What to look out for on Matchday 17: Rubin to rub it in, Khimki Arena derby

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We have picked out the key plot lines to watch out for on matchday 17 of the Russian Premier Liga.

Lokomotiv scrap to keep tight record against Rubin intact

Lokomotiv Moscow are locked in the middle of one of the tightest RPL midtable battles in recent years - just one point separates four teams from sixth to ninth - with a return to European football looking increasingly challenging. To rub it in, FC Salzburg gave their hopes of making at least Europa League football a serious blow midweek, undoing all Marko Nikolic’s hard work with a 3-1 win away that puts the Railroaders bottom of their Champions League group with an inferior head-to-head record over their Austiran rivals.

Although they are enduring a lean run of form with just one win in their last 10 competitive fixtures, and have scored more than one goal in an RPL game just once since August, there is some hope. They face Rubin Kazan this weekend, a side only one point behind them in the table but who have also scored just three times in their last 12 visits to the RZD Arena in the league. Rubin also haven’t won any of the last eight encounters.

Then again, this is a very different Rubin to previous years. While Lokomotiv have had three goalless draws already this season - including last time out away to Akhmat Grozny - Rubin haven’t kept one since last season. At the other end of the pitch, only Spartak Moscow have scored more goals on the road.

One major factor could be the availability of current RPL top goalscorer Djordje Despotovic, and former Lokomotiv youngster Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The Georgian star has been recovering from a positive coronavirus test while on international duty, but he is back in training with Rubin. Were he to be match-fit and passed to play, it would be a cruel twist for Lokomotiv if their former teenage sensation were to put them to the sword.

Zenit set record-breaking mountain to climb for Ural

St. Petersburg has not been a happy hunting ground for Ural Ekaterinburg. For starters, they have lost every single league fixture there, conceding at least two goals every time, and the last visit set their own club record for heaviest top-flight defeat as they were crushed 7-1 by the champions. Even the form of Aleksandr Erokhin - who scored 12 goals for Ural in a two-and-a-half year spell - is a stark reminder of what they once had.

After the disappointment of being knocked out of Europe this week following their 3-0 loss to Club Brugge in Belgium, Sergey Semak at least has the opportunity to focus entirely on domestic matter. Borussia Dortmund are their final visitors in the Champions League group stage next week, and had that fixture had hopes of at least reaching the Europa League riding on it, their attentions might have been diverted slightly from this weekend’s RPL fixture.

In 20 competitive matches against Zenit, Ural have never won, and only picked up three draws, although the faintest glimmer of hope lies in the fact that one of those rare points came in the last meeting earlier this campaign in a spirited performance in Ekaterinburg. They are also unbeaten in five RPL matches - a run they haven’t bettered in more than two and a half years - and have avoided defeat in over half of their away league games since that historic defeat at the Gazprom Arena last year.

Yury Matveev’s men are reliant on Eric Bicfalvi for their inspiration. The Romanian is the only player in their squad to have scored more than one goal this season, and in all competitions  has eight already this season - other than one campaign for Volyn Lutsk in the Ukrainian Premier Liha seven years ago, this is his joint-most productive season to date.

Khimki Arena derby resumes

CSKA take up residence in the imposing VEB Arena nowadays, but it wasn’t always so. While their permanent home was being constructed, they were temporary guests at the Khimki Arena way outside the centre of Moscow, hosting Champions League ties against the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City among others. 

Khimki themselves had only been founded 20 years earlier, but they have already risen from the amateur levels all the way up to the RPL, back down to the third tier, and finally this season back to the top flight. On their first visit to the highest level of Russian football CSKA drew both games against Khimki, but since then they have won every meeting. Just for good measure, they have also won both Russian Cup fixtures, as well as two friendlies in the last decade.

The side they welcome to their shiny new home for the first time is much changed from the last time they met, however. Khimki are the form side in the division, having picked up more points than any other side with four wins from their last five games with November Manager of the Month Igor Cherevchenko at the helm. 

CSKA have gone two RPL games without a win for the first time since August, and were knocked out of the Europa League midweek thanks to a 1-0 home defeat to Austrian side Wolfsberg. Other than the Russian Cup knockout stages, which will resume after the winter break, they have nothing left to achieve other than challenge for the league title. They remain level on points with the other leaders - Zenit St. Petersburg and Spartak Moscow - and can ill afford to let slip at this stage.


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