Andrew Flint –
On matchday 11 Lokomotiv Moscow host league leaders Zenit St. Petersburg for what will be an exciting matchup in the Russian Premier Liga. We preview that game and all the other games of the Russian top flight.
Lokomotiv Moscow (5) vs (1) Zenit St. Petersburg
Last week: Orenburg 2-3 Lokomotiv Moscow; Zenit St. Petersburg 5-0 Rubin Kazan
After one of Lokomotiv’s most memorable results in recent memory last week away to Bayer Leverkusen, Yuriy Semin’s native Orenburg was always going to be a bit of a come-down. In domestic terms the Gazprom-backed outfit are a stubborn irritant at worst and shouldn’t have presented much trouble. After Dmitri Barinov’s free header gave them the lead and Fedor Smolov’s penalty gave them a two-goal cushion it didn’t look like they would. As has happened so often this season though, Orenburg didn’t roll over and play dead – they’ve only failed to score in one league game – as they made Lokomotiv work to keep their three points.
Crashing out of the Russian Cup that they have won twice in the last three years this week on penalties against Baltika Kaliningrad hasn’t helped, but in all honesty it was risk Semin knew he was taking with the weakened lineup he names. As with so many big clubs as they enter the competition this round of 32 is seen more as an irritant than a source of pride. The real satisfaction will come from returning to the Champions League, or better still a genuine title challenge. Ilya Gerkus revealed this week that he had considered Sergey Semak for the manager’s position at Lokomotiv; perhaps Semin’s greatest pride will come from proving the old dog still has life in him.
Zenit St. Petersburg will have gone into last weekend’s home game with the cautionary tale of last winter in their minds. Back then, at the zenith of their awful slump in form that saw their lead clawed back by Krasnodar, Egor Sorokin shocked the Gazprom Arena with a double to steal all three points. Although the first half remained goalless, the second half was a riot lead by the smash-and-grab heroics or Alexandr Sutormin of all people; his ephemeral period as a Rubin player was cut short during the summer after Zenit’s hierarchy intervened to ensure he ended up in St. Petersburg where he has become nothing more than a squad player.
The exhausting trip all the way out east to Krasnoyarsk to face relegated side Yenisey – who are are now also bottom of the FNL – was navigated safely to see Semak’s men through to the next round. Retaining the championship title will be of far greater concern than lifting the cut-glass trophy next summer, so their ability to withstand whatever pressure Lokomotiv can throw at them will be critical. They will have to do so without Malcom and Serdar Azmoun, and without former jailbird Aleksandr Kokorin who will not be registered until the winter break. The speed with which he was offered new contract after being released speaks volumes for the value with which he is held. For now though he will have to wait.
Guilherme – Zhivoglyadov, Corluka, Howedes, Rybus – Barinov, Cerqueira, Krychowiak – Joao Mario, Zhemaletdinov – Smolov
Zenit St. Petersburg:
Lunev – Karavaev, Ivanovic, Rakitskiy, Santos – Barrios, Ozdoev, Zhirkov – Driussi, Dzyuba, Shatov
Score prediction: Lokomotiv Moscow 1-1 Zenit St. Petersburg
Krylya Sovetov Samara (16) vs (15) Tambov
Last week: Akhmat Grozny 1-1 Krylya Sovetov Samara; Tambov 2-1 Rostov
Talk about leaving it late; Maksim Karpov’s equaliser snatched a point from the jaws of defeat in the 94th minute last weekend in Chechnya. It was only the second time they had avoided defeat away from home in the league in 11 matches. It speaks volumes for how competitive the lower reaches of the Premier League are this season when a side that has outscored all but the current top six and boasts the league’s breakout in-form star in Aleksandr Sobolev is still bottom of the table. Crashing out of the Russian Cup to Torpedo Moscow is now of even less consequence in light of their battle to save their status.
Should Tambov be concerned with their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of an average second-tire Tom Tomsk? Aleksandr Grigoryan is a proud man who takes his reputation almost as seriously as his suspiciously thick tan so will be affected at least to some degree, but he can take solace from simply keeping an unfashionable side’s head above the water. His side haven’t even played a single match in their home stadium, having instead to make do with an eerily empty Mordovia Arena for most ‘home’ games – where they have now beaten Spartak moscow and Rostov – not to mention losing Cedric Gogoua to CSKA Moscow.
