What to look out for on matchday 7: Moscow derby, Miranchuk-less Lokomotiv look to end winless streak

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We have picked out the most intriguing plots to follow on the Russian Premier Liga’s first matchday back after the international break.

Capital gains: Spartak travel across town to face CSKA

It had been 1,195 days since Spartak were last at the top of the Russian Premier Liga table when they came from behind to beat Arsenal Tula at home on matchday six. After taking advantage of further dropped points by reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg, they now hold a one-point advantage at the head of the table after winning their last three league games in a row. Domenico Tedesco now leads his unbeaten side to the VEB Arena for a Moscow derby against CSKA that already has huge significance for both sides this season.

When these two teams meet, it is rarely dull. All of their last nine matches have seen at least two goals scored, while both sides have scored in six of those. In fact, it has been almost 17 years since the last goalless draw between them; last season both teams won their home fixtures in the league, while the Russian Cup quarter-final was a roaring 3-2 win for Spartak back in March. 

Plenty of players from both sides featured for Russia over the international break. Mario Fernandes, Georgi Dzhikia and Roman Zobnin started both of the senior side’s UEFA Nations League wins, while Zelimkhan Bakaev made the lineup for the 3-1 win over Serbia. Spartak forward Maksim Glushenkov and CSKA defender Igor Diveev both scored for Russia’s under-21 side in their Euro 2021 qualifier at home to Bulgaria; over half the lineup came from these clubs too, as Spartak’s Nikolay Rasskazov and Nail Umyarov also shared the pitch with joint-top RPL goalscorer Konstantin Kuchaev and his CSKA teammate Ivan Oblakov. Although the Armymen’s Konstantin Maradisvili and Red-White colleagues Aleksandr Maksimenko and Pavel Maslov - both ever-presents for Tedesco in the RPL - sat on the bench, the latter started the 1-0 loss to Poland a few days later.

There is considerable pressure on both sides already, even at this early stage of the season. Spartak have earned the expectation of success by knocking Zenit from top spot, while CSKA risk falling seven points behind in the title race. Even European qualification will be tough with only four places available directly through league finishes this season. 

Champions Zenit to fight back against Dzyuba’s old club

Zenit St. Petersburg are not used to playing catch-up in recent years, but they find themselves one point behind Spartak Moscow after failing to win either of their last two RPL matches. What is perhaps even more surprising is that they have also failed to score in those two games. The last time they went three RPL matches without a goal was over two and a half years ago. After outscoring everyone last season with over two goals per game they are still joint-second top scorers this campaign.

Artem Dzyuba edged closer towards overhauling former Zenit legend Aleksandr Kerzhakov’s record haul of 30 goals for Russia with a double against Serbia in the international break. Although Sergey Semak’s skipper hasn’t scored since the opening weekend of this RPL season, he has a little extra motivation to get going again as he faces the club which helped relaunch his form just over two years ago. Ahead of the 2018 World Cup he spent half a season on loan in Tula, where he scored six goals in 10 games - including one against Zenit themselves - after having managed just one in 15 for his parent club before the winter break.

Arsenal Tula have lost former Zenit winger Daniil Lesovoy after he joined Dynamo Moscow this week on a permanent deal. His departure means there is nobody left in Sergey Podpaly’s squad who has scored more than one goal this season, and leaves them short of one of the RPL’s most prolific dribblers. So far this season only Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Oston Urunov and Bernard Berisha have attempted more dribbles per 90 minutes.

Arsenal are currently in the relegation playoff zone on five points, and could even find themselves bottom of the table after this matchday with a heavy defeat. 

Rostov to rattle Lokomotiv?

Eldor Shomurodov has struggled to find the back of the net despite racking up an impressive 11 goals in the RPL last season - 10 of those came before the winter break. It is little coincidence that his team’s form has suffered as a result, but nevertheless Valery Karpin has guided them to a respectable sixth place this season even though they have scored just four goals so far. In less than two weeks they have a Europa league qualifier to contend with, but for now they must focus on keeping last year’s runners up at distance.

Lokomotiv haven’t won in their last four RPL matches now, although in fairness a goalless draw at home to the champions Zenit was a more than satisfactory result. The problem is they now lie six points off the pace already, and can ill afford to fall even further behind. Aleksey Miranchuk made his big move to Atalanta during the break and will of course be a big miss for the Railroaders. None of Rifat Zhamaletdinov, Francois Kamano or Vitaliy Lisakovich have scored yet, although the latter has registered two assists.

The good news for Marko Nikolic and his team is that they have only lost once in almost four years to Rostov, with the only three clean sheets on that time belonging to them. They have also won on their last three visits to face Rostov. 

Ural on the hunt for Russian Cup revenge against Khimki

The contrast, on paper at least, between last season and this for Ural Ekaterinburg is remarkable. In the 2019/20 season they conceded more goals than anyone in the entire RPL, and only Rostov saw more goals scored and conceded in their games in total than Ural’s 89. Only three teams outside the top five scored more goals than them too. This campaign, however, they are the joint-lowest scorers in the RPL with just three goals so far, but have also been involved in the fewest overall goals.

A serious recruitment drive has seen seven new permanent signings - six of whom have previous RPL experience, and three with Ural themselves - and the loan signing of Ilya Pomazun from CSKA Moscow. Stefan Strandberg has returned on a free transfer to help shore up the defence alongside the experienced Vladimir Rykov, but the memory of the humiliating defeat at home to then-second tier FC Khimki in last season’s Russian Cup semi-final is still painfully fresh.

Under Sergey Yuran’s guidance the Moscow-region side were disciplined and ruthless as they beat their hosts 3-1 to reach the final, where they ultimately lost to a late Zenit penalty. This season they are still yet to win a game - or keep a clean sheet - on their return to top-flight action, but remain within two points of safety as things stand.


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