Russian Premier Liga Matchday 23 Preview

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The domestic football season may be entering into its closing stages in Russia, however, the excitement and talking points show no sign of finishing. Matchday 22 was a round which had everything in the RPL, goals, comeback wins, great goals and two big fixtures that lived up to their pre-match billings. Matchday 23 has a lot to live up to and here is what is in store.

Friday 12th April (CET 17:30)

Krylia Sovetov v Rubin

Samara Arena, Samara

Matchday 23 opens on Friday evening in Samara between Krylia Sovetov and Rubin Kazan. It is a fixture between two sides who will feel like their performances on Matchday 22 were not reflected in the final results of their fixtures.

Krylia Sovetov impressed against title chasing Krasnodar at Krasnodar Arena and actually created more chances in the game (15 to 11 in Krylia’s favour) than their more illustrious opponents. Krylia at times had the Bulls penned back in their own half for spells in the game (not many in the RPL do this to Krasnodar) and underlined that they are a much stronger side now under coach Miodrag Bozovic than they were at the start of the season. In the end Krylia were undone by a late penalty from Krasnodar’s Viktor Claesson and succumbed to an unlucky 1-0 defeat.

Their opponents on Friday, Rubin Kazan also will feel aggrieved after their result at the weekend, a 0-0 home draw with Arsenal Tula. In a game of not so many chances, Rubin created by far the better of them and will see the end result as two points dropped in their quest to finish in 6th place at the end of the season. Kurban Berdyev’s side played some nice build-up football against Arsenal, however, lacked a finishing touch up front, an issue which has been commonplace all through the season.

Krylia and Rubin go into this game in 13th and 9th place in the classification and are ranked 9th and 10th respectively in the form table over the last five matchdays. Both sides have only scored 19 goals in their 22 games so far this season, so Friday evening’s affair could very easily be an encounter where one goal could settle the affairs. Expect a tight and tactical match in Samara.

Saturday 13th April (CET 10:30)

Yenisey v Ufa

Central Stadium, Krasnoyarsk

Saturday’s early kick-off sees two sides who go into the fixture in contrasting moods following their weekend’s results. It is also a proverbial “relegation six-pointer” and if either side can snatch a win from it, it could prove decisive come the end of the season.

Yenisey are the home side in the encounter and they are the side heading into the game with confidence likely to be low. The Siberians on Matchday 21 held a two goal lead away at fellow strugglers Ural Yekaterinburg and looked set with just 20 minutes remaining in the match to claim only a second away win all season and give their survival chances a huge boost.

Yet, the Krasnoyarsk outfit capitulated in the final 15 minutes of the game, conceded three goals to Ural and failed when leading both 2-0 and 2-1 in the game to take goal-scoring opportunities to finish off the contest. Yenisey’s profligacy was ruthlessly punished by the Bumblebees and they now face a huge effort to preserve their top flight status for next season.

Compare and contrast this to FC Ufa. One of the surprises of the last two campaigns in the RPL, the outfit from Bashkortostan have looked a shadow of the side who over the last two seasons impressed under the guidance of Viktor Goncharenko and Sergei Semak. Yet in recent weeks, some of the resilience and results of the Ufa of old seem to have returned. A spirited comeback from two goals down against CSKA on Matchday 21 was backed up by a controlled 1-0 home win against UEFA Europa League chasing FC Rostov on Matchday 22.

The four points gained from these two games under new coach Vadim Evseev have lifted Ufa to just 4 points behind 12th placed Dinamo Moscow, who occupy the lowest place in the RPL table to avoid a potential relegation through the RPL promotion/relegation playoffs.

Based on the above, whilst this fixture remains a huge game for both sides, it is a more important and decisive game for Yenisey. After their collapse in Yekaterinburg last Sunday, this really could be last chance saloon for the Siberians, defeat here to Ufa would see them fall 11 points behind Ufa in 14th place, which is the lowest place in the RPL table to qualify for a promotion/relegation playoff and avoid automatic relegation to the second tier FNL with just 7 fixtures remaining. A thankless task should it occur.

As for Ufa, a win in this fixture could put them just 1 point behind both Krylia Sovetov and Dinamo Moscow in 13th and 12th place and ignite dreams of potentially securing RPL safety without the need for a playoff. A situation which appeared almost impossible just 3 weeks ago.

Saturday 13th April (CET 13:00)

CSKA v Orenburg

VEB Arena, Moscow

In Matchday 22 against their fierce rivals Spartak, CSKA underlined their status as the away day specialists of the RPL as they recorded an ultimately deserved 2-0 win. The win was vital in more ways than one for the Horses, not only did it give them bragging rights over their fierce rivals, but it also kept them in the title race, five points behind leaders Zenit.