Score prediction: Krylya Sovetov Samara 2-1 Tambov
Rostov (3) vs (11) Dinamo Moscow
Last week: Tambov 2-1 Rostov; Dinamo Moscow 2-3 Sochi
The days of Kurban Berdyev’s riga mortis-inducing defence are now but a distant memory. Whereas back under his stewardship a petrifyingly resolute backline gave away absolutely nothing, especially at home, now only two sides outside the relegation playoff zone have conceded more. Valery Karpin’s faith in Dmitri Chistyakov, who had never played in the top flight before returning to Rostov this summer, 19-year-old Danil Glebov and the confidence-shredded Eldor Shomurodov has paid of handsomely. Even despite the shock defeat to Tambov last weekend they are within three points of league leaders Zenit.
Dinamo Moscow seem incapable to passing just a single month without plunging themselves into further drama, debt or some form of chaos. The grand VTB-funded splurge in the transfer market has delivered a raft of talented names that sated the fans’ lust for star quality, but even after new signing Sylvester Igboun scoring twice last weekend they have managed just eight goals and two wins in 10 games. Only two sides have scored fewer. Dmitri Khokhlov offered to tender his resignation recently too after the poor form his side have shown – including travelling all the way to Vladivostok to be knocked out by Luch Energiya – but was persuaded to stay on, much to the consternation of the Dinamo fans. Just another week in paradise.
Score prediction: Rostov 2-1 Dinamo Moscow
Ural Ekaterinburg (6) vs (2) CSKA Moscow
Last week: Arsenal Tula 1-1 Ural Ekaterinburg; CSKA Moscow 3-2 Krasnodar
A figure inside Ural Ekaterinburg joked a few weeks ago about renaming the stadium WiFi password as ‘ParfenovOut’ after a poor run of form in August. It seems that the bellowing vein-bursting presence of president Grigory Ivanov on the touchline alongside him has dwarved his own influence on proceedings, but somehow they have wound up just one place outside a guaranteed shot at the Europa League. Othman El Kabir’s missed penalty cost them all three points against their next opponents in the Russian Cup, Arsenal Tula, last weekend while Pavel Pogrebnyak’s double saw them past Chernomorets midweek to offer some respite. At home though, there remains the enormous elephant in the room; in the last two years, they have still kept just one clean sheet. With Zenit next up, that record looks set to continue.
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CSKA Moscow are equally fond of goals at either end it seems. For all Ural’s defensive nightmares, they do consistently score, as CSKA have shown themselves to do with 14 goals in their last three competitive games. After a brief defensive injury nightmare they now have Hordur Magnusson and Ivan Oblyakov back from suspension, Zvonimir Sarlija fit, and yet another youngster has gained first-team experience into the bargain. Attacking won’t be a problem knowing their hosts’ weaknesses; all they need to do is hold their nerve in the face of incessant bombardment from the wings.
Score prediction: Ural Ekaterinburg 1-2 CSKA Moscow
Rubin Kazan (10) vs Ufa (8)
Last week: Zenit St. Petersburg 5-0 Rubin Kazan; Ufa 1-0 Spartak Moscow
No manner of rock and roll rhetoric from Roman Sharonov can sugarcoat the annihilation his troops suffered at the hands of the omnipotent Zenit last weekend. The harsh reality of top-flight management and the infinitesimally fine line between success and failure can be demonstrated ideally by the dizzying spiral into disaster that Rubin have taken. In their last five competitive matches they have scored just twice, conceded 15 and lost all five. Extend that a further three matches and only one win stands amidst a sea of defeats. It is nigh on impossible to see how the next goal, yet alone the next win, will materialise in Kazan. The one shred of hope lies in the fact that they welcome one of the worst away records in the Russian Premier League, and with it the prospect of the dullest match of the weekend.
