What to look out for on Matchday 26: Title race decider, Arsenal’s unwanted record

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Here we pick out the potential highlights of matchday 26 in the Russian Premier Liga.

Title race to be decided?

Zenit St. Petersburg can reclaim their RPL crown this weekend if results go their way. Put simply, if they win and Lokomotiv Moscow don’t, Zenit will officially be the 2019/20 champions. Sergey Semak - who signed a contract extension recently - has guided the St. Petersburg side to an 11-point lead with five games remaining, although they haven’t won any of their three previous matches against the only two teams who can catch them; Lokomotiv Moscow and FC Krasnodar.

In the RPL head-to-head record is the first tie-breaker for sides finishing level on points, and this is where Lokomotiv have a slither of an advantage having beaten Zenit 1-0 at home and drawn 0-0 away. If Zenit draw and Lokomotiv lose this matchday, the gap will be 12 points with 12 left to play for but with the Railwaymen holding the tiebreaker advantage.

Undoubtedly the fixture of the weekend is Zenit away to third-placed FC Krasnodar. The Bulls came away from St. Petersburg with a 1-1 draw earlier this season, so also hold a head-to-head advantage as things stand. The omens for Murad Musaev’s men are not good; in seven encounters with Zenit at home, they have only even won once, with last season’s epic 3-2 added time defeat still fresh in the memory.

Arsenal Tula could equal their longest top-flight losing run

From Europa League qualifiers to threatening the wrong kinds of records, Arsenal Tula are in serious need of a turnaround in fortunes. One bright spark is Evgeniy Lutsenko currently sitting second in the top goalscorers’ race, but even his outstanding efforts haven’t been able to arrest the slide in form. Igor Cherevchenko resigned this week after overseeing their fifth consecutive RPL defeat as they were beaten 3-1 at home by Akhmat Grozny. Sergey Podpaly and youth team head coach Nikolay Kovardaev have been tasked with steadying the sip till the end of the season.

Six years ago, when Arsenal made their debut in the RPL, they picked up just one point from their first nine games. This was partly thanks to a six-match losing streak that began with a defeat to Dynamo Moscow, whom they face this weekend in the capital. Mathematically there is even the spectre of relegation hanging over them, as only five points separate them from the bottom two. 

Unlikely European hopefuls clash

FC Ufa are one of the RPL’s youngest clubs having only been officially formed less than a decade ago. By contrast, Ural Ekaterinburg are celebrating their 90th anniversary this year. Neither have won a major honour, although both find themselves in a position of being able to dream of Europe. Ufa even came within a goal of reaching the Europa League two years ago when they were edged out by Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.

As things stand, FC Ufa are level with Spartak and Dynamo Moscow on 32 points, with the former residing in sixth. If Zenit win the Russian Cup or Spartak finish in the top five, then the RPL’s sixth-placed side will gain entry directly to next season’s Europa League group stages. FC Ural are only four points behind and could make this particular race even more congested, while also retaining hopes of winning the Russian Cup themselves in the home stadium.


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