Manuel Veth –
Zenit vs Rubin – Sunday, December 9, 16:00GMT/19:00 MSK – Krestovsky Arena, St. Petersburg, Russia
One matchday to go ahead of the three-month winter break and one of the main question at the moment in Russia is whether Zenit will implode once again. Just a few weeks ago Russia’s richest club carried a comfortable seven-point advantage over their nearest rivals, but now on matchday 17, they could theoretically lose the first spot in the league to Krasnodar.
Defeats to CSKA Moscow on matchday 14 and, perhaps in what has been the shock result of the season, Arsenal Tula last week means that just two points separate Zenit from second-placed Krasnodar. Krasnodar, in fact, has emerged as the most serious challenger to Zenit’s supremacy this season and in Ufa face a relatively easy task on the final matchday ahead of the winter break.
Zenit, in the meantime, host Rubin Kazan at the Krestovsky. Coached by Kurban Berdyev they might be one of the most complicated teams to play in the Russian Premier Liga, despite the fact that the club is currently undergoing a rebuild.
Rubin, slammed by UEFA for Financial Fair Play violations are currently ninth with 22-points from the first 16 games. Smacked right in the middle of the table Rubin Kazan are part of a pack of teams that are located between fourth and tenth spot, which are separated by just five points.
But faced with the reality that his club will not be able to qualify for any European competition anyhow Kurban Berdyev has made this season less about results but building for the long-term. Perhaps the best coach in Russian football Berdyev is known for building teams that overperform. He won the Russian title twice with Kazan in 2009 and 2010 and in 2016 came within one win of guiding nearly bankrupt FC Rostov to a Russian championship and then the following season managed to beat Bayern München in the Champions League.
Berdyev knows how to hurt bigger clubs by setting up his sides perfectly. Furthermore, with nothing to lose this could be yet another occasion for Zenit to slip up. That slip up would come at the worst possible time for head coach Sergey Semak.
Zenit would be unable to correct dropping from first place for the next three months. Locked away in various winter camps the squad would have plenty of time to contemplate what happened last season where Zenit also collapsed after a fantastic start under Roberto Mancini. A win is imperative and, in turn, sets up things nicely for a fantastic finish to the first half of the Russian Premier Liga season.
Zenit vs Rubin – Players to look out for:
Sebastián Driussi #11 – Zenit
Artem Dzyuba continues to struggle as the first half of the season comes to a close. The burly Russian striker has simply played too many games and seems spent everytime he is on the pitch these days. Semak, however, had very few alternatives in recent weeks as Anton Zabolotny has struggled to score regularly. One alternative could be Argentine forward Sebastián Driussi. The 22-year-old was signed for €15 million from River Plate last season and has scored four goals and eight assists this season. But while his overall scoring record is decent the Argentine needs to improve his goalscoring tally simply to provide a good alternative to Dzyuba.
Dmitri Poloz #10 – Rubin Kazan
With Sardar Azmoun missing this one due to a yellow card suspension Dmitri Poloz is expected to start against the club that owns his rights. On loan from Zenit at Rubin this season Poloz is trying to rebuild his career after a lost year at Zenit. The striker had a good two seasons under Berdyev at Rostov but somewhat struggled to make his mark at Zenit last season. Now reunited with Berdyev Poloz is still looking for his form as his three goals in 15 games this season attest. But there is no doubt that Poloz has the talent to be one of the best forwards in Russia and it would be fitting for the 27-year-old to find some redemption when playing against his former club.
Zenit vs Rubin – Match Stats
- Zenit have been undefeated against Rubin in the last ten games (W8 D2)
- Rubin last managed to defeat Zenit on July 21, 2013 in a 2-1 victory at the old Petrovsky Stadium.
- Kurban Berdyev has faced Zenit on 30 occasions and won ten, drew eight and lost 12.
- The 66-year-old head coach has never managed to defeat Sergey Semak. They faced each other on three occasions with Semak winning two and drawing one.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zenit vs Rubin – 1-1
Zenit vs Rubin – Lineups
Lunev – Ivanović, Anyukov, Mammana – Mak, Paredes, Erokhin, Hernani, Kuzyaev – Zabolotniy, Driussi
Head Coach: Sergey Semak
Baburin – Sorokin, Navas, Uremović – Kalinin, Mogilevets, Granat, Ustinov – Podberezkin, Bayramyan – Poloz
Head Coach: Kurban Berdyev
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds 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 is available HERE. 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.