galitzky’s to make the next step by becoming a club that can produce its talented players. It will also be interesting to see whether Krasnodar will be able to hang on to top scorer Fedor Smolov.
Smolov once again won the Russian Football Premier League top scorers award by scoring 18 goals this season. Smolov already had several serious offers last winter, and it would not be a major surprise if the Russian striker uses the FIFA Confederations Cup as a stage to find a big club in the West.
Smolov’s possible transfer will certainly remain a major topic as we move towards the Confed Cup and the opening of the transfer window in July. But before we get to that stage there will be four more games in the calendar to determine the final two places in the 2017-18 RFPL season.
Orenburg’s 2-0 victory over Rostov and Arsenal Tula’s shocking 3-0 victory over champions Spartak Moscow meant that Krylya Sovetov Samara, who lost 3-1 to Terek Grozny, were relegated alongside Tom Tomsk. Arsenal’s result against Spartak, in particular, raised some eyebrows in Russia, and there were even some, first and foremost the controversial politician Igor Lebedev, who believe that Spartak may have sold their three points to Arsenal.
Friendly Matches are not uncommon in Russian Football
“Friendly Matches” as they are called in Russia are not uncommon phenomena on the last day of the season. But the more likely scenario is that Spartak were not motivated enough to challenge Arsenal Tula, who needed the three points to reach the promotion/relegation playoffs.
At the same time, there is nothing fishy about Orenburg’s victory against FC Rostov. Rostov, after all, could have reached the Europa League on the final matchday, but they were without a chance against Orenburg, and now face a season without European football.
Orenburg, however, alongside Tula, have the opportunity to stay in the league. Both clubs face a home and away playoff against the third, and fourth-placed teams of the Russian Football National League. Both clubs will travel to Russia’s Far East, as Orenburg faces SKA Khabarovsk and Arsenal Tula Enisey Krasnoyarsk.
Many clubs in the Russian Football Premier League will watch those playoff games with some concern because travelling to Russia’s Far East region will bring great logistic problems to many clubs. Hence, more than one club owner will have likely send at least a motivational prayer in the direction of Orenburg, and Tula.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.