Andrew Flint –
The Russian Premier Liga 2019/20 season will kick off this Friday. Time to take a look ahead to the matchday 1 and the possible outcomes of the upcoming season.
Russian Premier Liga – Predictions
Spartak Moscow vs Sochi
Season prediction: Spartak 5th, Sochi 12th
Whisper it quietly, but Spartak Moscow might gradually be slimming down sensibly. Influential dressing room voices are fading away – Denis Glushakov has joined Akhmat Grozny and Dmitri Kombarov has ambled down the new path to Krylia Sovetov – while hungry faces are taking their places. Zelimkhan Bakaev had a blistering season on loan at Arsenal Tula last campaign and returns to claim his place, while Jano Ananidze returns for what seems like his last chance to prove himself.
Ze Luis’ departure is a big blow, however. His agility and confidence up front, especially alongside fellow Portuguese speaker Luiz Adriano, made for a frightening prospect. Porto are the beneficiaries of his talent, with pint-size Ezequiel Ponce a rather odd replacement. The former AS Roma prospect’s record in Greece speaks for itself, although his presence is totally different.
Sochi are the very new boys on the block. Or are they? St. Petersburg’s historic club, Dinamo, was ruthlessly uprooted and relaunched in the Black Sea resort last summer, assuming the former club’s position in the league structure and earning promotion at the first attempt. Owner Boris Rotenberg has had long-standing connections to Gazprom, who famously run Zenit St. Petersburg through heavy sponsorship and whose former chief executive Alexander Dyukov is now president of the Russian Football Union.
It comes as little surprise therefore to see four Zenit players make the switch down south – Dmitri Poloz, Ivan Novoseltsev, Ibragim Tsallagov and Elmir Nabiullin – amidst a solid recruitment drive. With comfortably the stronger squad on paper, a world-class stadium to call home and clear financial backing, Sochi are here to stay. First though they must make it past a Russian institution.
Maksimenko – Rasskazov, Dzhikia, Kutepov, Lucas – Hanni, Fernando, Zobnin, Bakaev – Ponce, Adriano
Frolov – Tsallagov, Novoseltsev, Miladinovic, Nabiullin – Lagator, Pesegov – Poloz, Pomerko, Burmistrov – Obukhov
Score prediction: Spartak Moscow 3-0 Sochi
Arsenal Tula vs Dinamo Moscow
Season prediction: Arsenal 7th, Dinamo 8th
Arsenal Tula were last season’s great entertainers, thrashing league champions Zenit 4-2 and beating CSKA, Spartak and Lokomotiv at home too. Their attacking threat was built largely around a core group of loanee players who have all returned to their parent clubs; only Sergey Tkachev has signed permanently. Evans Kangwa took a slight back seat last season, but the Zambian international winger has been joined by two compatriots in younger brother Kings Kangwa, and 18-year-old Lameck Banda. With a debut Europa League campaign to contend with they will be wary of ufa’s cautionary tale from last summer.
Dinamo Moscow finally move into their spectacular VTB Arena home this season after years of suffering in the outskirts at Khimki Arena. There is money there too, it seems. Sebastian Szymanski – a former Liverpool target has arrived for €5 million, while Charles Kabore has joined on a free. Zaurbek Pliev, Sergey Parshivlyuk and Ivan Ordets bolster the defence after five players – including Swedish stalwart Sebastian Holmen – were released. There is a real sense of optimism for the first time in a while, which is tempered only by the knowledge that if something can go wrong with Dinamo, it usually does.
Score prediction: Arsenal Tula 2-1 Dinamo Moscow
Ural Ekaterinburg vs Ufa
Season prediction: Ural 10th, Ufa 13th
Ural suffered the heartbreak of Russian Cup final defeat at the hands of Lokomotiv Moscow for the second time in three years in May, agonisingly missing out on a route into Europe again. As club president Grigory Ivanov said this week though, this is “the best period in the club’s history”. Star loanee Stefan Strandberg returning to his parent club, Dominik Dinga has once again been loaned out, while Sergey Bryzgalov and Gregor Balazic have been released. For a side that only kept their first clean sheet after the winter break last season and that hasn’t signed a defender yet, it is concerning, but Andrey Panyukov has signed permanently with Polish midfielder Rafal Augustinyak has joined for a relatively extravagant fee of around €500,000.
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Ufa somehow clung on for dear life after a severely damaging Europa League qualification campaign left their stretched squad in tatters. Dmitri Zhivoglyadov, Igor Diveev and Yerkebulan Seydakhmet have left for a combined €4 million, while Veroljub Salatic and Ivan Paurevic have been released. Thirty-year-old forward Andrey Kozlov is the only incoming transfer with any top-flight experience. Survival will be a success, unless the next Oleksandr Zinchenko can be unearthed from their youth system.
Score prediction: Ural Ekaterinburg 1-0 Ufa
Rostov vs Orenburg
Season prediction: Rostov 6th, Orenburg 15th
Rostov have quietly impressed once again in the close season, after they beat both CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moscow in the Parimatch Premier Cup. Their transfer dealings have been relatively low-key, with four lower-league signings alongside 32-year-old Alexey Kozlov, largely due their raft of returning loanees such as Reziuan Mirzov and Saeed Ezzatolahi. It is unlikely they will be aiming to break the top-five group and qualify for Europe like they did a few years back, so a comfortable season of consolidation will be fine.
Orenburg have obliterated most opposition in their path since their rapid ascent through the lower leagues began a few years back, with the exception of their breakthrough season in the top flight two seasons ago. Last term they threatened at times to gatecrash the race for Europa league football, but something has gone seriously wrong. Ten first-team players have left, none have arrived, leaving Vladimir Fedotov with just 18 senior players. On top of that there was an apparent breakdown of communication over the transfer of top goalscorer Aleksandr Sutormin, while the mooted plans for a new larger stadium haven’t moved forwards. It seems the pipeline has been switched off as attentions switch to an altogether more glamorous project in Sochi.
