What to look out for on Matchday 29: The Sutormin Derby, champions of Moscow

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We have picked out the key points for the RPL’s penultimate matchday of the season

The Sutormin Derby: top vs bottom

Last summer Aleksey Sutormin re-joined the reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg after a sparkling season in which he had finished as top goalscorer for FC Orenburg in their second top-flight campaign. After three years in Zenit’s youth system he was released to make his own way in the lower leagues at Strogino Moscow and Volgar Astrakhan before joining Vladimir Fedotov’s promotion push from the FNL. This season’s leader in the goalscoring race, Artem Dzyuba, was tied with Sutormin on eight goals as Orenburg came within three points of Europa League qualification last year.

While regular game time has been hard to come by in his debut season in St. Petersburg - he has started seven RPL matches, but only three since last August - he has scored five goals in all competitions. His old club are in considerable trouble in the table though as they lie four points of safety with six left to play for. Anything other than a win against their former winger’s side will see their return to the second tier confirmed mathematically.

The problem is that Zenit are virtually unbeatable at home. The last time a visiting side came away with all three points from the Gazprom Arena was way back in December 2018 when two Egor Sorokin goals handed Rubin Kazan a 2-1 win. Since then they have won all but five of the subsequent 21 home matches, conceding more than one goal in a match on just one occasion. 

One scrap of comfort comes from the fact that Zenit have a Russian Cup semi-final coming up on Sunday at home to Spartak Moscow. Semak has already rotated his starting XI considerably since being crowned champions and is likely to do so again. 

Europe or bust for Sochi

RPL standings remain so competitive that with two full matchdays to go there is still one side that could mathematically be relegated or qualify for Europe: FC Sochi. They currently lie in 12th on 33 points, six points ahead of second-bottom Krylia Sovetov Samara, whom they play on the final day of the season. Krylia also beat Sochi earlier in the season, meaning they hold the head-to-head record advantage.

At the other end of the scale, FC Ufa hold sixth place just four points ahead of Sochi. If Zenit St. Petersburg win the Russian Cup, the competition’s Europa League spot passes to the next highest RPL side to not have already qualified for Europe, just as it has in the last two seasons. In the summer of 2018 Ufa earned the lucky ticket after the cup winners FC Tosno folded, while last summer Lokomotiv Moscow had already qualified for the Champions League to give Arsenal Tula a shot at continental football.

Standing in Sochi’s path this matchday are FC Tambov, who have plenty of their own motivation. Just one place and one point above the relegation zone, and with four clean sheets from their last five at home against sides outside the current top two, Tambov know that they can at least keep their fate in their own hands going into the last matchday if they win.

Last Moscow derby of the season

The battle for bragging rights in the capital has been a close one this season, with all of Lokomotiv, Spartak, Dynamo and CSKA having lost at least twice to one another but also with none of the four having more than two wins either. Despite being the lowest in the overall RPL table as things stand, Spartak are top of the Moscow mini-table with two wins and two draws, having scored twice as many goals as each of the others.

Lokomotiv are bottom of the Moscow table having claimed just one win - away to Dynamo way back in August - and are the only capital side yet to have kept a clean sheet against their city rivals. Marko Nikolic came away with a 1-1 draw in his first Moscow derby last week away to Spartak. He remains unbeaten since taking over from Yury Semin at the start of June, although he has drawn Lokomotiv Moscow’s last four league games.

This is CSKA’s last chance to claim an away win against another Moscow side - all the other three have at least one to their name - although they have kept three clean sheets, and conceded the fewest goals (3) in the mini-league. A win would put them as the most successful club among the RPL’s capital contingent, and take them to within one point of Champions League football heading into the final matchday.

Photo: Lokomotiv Moscow


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