What to look out for on Matchday 3: CSKA aim to end nine-year Zenit hoodoo, Europa League battle

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We have picked out some intriguing points to keep an eye on during matchday 2 of the RPL.

CSKA looking to end nine-year St. Petersburg hoodoo

It comes as no surprise that Zenit St. Petersburg currently hold a raft of records. The reigning Russian Premier Liga, Russian Cup and Russian Super Cup champions have only lost twice at home in almost three years in the RPL, while they won the league title in record time last season. They boasted the two highest scorers in Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun, both of whom finished with just one goal fewer than the entire Rubin Kazan side managed.

Not many teams come away from St. Petersburg with a point, yet alone all three, but CSKA Moscow have struggled more than most to claim that elusive scalp on the road. In fact, of the other sides in the RPL’s top 13 clubs as things stand, only Ural Ekaterinburg and FC Sochi haven’t won there since CSKA’s last away win against Zenit (which came nine years ago), and Sochi have only had one visit since their formation.

Like their hosts on matchday 3, CSKA have won both their games so far this season after beating FC Khimki 2-0 on the opening fixture and edging past FC Tambov at the weekend. Zenit will be without the suspended Yaroslav Rakitsky after the Ukrainian centre-back was sent off during the 2-0 win away to FC Rostov last time out, and they have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last four home league games, so there is a glimmer of hope for CSKA that they can end their near-decade long hoodoo.

Three-time RPL champion Christian Noboa takes on former club Rubin

When Christian Noboa arrived in Tatarstan as an unknown 22-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder over 13 years ago, neither he nor anyone else could have imagined the impact he would have on Russian football. Within three years, he had become champion of Russia twice with Rubin Kazan and been part of their team for the historic 2-1 Champions League win over Barcelona in the Camp Nou. Other than a four-month loan spell to PAOK Salonika, Noboa has played the entire rest of his career in Russia with Dynamo Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, FC Rostov and now FC Sochi.

In the 2015/16 season, he came minutes from an unlikely RPL win with Rostov before embarking on a Champions League campaign in which he scored the winner at home to Bayern Munich. His strongest association with one club, however, is with Rubin Kazan, who are managed by another three-time champion of Russia. When Noboa arrived in Kazan, Slutsky had only managed one top-flight season at FC Moscow, but went on to guide CSKA Moscow to three league titles. 

The 35-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder has started this season in good form with two goals in the opening two matchdays. He has an almost unblemished record playing against the Kazan club; in 11 appearances against them, he has only lost once. The last time he scored in three consecutive matches came over nine years ago - playing for Rubin.

Familiar faces meet as Europa League entrants Dynamo and Rostov face off

Thanks to Russian Cup winners Zenit already having qualified for European competition by winning the RPL, Dynamo Moscow were given a Europa League place despite only finishing sixth in the league. One place above them was FC Rostov, whom they host on matchday 3. Four games from the end of the season the gap was 11 points, but a short run of three Dynamo wins closed the gap to just four points by the end of the campaign. Back in September when Valery Karpin’s beat Dynamo 3-0 they were level with four teams behind only Zenit while the Blue-Whites were in the relegation playoff zone.

Four of Dynamo’s last five European campaigns finished in the qualifying rounds, with their sole success since UEFA’s second-tier competition became known as the Europa league coming in the 2014/15 season. That season saw them reach the round of 16, where they were knocked out by SSC Napoli. Aleksey Ionov and Aleksey Kozlov featured in both legs, and will now face their former employers for Rostov. Dynamo full-back Sergey Parshivlyuk spent two seasons at Rostov alongside current teammate Dmitry Skopintsev before they both moved to the capital last summer.

Ufa to extend clean sheet run against Spartak?

Under Vadim Evseev, FC Ufa have developed an impressive defensive solidity that few teams can match. Last season, goalkeeper Aleksandr Belenov kept the most clean sheets with 13, while the team as a whole conceded the fewest goals after champions Zenit St. Petersburg. In fact, they were involved in the fewest goals overall with a total for and against of just 44. 

This season has ironically seen them concede the most goals so far after two matchdays (5), and have the most goals in their two games (8), but there is still one record they have intact: shutting out Spartak Moscow. The most successful side in Russian championships have not only failed to win on any of their last three visits to Bashkortostan, but they have also failed to score in them either. Domenico Tedesco will not be on the sidelines after he stayed at home due to illness, but his players have scored twice in both of their RPL games so far this season.

Photo: Konstantin Rybin/RPL


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