Andrew Flint –
CSKA Moscow against Krasnodar is the main event on matchday 10 of the Russian Premier Liga. We preview all the games ahead of an exciting matchday.
CSKA Moscow (4) vs (1) Krasnodar
Last week: Tambov 0-2 CSKA Moscow; Krasnodar 4-2 Krylya Sovetov Samara
Once again, CSKA are plagued with an injury crisis that would derail the season of a lesser club, and it couldn’t come at a worse time. They are currently in the middle of a run of five away games in six matches in all competitions with their Europa League campaign kicking off this week in Bulgaria, and they are down to just one available fit senior center-back in 19-year-old Igor Diveev. A suspension to Hordur Magnusson compounds the injuries to Zvonimir Sarlija, Cedric Gogoua, and Viktor Vasin, with the latter having just undergone major surgery. Even Kirill Nababkin, who has filled in as part of the back three to reasonable success in the past, is also out.
If Viktor Goncharenko has proved nothing else though, throughout his career, it is that he can eke out the potential in his young talent to impressive effect. Jaka Bijol is a candidate to step in at the back, while Konstantin Kuchaev will most likely be shoe-horned into a left wing-back role to offer an attacking threat in the absence of Georgi Shchennikov. Despite all the reshuffling necessary in defence, attacking options remain reasonable. Takuma Nishimura has been carefully managed since his arrival from Japan, and will almost certainly feature alongside Fedor Chalov, while Lucas Santos and Nikola Vlašić look set to provide the ammunition. It would be foolhardy of their opponents to assume this will be a walk in the park.
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For the neutrals, there can be fewer teams more captivating than Krasnodar. Already this season in the first nine league games they have won three matches while conceding three goals, with two of those coming away from home. Manuel Fernandes could make his domestic debut after his move from Lokomotiv on a free transfer as if they needed even more attacking firepower. Whereas CSKA’s team selection is dictated by availability, Murad Musaev can comfortably shuffle his deck while keeping his cards close to his chest; Tonny Vilhena is suspended? Danil Utkin, Dmitri Stotskiy or Fernandes could step in. What happens if Ari picks up a knock or is exhausted from the midweek trip to face Basel? Marcus Berg or Ivan Igantyev are ready. Wingers need rotation? Dmitri Skopintsev and Younes Namli are there to offer respite to Wanderson and Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov.
One curiosity that has loomed over the club this week is what will happen with Pavel Mamaev. The midfielder has been released on bail from prison alongside fellow jailbird Aleksandr Kokorin, prompting half of the Russian Premier League to step forward with offers to take him on. Sergey Galitskiy has been extremely clear in his intentions to get rid of Mamaev at the first opportunity – something Zenit St. Petersburg noticeably opted not to do with Kokorin – so it is inconceivable that he will remain once he can play again. At this stage, sitting atop the Premier League standings with a healthy, youthful squad, he would hardly be missed. First up though they must tackle the more complex issue of a disrupted but in-form CSKA.
CSKA Moscow: 3-5-2
Akinfeev – Diveev, Bijol, Tiknizyan – Fernandes, Bistrovic, Akhmetov, Santos – Nishimura, Chalov
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Safonov – Petrov, Martynovich, Spajic, Ramirez – Kambolov, Olsson, Fernandes – Wanderson, Ignatyev, Namli
Manager: Murad Musaev
Score prediction: CSKA Moscow 1-1 Krasnodar
Ufa (9) vs (6) Spartak Moscow
Last week: Dinamo Moscow 0-0 Ufa; Spartak Moscow 1-2 Ural Ekaterinburg
Life after Sylvester Igboun began with a creditable goalless draw away to Dinamo Moscow with Ufa’s Nigerian talisman starting against them for his new club. His impact at the Bashkortostan club cannot be understated; last season his goals practically dragged them out of the relegation nightmare, while his legendary status as the club’s all-time top goalscorer has impacted on the fans’ relationship with the club positively. There is a concern at the lack of an obvious source of goals though in his absence. Danil Fomin’s three goals puts him clear as the side’s top goalscorer, but his scoring rate will surely drop over the course of the season given hi role as a predominantly defensive midfielder.
