21.11.2020

What to look out for on RPL Matchday 15: Oldest Moscow Derby, Zenit’s Grozny hoodoo

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We have picked out the key plot lines to watch out for on Russian Premier Liga matchday 15.

History awaits in oldest Moscow derby

When Sandro Schwarz takes his Dynamo Moscow side to the Otkritie Arena, he will do so with the full weight of history on his shoulders. Since the Soviet Championship was founded in 1936, it is the battle between the blue and red quarters that has defined the footballing landscape of the Russian capital, with Dynamo holding the upper hand over Spartak at first. For the first 19 years of the rivalry after the national league was established, Dynamo lost just four matches to Spartak, with all but one of those fixtures played at Dynamo Stadium.

Both sides traded titles through to the 1950s - Spartak were crowned champions seven times to Dynamo’s nine in that period - with Dynamo winning their first Soviet title by beating Spartak 1-0. From the 1970s Dynamo’s success faded slightly as Dynamo Kyiv developed deep rivalry with Spartak, but the two Moscow sides remained almost ever-present fixtures in the top flight; in fact, both have spent just one season outside the highest level of professional football after Spartak were relegated in 1977 and Dynamo suffered the same fate in 2016. In the 1990s, the legendary Oleg Romantsev ushered in an era of extreme dominance over not just Dynamo but Russian football as a whole.

Current Russian national team head coach Stanislav Cherchesov, Romantsev and Konstantin Beskov all managed both sides, with only two other coaches sitting in both hot seats - Georgi Yartsev, briefly, in the mid-1990s, and Konstantin Pavlovich almost 85 years ago. Players have also crossed the divide, with five current Spartak players having spent time at Dynamo - Artem Rebrov, Roman Zobnin, Andrey Eshchenko, Aleksandr Kokorin and Aleksandr Tashaev - and Dynamo full-back Sergey Parshivlyuk having come through the Spartak youth system.

Not only are there personal connections between the two clubs to intensify the historic importance of the fixture, but there is the more immediate significance of the league table to add further spice. Spartak lie three points off the top, but only two ahead of Dynamo. Recent results favour Domenico Tedesco’s side though - Spartak have won all but two of the last 11 meetings.

Zenit’s Grozny hoodoo

Ever since their promotion to the top flight in time for the 2005 season, Akhmat Grozny have been ever-presents in the Russian Premier Liga without challenging seriously for honours. A solitary Russian Cup win in 2004, back when they were known as Terek and were still on the second rung of the Russian football ladder, is all they have to show for their efforts on paper. Although silverware itself has eluded them since, they have built a reputation for making life difficult for visiting sides.

They have only been beaten by two non-Moscow sides in over three years at home, but neither of them were Zenit. In fact, Akhmat have the longest current unbeaten run against the double champions, having gone five RPL home matches against Zenit without losing. It took a late winner from Sebastian Driussi for Zenit to win last season’s Russian Cup tie, but even that came in added time.

Add to that the fact that Akhmat are currently on their joint-longest winning streak in over three and a half years, and the task becomes even tougher for Sergey Semak and his men. They have only won five of their last 10 league games, letting their lead slip to CSKA Moscow at the top of the table, although they have regrouped somewhat with three games unbeaten. 

Sochi’s young CSKA rivalry

At the other end of the scale is a fixture that has only had two previous iterations. It would be fair to say since FC Sochi’s inception just over two years ago, their rise to the top table of Russian football has been meteoric. Promotion from the second-tier FNL in their first campaign in existence saw them join the RPL last summer. While they scraped clear of what would have been the relegation playoff zone last season, they even shot to the top of the pile earlier this campaign for 24 hours on matchday seven.

Now the table is headed by CSKA, who are on one of their best-ever runs of results in the RPL after winning eight of their last nine league results. Admittedly Zenit could leapfrog them into first place with their trip to Grozny coming a day before, but the control of the RPL title race for now is still in Viktor Gancharenko’s hands.

Last season both results were dramatic in their own ways. The first encounter saw a struggling Sochi travel to the VTB Arena having not even managed to score a single goal in their first four matchdays of the 2019/20 season, and only having avoided defeat for the first time the week before at home to FC Ufa. Despite not being given much of a chance - CSKA had won three on the bounce coming into the fixture - Sochi held on for a shock draw. 

In the return game at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in November, Sochi twice led before Fedor Chalov sealed a breathless 3-2 win with his first goal in seven league games. Chalov has just signed a contract extension with the Armymen, and is starting to find his form with two goals in his last three club games and a full international call-up for the recent friendly against Moldova.

Since briefly leading the way in the RPL standings, Sochi have failed to keep any clean sheets, and have only won twice in the subsequent seven matches having won five of the first seven. Were CSKA to pick up all three points, it would equal their longest winning run in four and a half years on their way to their last RPL title.

Rubin seasons of contrasts 

Last season Rubin Kazan only managed to score 18 goals all season - the lowest total by a side to survive relegation since the turn of the century - but at least managed to build a reputation for a stoic defence. Only champions Zenit and FC Ufa conceded fewer goals all campaign as they finished safely in midtable in 10th place, with the latter the only side to draw more games.

This time around, however, Rubin have seen more goals in their RPL matches than anyone except Sochi. As things stand, Leonid Slutsky has guided them to ninth, but the visit of Rostov represents a real litmus test for how much progress they have really made this season. Both sides are in a tightly-packed chasing pack behind the European places - just two points separate fifth-placed Sochi and Rubin four places lower - and a win for the hosts will lift them above Rostov.

Valery Karpin’s men rarely have an uneventful away game. In their last eight matches on the road they haven’t had a goalless draw and have only lost three, and toppled then-leaders Spartak Moscow back in October. On the other hand, only four sides have conceded more goals away from home.


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