The onus will be on CSKA to continue to keep up the pressure on Zenit by recording another three points at home against Orenburg. There have been more positives than negatives at CSKA since the resumption of play after the winter break, however, the Horses’ last home encounter on Matchday 21 provided one of those negatives as they squandered a two goal advantage in the last five minutes to draw 2-2. CSKA cannot afford another slip up like the one against Ufa two weeks ago.

Opponents Orenburg go into the game not in the best of form, after recording an impressive 3-1 home win against Krylia Sovetov in a midweek rearranged Matchday 16 game between Matchdays 21 and 22, Orenburg came crashing back down to earth on Matchday 22 suffering a shock 3-1 loss at home to Akhmat Grozny, a big blow for the side’s hopes of finishing 6th.

Whilst Orenburg are ranked 8th amongst RPL sides throughout the whole of the season so far when it comes to away form, Orenburg are ranked over form in the last 5 games only 13th out of 16 teams. CSKA haven’t quite been as good at home this season in the RPL compared to their away form, however, one would expect them to be strong favourites to win this one and keep up the heat on Zenit at the top of the standings.

Saturday 13th April (CET 15:30)

Arsenal v Ural

Arsenal Stadium, Tula

To say the midtable of the RPL is congested and close is very much an understatement. Between FC Rostov in 6th place and Krylia Sovetov in 13th place, only 8 points separate eight teams. Every game involving two teams from mid-table from now till the end of the season is very much a six-pointer in what will be a tight race to finish as Best of the Rest to Russian Football’s proclaimed Big Five.

Saturday afternoon’s showdown in Tula between Arsenal Tula and Ural Yekaterinburg sees two teams who go into the fixture having been involved in games on opposing sides of the drama scale. Arsenal’s 0-0 draw away against Rubin Kazan was the only game on Matchday 22 in the RPL which finished goalless. The Canoneers were in truth fortunate to escape from Tatarstan with a point after being dominated by Rubin.

On the other hand, Ural come into the game having come out on the right side of a 3-2 home victory against Yenisey Kranoyarsk. It was a lucky escape for the Bumblebees against the division’s bottom side who with 20 minutes remaining in the game were trailing by two goals to Yenisey and the Siberians spurned opportunities to finish off the contest. Nonetheless, a win was much needed for Ural who prior to their victory against Yenisey were bottom of the RPL form guide.

Whilst Ural played their get out of jail card last weekend, expect the assignment facing them in Tula much more of a difficult task. Arsenal sit 7th in the table and in 11 home games all season have only lost once, they are ranked 4th overall in the division for home form behind only Zenit, Krasnodar and Lokomotiv. Ural by contrast only rank 13th in their away form.

This game could also give both these sides a chance to strike a decisive psychological blow over one another as both face each other in Tula in the second leg of the Russian Cup Semi Final in May. With Ural currently leading the tie 1-0 on aggregate, Arsenal will also see this fixture as a chance to gain revenge on the Yekaterinburg outfit for the Semi Final first leg loss.

Saturday 13th April (CET 18:30)

Akhmat v Lokomotiv

Akhmat Arena, Grozny

Saturday evening’s late fixture comes from Grozny where Akhmat face Lokomotiv. One phrase comes to mind when discussing the home side’s 2018-19 season so far, “Expect the Unexpected”. The Wolves having suffered a 3-1 home loss to Spartak on Matchday 21 then stunned everyone by defeating FC Orenburg away from home by a score of 3-1 on Matchday 22. Akhmat are the most unpredictable side in the RPL and their results are almost impossible to forecast from week to week.

Their opponents Lokomotiv go into this fixture on the back of a 1-1 draw at home against leaders Zenit on Matchday 22. This result sees the gap between the Railroaders and the leaders remain at six points, however courtesy of Krasnodar and CSKA’s victories, Lokomotiv dropped from 2nd to 4th at the conclusion of the matchday. Lokomotiv competed well against Zenit and despite a failure to get three points, it was a good display in an even game, which Zenit just edged in terms of performance.

However, the pressure is now on the Railroaders to stay in touch with Zenit and both Krasnodar and CSKA in the battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League. A win is an absolute must for the defending champions, however, given Akhmat’s unpredictability, any result truly is possible in Grozny and it will be interesting to see which Akhmat turns up in this Saturday evening fixture.

Sunday 14th April (CET 13:00)

Dinamo v Krasnodar

Arena Khimki, Moscow Region

The saying is supposed to read “Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place”, however, the scriptwriters for Dinamo Moscow seem to be developing a storyline for their 2018-19 season from an unconventional script.

Last weekend’s 1-1 draw against relegation-threatened Anzhi was a poor result for the Blue-Whites and was made worse by the fact that the capital club were the best side in the game, thus seeing this draw as two points dropped at full time. Lightning really does appear to be striking twice for the Muscovites as they sit only out of the relegation/promotion places on a better head to head record over Krylia Sovetov. Painful memories of the club’s first historic relegation from Russian football’s top flight are beginning to resurface and many fear a similar situation could occur once again this season.