Score prediction: Rostov 1-0 Orenburg
Krylia Sovetov Samara vs CSKA Moscow
Season prediction: Krylia 12th, CSKA 4th
Back in January, Krylia were coming off the back of a very poor first part of the season and decided to load up on experience to get themselves over the line. In came Roman Shishkin, Aleksandr Samedov, Jano Ananidze and Mohamed Rabiu, and at first it seemed to be working as they picked up seven points from the first three games back. Then it all fell apart, and now those newcomers have all departed again. Dmitri Kombarov hardly sets the pulse racing as the highest profile summer signing, so another season of struggle looks likely.
CSKA Moscow dug deep into their pockets to permanently sign Nikola Vlasic from Everton and make him their most expensive signing ever. His long-term deal is a great sign of intent, and coupled with a stable, young squad offers real hope of keeping right in touch with the debate over Champions League football. Igor Diveev also turned his loan into a permanent deal, while fellow centre back Zvonimir Sarlija – who claims he has been “compared to the Berezutskiy twins” – to cover the loss of Rodrigo Becao. With a settled squad having garnered a further season’s experience, they will be a real threat to the top three.
Score prediction: Krylia Sovetov Samara 0-2 CSKA Moscow
Zenit St. Petersburg vs Tambov
Season prediction: Zenit 1st, Tambov 16th
What more is there to say about Zenit? Of course they somehow made life difficult for themselves on the way to the title in a way only Zenit can, but the spectacular winter transfer business that saw Sardar Azmoun, Wilmar Barrios and Yaroslav Rakitskiy complete the side perfectly means little business needed to be done this summer. Douglas Santos’ arrival means that Elmir Nabiullin has moved on, while a whole raft of deadwood has been removed – Claudio Marchisio’s instagram career has been cut short, while Ivan Novoseltsev, Dmitri Poloz, Ibragim Tsallagov, Luis Neto, Yuriy Lodygin, Andrey Anyukov and Andrey Panyukov have all moved on. The manner in which they bullied Rubin Kazan out of keeping Alexey Sutromin suggests they are as ruthless as ever, and with a return to Champions League football the hunger to remain at the very top table remains.
Tambov are about as polar opposites as it is possible to be in the top flight. A very young club, they have scrabbled together a rag-tag bunch of cast-offs from the lower reaches of the Premier League in much the same way that Enisey Krasnoyarsk did last summer, but with considerably less quality. Sergey Bryzgalov, 36-year-old Addesoye Adewole and Mikhail Kostyukohv are the brightest stars, but with almost the entire squad recycled into a new bunch it is hard to see them gelling sufficiently. Then there’s the issue of their home stadium not meeting Premier League requirements yet; for now, they will trek eastwards to play ‘home’ games in Saransk.
Score prediction: Zenit St. Petersburg 4-0 Tambov
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Rubin Kazan
Season prediction: Lokomotiv 3rd, Rubin Kazan 9th
This summer’s Russian Super Cup champions are a potentially devastating prospect if their first-choice XI stays fit. The issue might well come when one or two inevitable injuries threaten the harmony of the squad. The loss of Igor Denisov and Dmitri Tarasov in midfield places even greater emphasis of leadership on the shoulders of Gzregorz Kyrchowiak and Dmitri Barinov, and while there are few more electrifying talents than the in-form Miranchuk twins, the departure of Manuel Fernandes means Rifat Zhamaletdinov must step up. Sensible defensive recruitment in the shape of Dmitri Zhivolgyadov and Murilo Cerqueira should ensure their defence will be as stubborn as ever.
Rubin Kazan are drifting ever so slightly closer towards a dangerous flirtation with the relegation picture. When even local legend Kurban Berdyev can’t turn around the fortunes of the team, alarm bells start ringing. He has left the club, while an ambitious move to sign Alexey Sutormin from under Zenit’s all-powerful noses has seen them reduced to a sarcastic tweet thanking the winger for his week as a Rubin player. Ruslan Kambolov’s move to Krasnodar hasn’t helped either, although Silvije Begic’s signing is at least a positive reinforcement in defence. A pointless revamp of the club crest will not have fooled anyone; under the surface, there is little tangible prospect.
Score prediction: Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 Rubin Kazan
Akhmat Grozny vs Krasnodar
Season prediction: Akhmat 8th, Krasnodar 2nd
Akhmat have been a tough assignment for most visiting sides for some time now. Twelve defeats and less than a goal per game conceded at home in the last three seasons attest to that, but frustratingly they have rarely managed to kick on from the comforts of mid-table. To combat this relative lethargy they have brought in Spartak bad boy Denis Glushakov to form an imposing and experienced central midfield unit, while Andres Ponce offers a far more mobile threat than the ponderous Bekim Balaj.
The wheels keep on turning at Krasnodar. Gone are Charles Kabore and Mauricio Pereyra, both at the fulcrum of the Bulls’ midfield for years, while fringe players Torniko Okraishvili and Christian Cueva have been sent packing for fitness and form issues. Long-term injuries to Yuriy Gazinsky and Viktor Claesson have left even bigger holes in Murad Musaev’s plans. Within days of the transfer window reopening ahead of a debut Champions League campaign, however, Dutch international Tonny Vilhena, winger Younes Namli, Brazilian midfielder Kaio and utility player Ruslan Kambolov have plugged those gaps almost perfectly.
Score prediction: Akhmat Grozny 1-2 Krasnodar
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.