Ufa will be buoyant of course after beating Spartak Moscow 1-0 last weekend to claim their fourth win in five home games. With only half a tongue in cheek though, it is questionable how much credit they can take from seeing off a disjointed, broken Spartak side so low on confidence that their own fans produced banners rather impolitely inviting their manager Oleg Kononov to vacate his position. On the road though they are a totally different prospect; their last away win in the league came over 18 months ago.
Score prediction: Rubin Kazan 0-0 Ufa
Spartak Moscow (9) vs (14) Orenburg
Last week: Ufa 1-0 Spartak Moscow; Orenburg 2-3 Lokomotiv Moscow
Possibly the most poisoned chalice in Russian football is the Spartak Moscow manager’s position. That will be of little comfort to Oleg Kononov as he endures the ire of the club’s fans and he appalling fragility of his players. It seems any time an unemployed manager appears in Moscow his name is linked with taking over from the softly spoken former Krasnodar boss; this week it was Gennaro Gattuso, in town to record a video with Match TV’s Nobel Arustamyan. There is no escaping the fact that they have now equalled their longest losing streak in the league for almost a decade. It would be so typically Spartak, then, to snap out of the seemingly inescapable downward spiral just when they’re at their lowest.
Orenburg have no such expectations around them. In fact, they are arguably their main sponsor’s third priority in this league alone after Zenit and Sochi, and with the struggles imposed on the squad by an incredibly lethargic transfer window few expected them to still be in with the slightest hope of survival come winter. They have scored twice in their last three league games, and no other side in the bottom half of the table has scored more goals. When travelling to Moscow though they have lost seven of their last eight games.
Score prediction: Spartak Moscow 2-1 Orenburg
Krasnodar (4) vs (7) Arsenal Tula
Last week: CSKA Moscow 3-2 Krasnodar; Arsenal Tula 1-1 Ural Ekaterinburg
For possibly the first time since taking over, there are faint whispers questioning Murad Musaev’s tactical nous. The Krasnodar boss has been understandably cautious on the road in Europe given his side’s relative naivety on the continental stage, but they have now conceded nine goals in their last three away games with a weakness with individual mistakes marking all three games. Losing Alexander Granqvist last summer left a gaping hole for a leader in the backline that has not been filled. Nevertheless the attacking unit remains one of the most impressive in the league and will always be able to cover the deficiencies at the back. However much they lack a robust run of form away, they have won four of their last five at home in the league.
Arsenal Tula, much like Ural Ekaterinburg, have somewhat stumbled upon a top-half place in the table. The group of teams from sixth down to ninth are all on 14 points so there is no margin for error before falling straight back towards a potential relegation battle, and Arsenal Tula have lost their last two away games in the league. A run of one win since early August came soon after their Europa League campaign ended depressingly against Neftchi Baku, while only Rubin Kazan and Ural Ekaterinburg have conceded more league goals. Krasnodar away is not the ideal place to try to improve their fortunes.
Score prediction: Krasnodar 2-0 Arsenal Tula
Sochi (12) vs (13) Akhmat Grozny
Last week: Dinamo Moscow 2-3 Sochi; Akhmat Grozny 1-1 Krylya Sovetov Samara
Have Sochi finally broken out of their shell? For an apparently goal-shy outfit – don’t forget they failed to score a single goal in their first five matches in the top flight – they have since scored three goals in both of their last two away games in the league. Anton Zabolotniy has been a much-maligned figure of fun since his ill-judged move to Zenit St. Petersburg from Tosno, but his spectacular finish on the turn helped his new side to a stunning 3-2 win away to Dinamo Moscow last weekend. His effort has never been in question; now he has found some kind of form, the potential is promising.
Akhmat Grozny seem determined not to win anymore. Admittedly they squeezed past SKA Khabarovsk in the far east in their midweek Russian Cup tie, but even then they went the whole distance to penalties. In the league they have just one win in their last nine fixtures overall and have unsurprisingly sunk into the relegation playoff zone. You don’t need a detective to work out what the problem is; only Rubin Kazan have scored fewer goals overall, while away from home they have scored the fewest with just one.
Score prediction: Sochi 1-0 Akhmat Grozny
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.