What to look out for on Matchday 2: Nikolic and Musaev’s first meeting, Rotor’s Petrovsky Park rematch

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We have gathered together the main reasons to watch RPL matchday 2 fixtures on 14 and 15 August.

Nikolic and Musaev fought in absentia for to be runners up - now they meet in person

The confrontation between Lokomotiv Moscow and FC Krasnodar has smoothly moved from the previous season to the new one. In June and July they fought to reach the Champions League group stages, and now they will meet in person on matchday two. The race for second place was key after the RPL restart: Zenit were closing in on their second title in a row by some margin, while CSKA and Rostov were well behind the leaders. Lokomotiv and Krasnodar last met back in 2019 and drew 1-1 twice.

Current head coaches Marko Nikolic and Murad Musaev officially took over in June, and the Serbian had a better start. Lokomotiv went unbeaten in their remaining eight matches, while Krasnodar only won twice in seven matches without taking into account the technical victory for Orenburg’s inability to fulfill their fixture. Krasnodar’s last defeat directly helped the Muscovites: in the postponed game from matchday 23, the Black-Greens lost 2-0 at home to Dynamo, and thanks to this, Lokomotiv secured passage to the Champions League group stages for the third year in a row. The southerners also let CSKA get close to them, but on the last matchday they defeated Akhmat 4-0 and kept third place, which allowed them to qualify for the Champions League.

Lokomotiv and Krasnodar not only share European ambitions; both clubs also aim to involve their academy graduates. On matchday one, Musaev used five club youth products in Ufa: Matvey Safonov and Daniil Utkin started as regulars, while Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov, Aleks Matsukatov and Maksim Kutovoy came off the bench. However, while the victory over FC Ufa was secured by experienced foreigners Remy Cabella and Marcus Berg, Lokomotiv beat Rubin with the efforts of homegrown players. Aleksey Miranchuk and Dmitry Barinov each scored a goal in Kazan, and 21-year-old Dmitry Rybchinsky, who was named man of the match, made two assists.

"Dima played well and we will give him more chances," Nikolic said of the young midfielder's performance. A place in the starting XI against Krasnodar would be a great test for Rybchinsky; his experience with top opponents is modest so far, with just two minutes in a 1-1 draw with Spartak and 10 in the 2-1 Russian Super Cup defeat to Zenit.

In July, Karpin didn’t have his first-choice starters against Zenit - now they are in place

An hour after Lokomotiv and Krasnodar kick off, Rostov will take on Zenit - two more teams that qualified for Europe - at the Rostov Arena. They crossed paths less than a month ago, but the match was a dead rubber for the guests, who had already been confirmed as RPL champions. Sergey Semak fielded fringe players, but at half time he threw on his top scorers Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun. Zenit, having conceded in the first half, won 2-1, and the Iranian scored the winning goal.

Then Valery Karpin couldn’t choose a competitive team. Ivelin Popov and Pavel Mamaev were absent, and Aleksey Ionov remained on the bench. But all three played on matchday one of this new campaign against Tambov, and Rostov won 1-0 thanks to Mamaev's goal after Popov's cross.

When the opponents last played with both at full strength in October 2019, the match ended with a crushing 6-1 victory in St. Petersburg as Dzyuba scored a hat-trick. For the new Blue-White-Sky Blue captain, the two-week break passed unnoticed, as well as for his attacking teammates. Three of the four goals in their two official matches so far this season have been scored by forwards: Dzyuba has scored twice, and another was scored by Sebastian Driussi, who was man of the match against Rotor.

Azmoun and Malcom are still without goals, and were early substituted off in Volgograd, but according to Semak, one of the reasons is the tight calendar of upcoming games. Rostov have a week's break between matchdays one and two, Zenit had four days between their visits to Rotor and Rostov, and the rest of August’s RPL games will be played twice a week.

