What to look out for on Matchday 12: Where it all began for Azmoun, Krasnodar to fight back, Schwarz settle score with Sochi

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We have picked out some key points to look out for on matchday 12 of the Russian Premier Liga.

Fireworks on the cards in Krasnodar’s chance to close gap on Spartak

Although Krasnodar have only been outscored so far this season by league leader Zenit, they languish down in seventh place in the table, a full six points behind. Such is the competitive state of the RPL standings right now though, that each gap between teams from third all the way down to eighth is one point. The arrival of Spartak is the perfect opportunity to climb back up towards the leading pack.

The last time Krasnodar hosted Spartak they beat them 2-1, and they are unbeaten in the last three meetings - four if you include the Match Premier Cup friendly clash last summer - so Murad Musaev must have a reasonable degree of confidence coming into matchday 12. Before that 2-1 win though, the only two wins Krasnodar had managed in the previous eight encounters at home both came back in 2014. Half of their total competitive matches have seen at least four goals.

Both sides had midweek matches to contend with, but from very different competitions. Krasnodar made history by making their first ever Champions League group-stage appearance away to Rennes, and although they fell behind to second-half penalty by Serhou Guirassy, Cristian Ramirez made history with the club’s first-ever goal in Europe’s top competition with a sensational long-range strike to earn a precious point. Spartak, meanwhile, travelled out east to Krasnoyarsk for a Russian Cup elite round group-stage match against Enisey which they lost to a Juan Lescano strike. There are mitigating circumstances for the apparent shock result though - a much-weakened side took to the pitch for the Red-Whites, with only Ilya Kutepov, Zelimkhan Bakaev, Aleksandr Kokorin and Pavel Maslov in the starting XI from the regular senior side.

Krasnodar have a mounting injury list to deal with though. Sergey Petrov went off with a hamstring injury in France, while Remy Cabella, Evgeny Markov and Musaev himself are coping with different illnesses. Viktor Claesson is doubtful too. On the other hand Aleksey Ionov is available and rested after being ineligible to represent Krasnodar having already appeared for Rostov in the Europa League qualifiers.

Zenit stars take on old friends Rubin

Sardar Azmoun has been on sensational form for Zenit since arriving in St. Petersburg at the beginning of last year. Last season his partnership with Artem Dzyuba was virtually unstoppable as they both scored 17 goals, and once again they are neck and neck in the goalscoring charts on six goals each. His assimilation into life in Russia owes a huge amount, however, to this week’s opponents Rubin Kazan.

They were the club that offered him the chance to break into European football as a 17-year-old youth international after impressing at a tournament in St. Petersburg. Kurban Berdyev offered him an early figure to relate to (both have Turkmen roots) and oversaw his development in the Tatarstan capital. His strike rate for Sergey Semak’s side is far greater than it ever was though. Last season in the league alone he matches his total in 77 appearances for Rubin, while he doubled his total from his time in Kazan in 20 fewer matches.

Magomed Ozdoev also has strong ties to Rubin, having made more appearances for them than any other Russian club. Now the Grozny-born 27-year-old has cemented his place at the heart of the double champions’ midfield. Meanwhile, Aleksey Sutormin moved to Kazan from FC Orenburg last summer before returning to the club where he developed as a youth player just a week later. 

Sandro Schwarz arrives for his first game in charge

Dynamo Moscow take on surprise package FC Sochi at home this weekend just two points behind in the table, but with their new permanent manager finally in place. Sandro Schwarz has arrived in Moscow and has already taken his first training session. He must first build some consistency at his new club, having been recruited by his former coach as a player at Mainz in his native Germany, current Dynamo sporting director Zeljko Buvac.

Dynamo have had an unusual run of form so far this season. They went the longest without conceding at the start of the season, and have also beaten two of the RPL’s Champions League entrants in reigning champions Zenit and Krasnodar. On the other hand, both of the bottom two sides have taken points off them, with Dynamo being the only side to lose to newly-promoted FC Khimki so far this season.

In their immediate path stand another side going over slightly uneven ground. After a blistering start that saw them top the table with a seven-match unbeaten run, they have since won just twice in the last six games, conceding nine goals in the last four alone. On the bright side, they still boast the current RPL top goalscorer in Christian Noboa among their ranks.

Rashid Rakhimov returns to Grozny

Ufa travel to Chechnya on a poor run of form that has seen them fail to score a single goal in their last five games, and collect just one point in that run. It is a far cry from last summer, when they fought till the end of the season for the sixth place and possible Europa League spot but came up just short. Vadim Evseev paid the price and parted ways with the club earlier this month.

His place has been taken by former Akhmat manager Rashid Rakhimov, The Tajikistan-born coach spent five years in total at the helm in Grozny, during which time he guided them to three top-half league finishes - including fifth place in 2016/17, when they ended just one point behind Krasnodar in the European spots - and two Russian Cup quarter-finals.

His task now is much less ambitious in the short term than edging towards Europe; survival is the priority.


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