Spartak Moscow’s season continues to swing wildly from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again. A burst of positive energy around the arrival of Guus Til, Jordan Larsson and Andre Schürrle spurred a run of four consecutive wins in all competitions, but since then they have collapsed to just one win and four defeats on the following five games. The immense disappointment of being knocked out of the Europa League by Braga was compounded by the failure for their intense pressure on Zenit St. Petersburg to prevent a damaging home defeat. The strange limbo the club find themselves in over their manager’s future means the uncertainty and disruption is likely to continue; Stanislav Cherchesov’s shadow in the wings hangs heavy over Oleg Kononov’s increasingly forlorn features.
Score prediction: 1-1
Akhmat Grozny (12) vs (14) Krylya Sovetov Samara
Last week: Rostov 2-1 Akhmat Grozny; Krasnodar 4-2 Krylya Sovetov Samara
Akhmat Grozny’s season continues to unravel at an alarming rate as they now rest just three points of the bottom of the table following their defeat to Rostov last weekend. The three teams behind them have all won once in the last four gameweeks, while Akhmat themselves haven’t won in five. Only Sochi have scored fewer goals. What makes it all the more awkward is the lack of flexibility Rashid Rakhimov shows in his team’s setup; his insistence on playing just one striker is frustrating enough, but the lack of consistency in the role is arguably worse. During this winless run, four different players have filled the role with no apparent direction.
Krylya Sovetov Samara’s goal threat can’t be faulted in contrast. Only five teams have scored more in the league, and against league leaders Krasnodar they missed a penalty and still scored twice. There is no shying away from the dependency on the Premier League’s top goalscorer Aleksandr Sobolev – no other player has scored more than one goal all season – but in the short-term future outside the transfer windows it is not an immediate concern. Despite being the sixth-highest scorers, they are only 12th in total shots on target per game. With that accuracy, they will survive.
Score prediction: Akhmat Grozny 1-1 Krylya Sovetov Samara
Zenit St. Petersburg (2) vs (10) Rubin Kazan
Last week: Zenit St. Petersburg 3-1 Arsenal Tula; Orenburg 2-1 Rubin Kazan
It is remarkable how little details can spiral out of control. Last season Sardar Azmoun was the toast of St. Petersburg and was the undoubted spark that drove Zenit to the title alongside Artem Dzyuba up front. Recently though, he has shown his temperamental streak in little glimpses – his missed penalty against Arsenal was followed by bizarre petulance to leave the pitch when substituted, while instead of being the instigator he has appeared in a series of clips as the butt of jokes from his teammates. It had been six matches without a goal for his club, and all of a sudden, he seemed to have lost his touch. Then a delightful combination with Dzyuba set up a fabulous goal against Olympique Lyon, and all is well. If he can eradicate the funk he had found himself in Zenit will blast his former club, Rubin, away.
Rubin have transformed somewhat themselves from an assured management of limited resources to having nowhere to turn to. Silvije Begic is still waiting to make his debut after joining in the summer from Orenburg, and yet the club still can’t fully understand his problem. While the defensive solidity was intact, his absence wasn’t so keenly felt perhaps. After seven goals conceded in three games though his return will be welcome. In the meantime, the trip to St. Petersburg presents another round of uncertainty. To have a chance all they will rely on external factors such as Zenit imploding as they did last time they met at the Krestovsky when Egor Sorokin’s double-handed the unlikeliest of wins. It is highly doubtful lightning will strike twice.
Score prediction: Zenit St. Petersburg 3-0 Rubin Kazan
Tambov (16) vs (3) Rostov
Last week: Tambov 0-2 CSKA Moscow; Rostov 2-1 Akhmat Grozny
Tambov have been flying slightly under the radar ever since their shock win against Spartak Moscow, but remain within touching distance of the rest of the relegation fodder. Considering they remain in exile in Saransk – a forgotten place to most Russians – in the cavernous Mordovia Arena, it is hardly surprising there is little noise of note from them. The only spark came from three fans who lit firecrackers in the ground and have now been banned for a year. They have now lost their last three ‘home’ games 2-0, and have lost more games than anyone else, and yet one win could take them out of the relegation zone in one fell swoop. RPL president Sergey Pryadkin has reiterated the desire to see all clubs play in their own regions, citing Tambov as an example; first, they need to save their top-flight status.