Therefore, the very last side Dinamo would have wanted to come to Arena Khimki this matchday are FC Krasnodar. After their 1-0 victory at home against Krylia Sovetov on Matchday 22, the Bulls rose to 2nd in the RPL standings and cut the lead to leaders Zenit by two points from 6 points to 4 points. It was a vital win for Krasnodar who recorded back to back wins in the RPL following their Matchday 21 5-0 triumph over Anzhi and keeps them firmly in the title race.

Despair for Dinamo and very little hope on Sunday Lunchtime? Not necessarily so, Krasnodar’s victory against Krylia in the last Matchday was a laboured one where the Bulls put in a far from convincing performance, something which has been a theme of many of Krasnodar’s league performances in the RPL since the end of the winter break. Furthermore, despite recent results being poor, Dinamo are normally a strong side at their home stadium.

 The pressure is on Krasnodar just as much to keep pressure on Zenit as it is on Dinamo to avoid dropping into the relegation/promotion playoff picture. Can Dinamo therefore take advantage of this, upset the applecart and deal a blow to Krasnodar’s championship chances?

Sunday 14th April (CET 15:30)

Zenit v Anzhi

Gazprom Arena, St Petersburg

Matchday 22 for leaders and championship favourites Zenit St Petersburg saw them record a 1-1 draw away against current defending title holders Lokomotiv Moscow. Zenit’s lead at the top of the standings was cut to 4 points courtesy of Krasnodar’s victory against Krylia Sovetov. Nonetheless, one feels the Petersburg-based outfit will not be too disappointed with the result against Lokomotiv, Zenit arguably shaded the game in terms of performance and the hurdle of one of the most difficult matches away at Lokomotiv for the Blue-White-Sky Blues has now been overcome.

Anzhi come into the game on the back of a spirited 1-1 home draw against Dinamo Moscow. It was a gutsy display by the Dagestan-based outfit and the point that they gained could prove a vital one at the end of the season in their relegation fight. However, their weekend was to end on a bittersweet note with Ufa’s shock victory over Rostov which dropped Anzhi into the automatic relegation zone once again.

Anzhi do have a slightly better record away from home in the RPL this season with 10 points yielded from 11 games compared to their home games (9 points from 11 games). It is also worth noting that the Makhachkala outfit are chasing a league double over Zenit having defeated them in September. However, it looks a tall order to replicate that famous triumph in St Petersburg this Sunday.

Zenit despite recent performances not being great have crucially continued to chalk up wins as they chase a first RPL title since 2014-15. Last weekend’s performance against Lokomotiv despite a failure to win against the Railroaders was a significant improvement on other performances in recent weekends. If Zenit can record another improvement on their Matchday 22 performance on Sunday, Anzhi could be in for a long afternoon.

Sunday 14th April (CET 18:00)

Rostov v Spartak

Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don

Concluding Matchday 23 on Sunday evening is the clash between Rostov and Spartak Moscow at Rostov Arena. This encounter is a game which both sides go into on the back of disappointing losses.

Rostov lost by a scoreline of 1-0 away against Ufa on Matchday 22, the Yellow-Blues were up against an Ufa side who were fighting for their RPL lives and who had recorded an impressive 2-2 draw away against CSKA in Matchday 21. Nonetheless, it was still a disappointing result and a failure to strengthen their hold on 6th place in the RPL following Arsenal Tula and Rubin Kazan cancelling each other out in their meeting with a draw and Orenburg’s shock home loss against Akhmat Grozny.

However, without question Spartak go into this fixture in a more despondent mood. In a game of two halves against fierce rivals CSKA at Otkritie Arena on Matchday 22, Spartak dominated the first half and squandered numerous good opportunities to take the lead going into half time. Then, immediately after the restart CSKA took advantage of a mix-up in defence between Spartak’s central defender Samuel Gigot and goalkeeper Aleksandr Selikhov which lead to Arnor Sigurdsson scoring for CSKA. After that incident and goal, CSKA were rarely troubled and cruised to a 2-0 victory against their Muscovite rivals.

Sunday evening’s encounter at Rostov Arena pits Rostov manager Valeri Karpin against the club he used to play and manage and Rostov and Karpin will be hoping for a league double over the Red Whites. This fixture has another interesting subplot and that is just how significant a victory could be for either side over the other. A win for Rostov and they cement their grip on 6th place and move to within a point of Spartak in 5th with a genuine chance of finishing above the Muscovite club in the race for Europa League qualification come the end of the season.

A win for Spartak increases the gap between themselves and Rostov in 6th to seven points, all but guarantees Europa League qualification for next season and keeps the club in touching distance of the top 3 and potential Champions League qualification for next season.


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