Newcomers looking for first win

Rotor have not met Moscow clubs in the RPL for 16 years - only once in a Russian Cup match against Lokomotiv in 2013. On matchday two, Volgograd will play in Petrovsky Park against Dynamo. At the Blue-Whites’ old stadium, Rotor last won in September 2002 3-2 as Roman Pavlyuchenko scored his first RPL double, and the hosts were led by the most successful coach in Rotor’s history, Viktor Prokopenko.

When Rotor were relegated in 2004, they suffered their biggest defeat of the season at Dynamo; a 5-0 thrashing with a hat-trick by Erik Korchagin. They also picked up their last RPL point against Dynamo: after a 0-0 draw, Rotor lost to Krylia Sovetov and Zenit and were relegated to the FNL, and again on the opening matchday last weekend after returning against Zenit.

FC Khimki don’t have such a long history of meetings with Sochi. The teams have met twice in the FNL: in July 2018, Sochi won 3-2 at home, while there was a goalless draw in the November. Then the teams played at the stadium named after Slava Metreveli. In the RPL Sochi will host the Red-Blacks at the Fisht Olympic stadium, where they haven’t lost since 1 March. Khimki have not scored any points in the RPL for even longer: if you add up the defeat from CSKA with their last games in the league, they have lost 16 top-flight matches in a row. When Khimki last won in the RPL - 2-0 over Amkar Perm on 24 July 2009 - a completely different team played in Sochi - Zhemchuzhina-Sochi.

Panchenko and Talalaev will return to Moscow with new teams

Arsenal and Ufa closed last season with a goalless draw at the Neftyanik stadium. On 14 August, the teams will open matchday two in Tula. In the last three seasons, trips to the Gunners have been problematic for Ufa, as they’ve suffered two defeats and a draw. When Ufa defeated Arsenal away in October 2016, goals were scored by Sylvester Igboun and Kehinde Fatai, and the head coach was Viktor Goncharenko. Nevertheless, Vadim Evseev has already assured fans on social networks that the defeat against Krasnodar is forgotten, that he knows how their opponents play, and believes in success.

Goncharenko will also meet their last opponents of last season as CSKA Moscow will travel to take on Tambov. The Armymen beat Tambov twice 2-0, and different players scored the goals: Kristijan Bistrovic and Hordur Magnusson scored in Saransk, and Georgy Schennikov and Ivan Oblyakov scored in Moscow. All of them remain in CSKA’s first-team squad, but Tambov are still building a new team. Sergey Ryzhikov has already received the captain's armband, while former CSKA striker Kirill Panchenko joined two days before the start and played only 20 minutes against Rostov. Panchenko has already scored against his former team after leaving in 2016. In May 2019, he helped Dynamo to a 2-2 draw at the VEB Arena.

Spartak Moscow and Akhmat Grozny also met in the summer at Otkritie Arena. On the penultimate matchday, the Red-Whites scored three unanswered goals against the visitors. Now the guests will play in Moscow with another coach, Andrey Talalaev, for whom Spartak is a significant club in his career. In 2004, he was recruited to the staff of Nevio Scala as a trainer-translator, and this was his first experience with the RPL team. In his independent career, Talalaev once appeared against Spartak in the RPL, in June 2011, as he lost 3-2 with Rostov at the Luzhniki. Another meeting took place in the Russian Cup in 2015/16, ending with a thumping 7-0 defeat for Volga Nizhny Novgorod.

Rubin Kazan vs Ural Ekaterinburg is the only fixture in which both sides failed to pick up a single point after the opening matchday. Leonid Slutsky will not be able to lead Rubin from the touchline because of a one-match ban, but he has never lost to Ural. Of the nine RPL matches against them, CSKA and Rubin won eight under his leadership. The only dropped points came in the summer of 2013, when CSKA were saved from defeat in Ekaterinburg by a goal from Vagner Love to secure a 2-2 draw in the 86th minute.

Photo: Andrey Shramko/Krasnodar; Alexander Pogrebnyak/Lokomotiv; Vyacheslav Evdokimov/Zenit


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