Eldor Shomurodov is surely one of the greatest examples of perseverance paying off. The Uzbek hitman is finally becoming one of the most feared target men in Russian football as he had threatened to do upon his arrival in Rostov, and his revival has coincided with Rostov becoming a carefree attacking machine. What a difference a couple of years makes; autumn of 2017 saw a run of six away games producing just two goals, but this current edition under Valery Karpin have scored seven in their last four away games alone. In the meantime we have seen bizarre stunts like the old Soviet carpet brought to one game that became a good luck charm. Shomurodov could easily have drifted under the water and sunk without a trace the way his form and opportunities were going. Karpin will be grateful he didn’t.
Score prediction: Tambov 0-1 Rostov
Orenburg (13) vs (5) Lokomotiv Moscow
Last week: Orenburg 2-1 Rubin Kazan; Sochi 0-1 Lokomotiv Moscow
And just like that, Orenburg are no longer staring into the abyss. Two wins on the trot have elevated them to within three points of midtable when all but a fortnight ago they were adrift alongside Tambov. Admittedly they came across Rubin Kazan at a good time as the Tatarstan outfit are in a major slump at the moment, but the form is no accident. They have only failed to score in one game this season – hardly surprisingly against effective parent club Zenit St. Petersburg, the only club to beat them by more than a single goal margin – and have arguably the most lethal striker outside the top five in Djordje Despotovic. Holding onto the Serbian has been critical to their incision.
Lokomotiv Moscow have just beaten Bayer Leverkusen away from home, so on paper should stroll past a side that struggles to fill a rickety 5,000-capacity shed of a stadium. Yuriy Semin is not naive at his 72 years of age though. Aleksey Miranchuk’s foot injury is a blow that will remind him of how fragile the gloss of recent success can be. Thankfully though he can call upon Rifat Zhemaletdinov to offer pace behind Fedor Smolov but it will be at the back that attention ought to be focused. For all the efficient reputation his side have developed they have managed just two clean sheets away from home since March. Keep Despotovic quiet – easier said than done – and they might make that three.
Score prediction: Orenburg 1-2 Lokomotiv Moscow
Dinamo Moscow (11) vs (15) Sochi
Last week: Dinamo Moscow 0-0 Ufa; Sochi 0-1 Lokomotiv Moscow
When over $1 billion in a monster stadium, surrounding business park and no small amount of new players, one would expect some sort of returns. Maximilian Phillip arrived to great fanfare alongside some serious pace in Clinton N’Jie and Sylvester Igboun to create one of the more potent attacking units in the Premier League, and at first it looked to be working as he scored twice in his first two games. The problem with throwing money at a problem is that it masks all other issues that need addressing, such as the fractured relationship between Dmitri Khokhlov and the sporting directors, fans, and players. Now the mask is slipping – one win in six and just six goals all season – the picture is far from ideal.
The consolation is that Sochi are drawing even more blanks in their own project to airlift in success. Admittedly they did break out against Rubin Kazan a few weeks back to more than double their season’s goals tally in one match, although it appears to be more the rule than the exception. With almost an entire XI of former Zenit players to call upon one would think there would be less struggle for the modern incarnation of St. Petersburg’s most historic club. If it is any consolation all five of their goals have come away from their home at the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
Score prediction: Dinamo Moscow 1-0 Sochi
Arsenal Tula (7) vs (8) Ural Ekaterinburg
Last week: Zenit St. Petersburg 3-1 Arsenal Tula; Spartak Moscow 1-2 Ural Ekaterinburg
How Arsenal Tula fans must long for last season. Swashbuckling goal-fests they were the right side of, challenging the hierarchy, sneaking into Europe… They have carved a niche for themselves as the best of the rest that will serve them well in the long term when it comes to recruiting players. Artem Dzyuba using the club as a launch pad to reignite his career just over a year ago is another decent advert for the potential in Tula. One curiosity that stands out this season is that only one player has scored more than one goal despite the team averaging over a goal per game. The problem is there is little direct threat beyond Evgeniy Lutsenko’s form.
Ural Ekaterinburg continue to hurtle wildly from the ridiculous to the sublime. An eye-watering 19 goals conceded already highlights the major area for concern, with little hope of the defensive issues abating. Three clean sheets in their last 19 away league games would be depressing if it were not for the spectacular left foot of Nikolay Dimitrov and Erik Bicfalvi’s superior footballing IQ. It is not quite ‘you score three goals we’ll score four’, but not far off. Ransacking Moscow last weekend in a daring raid on Spartak will go a long way toward fueling confidence ahead of this week.
Score prediction: Arsenal Tula 1-1 Ural Ekaterinburg
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.