What to look out for on Matchday 27: Nikolic's first Derby, ex-Zenit players watch former club celebrations

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We have picked out the key things to look out for on Matchday 27, from 7 to 9 July.

Derby debut and leaders’ old friends

Lokomotiv's head coach Marko Nikolic will take part in a Moscow derby for the first time in his Russian career. His first capital opponent is Domenico Tedesco, who picked up his first Spartak Moscow rivals - after their 3-0 win at the RZD Arena, there were victories over Dynamo in the RPL and over CSKA in the Russian Cup.

In all of Tedesco's derby victories, Zelimkhan Bakaev has played the main role. Playing against Lokomotiv the first time round, the 24-year-old made three assists, and in March he scored the winner against Dynamo and scored a quick goal against CSKA. Despite only scoring once after the restart Bakaev overall is on superb form through his second full season in the RPL. After eight goals for Arsenal Tula, Bakaev has scored five times for Spartak and registered nine assists; in the latter category, the Spartak player is second only behind two-time Russian champion Artem Dzyuba.

Aleksey Miranchuk, who is the same age as Bakaev and will turn 25 in October, has also been very effective this season. Alongside Grzegorz Krychowiak, he is the team's top scorer with nine goals. After the restart the midfielder scored all four Lokomotiv goals, earning them seven points, and the player himself the RPL Player of the Month award for June. However, in the next match against FC Sochi he failed to extend his record goal-scoring run because of a missed penalty in the eighth minute of added time. This was only the second miss from the spot in his career; in April 2018, his penalty was parried by Dynamo’s Anton Shunin.

"I won't worry too much, because the next match is coming soon. We need to get back on track and continue to pick up points," Alexey told MATCH PREMIER after the draw with FC Sochi. So far, Lokomotiv have a four-point lead over FC Krasnodar in the fight for second place, but the southerners have a game in hand against Dynamo on 19 July. That day will also be decisive for Spartak: the red and white team will meet Zenit in the Russian Cup semi-finals. It will arguably be a greater challenge to qualify for the Europa League through the RPL, after two consecutive defeats to CSKA and Tambov dropped Spartak 11 points behind the top five.

First match as champions

From the current Sochi squad, three players lifted the RPL trophy at the end of last season: Elmir Nabiullin, Christian Noboa and Anton Zabolotny were in Zenit's squad for the match with CSKA, after which the Blue-White-Sky Blues were presented with their medals and the trophy. A year later they will be taken back to the celebration, but as rivals.

With the exception of 2007, Zenit have won every championship before the last matchday and only once won the first match after winning the title early - the 3-1 against CSKA last season. Before that, there were a pair of 2-2 draws - in Kazan in 2010 and 2012, and a 1-0 defeat by Amkar in May 2015. The teams were not always the main ones: for example, in those three games, Dmitry Borodin, Yuri Zhevnov and Vyacheslav Malafeev were in goal, none of whom were number one at the time.

After the championship victory in Krasnodar, Sergey Semak spoke about the possibility of rotation - he has named the same starting line-up four matchdays in a row - and playing youth, but after assessing the readiness of the players. "We need to win every match. We will see who is ready and how many young players are ready to play. We will find out in the near future, when we understand the state of the players." Sochi have almost no squad restrictions; the only question is the participation of Aleksandr Kokorin, who is on loan from Zenit, and who will be compensated if he appears on the pitch.

Lower league coaches meet at the highest level

Arsenal Tula and Krylia Sovetov Samara are the only teams that have changed their head coaches since the season resumed. Sergey Podpaly and Andrew Talalaev combine extensive experience in the Russian lower leagues. Talalaev worked at several RPL clubs before Krylia; as an assistant for six months at Spartak and Kuban Krasnodar, while at Rostov and Volga Nizhny Novgorod his overall individual experience was 10 games, bringing one victory. He has spent more time in the FNL: two seasons at Volga and FC Tambov, plus a year at FC Khimki, which he left in the winter of 2020.

This season Podpaly has managed Khimik-Arsenal, Arsenal's farm club, in the PFL. In the 2000s, he led Nosta Novotroitsk to the first division, before working for Tyumen, Mordovia Saransk and Salyut Belgorod. Now both coaches will meet each other in the top flight. Arsenal’s new boss immediately won his first match, and his colleague from Samara has drawn twice. Talalaev needs to save Krylia from relegation, and Podpaly has a theoretical chance to lead his new team to the Europa League. The Gunners are two points behind sixth place, which will offer a route into Europe if RPL champions Zenit win the Russian Cup.

Seven teams in the fight for sixth place

Tambov won a battling match at the Otkritie Arena before their upcoming meeting with Akhmat after three consecutive defeats, while their opponents, who have picked up seven points since the restart, shipped four goals against CSKA. These two sit next to each other in the table in 13th and 14th, while Krylia Sovetov are in the relegation zone with one win away from Akhmat. On the last matchday Akhmat failed to score past Igor Akinfeev in the fifth home encounter with the Armymen in a row. The last time Akinfeev conceded in Grozny was in March 2015. Now the CSKA captain is planning a trip to Orenburg, where he has always kept clean sheets: CSKA’s last two trips both have ended with 1-0 victories.

Another top-five team - FC Krasnodar - will play in Kazan against another bottom-half side in Rubin, whose line is lead by a product of the Black and Greens’ academy, Ivan Ignatyev, who switched sides in the winter. The forward has been an ever-present in Leonid Slutsky’s starting lineups, but has made just one assist in seven games. In the first half of the season, Ignatyev started for Krasnodar in five out of 13 matches and scored four goals, one of them against the Kazan club.

Rubin are 12th, but the gap up to FC Ufa in sixth is only three points. This group of seven teams also includes FC Ural and Dynamo Moscow, who will play each other in Ekaterinburg, while FC Ufa travel to the Rostov Arena. Their goalkeeper Aleksandr Belenov is the league leader with 13 clean sheets. He kept Rostov from scoring in their first meeting earlier this season as his team eventually won 2-0. Other than against him Rostov have only not scored this season against FC Ural and Krylia Sovetov, drawing 0-0 against both.

Photo: Konstantin Rybin/RPL, Anna Meyer/Zenit, Arsenal


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