16.12.2020

What to look out for on Matchday 19: Dzyuba derby title fight, European challengers clash, Cherevchenko battles old side

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We have rounded up the key points to look out for on Russian Premier Liga matchday 19, the last of 2020.

St. Petersburg’s crucial title fight in the Dzyuba derby

There is no question where the focus will be this matchday as the top two clash at the Gazprom Arena. Both Zenit and Spartak have had their wobbles of form - Sergey Semak’s men won just twice between matchdays 5 and 10, and since winning the first four matches of the season back in August, they haven’t won more than two league games in a row, while Spartak have only two wins in their last seven league games. Both have kept their heads above water in the title race with only Rostov out of their nearest five rivals winning more than two of the last five matches. 

While Zenit’s Champions League campaign flopped as they finished bottom of their group with just a solitary point to show for their troubles, they haven’t suffered a hangover in their subsequent RPL games. In fact, in the following league fixtures after Champions League games, Zenit lost just once. Eight goals in their last two home games, both of the RPL’s joint-top goalscorers in Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun and home advantage put the Blue-White-Sky Blues firmly in the driving seat.

Zenit haven’t lost at home to Spartak in eight years, having scored at least four goals on five occasions in that run. Although recent encounters have been tight - three draws and two 1-0 wins for Zenit in the last five RPL meetings overall - historically the clash of the two capitals has produced fireworks on the pitch. Before the last five games, the previous 12 matches had averaged over four total goals scored per game.

Spartak march on without Aleksandr Sobolev as he continues on the long road back to recovery after his knee surgery earlier this season, but have plenty of their own goal threat. Jordan Larsson and Ezequiel Ponce are both two goals behind the Zenit strike partnership in the goalscoring charts, while the team have scored more away goals than any other side so far. Throw in Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin’s past with their respective opponents (the current Zenit captain scored 38 goals in 164 appearances for Spartak, while Kokorin scored 34 goals in 94 games for Zenit) and the clash of the round becomes even more mouth-watering.

Chasing pack getting closer

Sochi have picked up a bit of form of late after stumbling down into midtable; before the last two wins - both at home, and with clean sheets - they had only managed to win one of their previous six RPL fixtures. What has turned it around has been their spectacular home record. Given their warmer local conditions, during the late winter months they host more league games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, where they haven’t lost for 15 straight RPL games since the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal Tula in March.

In fact, they are the only side in the league to maintain an unbeaten home record this season. As if to remind Dynamo of the significance of this game, on the last matchday their former midfield general and current Sochi talisman and top goalscorer Christian Noboa unleashed a stunning effort to sink Spartak and lift them to within two points of the top four. Sergey Terekhov, Artur Yusupov and Joaozinho will also line up against their former club in the white of Sochi.

Both sides have outscored Rostov, who are two points ahead of them both in fourth, so far this season, but can ill afford to lose ground with only 11 games to come after this matchday. Dynamo have claimed some huge scalps this season, beating Krasnodar and Lokomotiv and ending Zenit’s unbeaten run at home, not to mention dispatching Sochi themselves 3-1; the only problem is the away record. They have conceded the same number of goals away from home as bottom-of-the-table Rotor, with only Krasnodar losing more on the road of sides outside the relegation zone, and since early August they have won just once and kept no clean sheets.

Rostov to ramp up pressure on CSKA

CSKA have not enjoyed their best run of form of late, and their reward is to round of the first part of the season with a trip to fourth-placed Rostov. After dropping out of the Europa League before the last group-stage matches, the Armymen have also gone four games without a win in the RPL to equal their second-longest such streak in over seven years. On the other hand, they are still only four points from the top of the table, and have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their nearest direct rivals.

The last time these two met in Rostov produced one of the most dramatic matches in recent RPL memory. Five goals - including two for Rostov by former CSKA players Pavel Mamaev and Roman Eremenko - two red cards for CSKA, an own goal turned into his own net by Rostov defender Maksim Osipenko, a penalty converted by Ivelin Popov for the hosts, a missed penalty for both sides - including one for nine-man CSKA five minutes from time to earn an unlikely point.

Rostov are lurking two points behind CSKA, but on the back of some uneven form that has seen them alternate between victory and defeat in their last four home games. While they have the second-best defensive record at home in the whole league, with just six goals conceded, they have also scored the joint-lowest number of goals at home in the top 10.

New kids on the block

After negotiating their maiden Champions League group stage to finish third, and thus be the only Russian side to remain in Europe next spring, Krasnodar can turn their attentions entirely to domestic matters for now. They became the first RPL side to record back-to-back 5-0 wins following their dismantling of last season’s runners up Lokomotiv at the weekend, not many sides would fancy facing them.

The opposition standing in their way is Ufa, who share a short history of sorts with the Bulls. Thirteen years ago neither side even existed, and although their respective promotions to the top flight were similar - both reached the RPL after just three years in professional divisions, and both have tasted European football - Krasnodar are already 14 points above Ufa this season with the scent for further continental football firmly in their nostrils.

While it would be disingenuous to compare the two, they do also share other links. Dmitry Stotsky moved from Ufa to Krasnodar two years ago as one of the Bashkortostan club’s largest outgoing transfers, and former Krasnodar academy product Artem Golubev made his loan spell permanent this summer. Ufa have a reputation for resilience in the face of powerful opponents - drawing with Sochi and beating Rostov on the road in recent weeks is evidence enough of that - but they will have to summon all of their strength to get a result this matchday.

Cherevchenko plots latest skirmish in Battle for Moscow against old side

Without question the form side in the league over the last five matchdays has been Khimki. The newly promoted side have gone unbeaten over this stretch, collecting more points than even leaders Zenit, and have gone from the relegation playoff zone to eight points clear of it in the space of the last four matchdays. 

Chief architect of this renaissance has been former Lokomotiv centre-back and manager Igor Cherevchenko, who won four Russian Cups as a player for the Railroaders. Since his arrival as Khimki boss in September, he has overseen a remarkable run of form that has earned the Moscow Region side 19 points in 10 games, having previously managed just three from the first eight matchdays. 

He managed to give his old side a real scare in only his second game in charge, as Kirill Bozhenov equalised on the stroke of half time in the first clash back in October, before a Vladislav Ignatyev winner sealed a win for Marko Nikolic and his men. With Khimki’s unbeaten run and Lokomotiv’s chastening record RPL defeat at the weekend, revenge is a very real prospect.

Photo: Aleksandr Stupnikov/Spartak Moscow


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