What to look out for on Matchday 20: Latin spice to Moscow Derby, Promes returns

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We have picked out the key points to look out for on Matchday 20 of the Russian Premier Liga.

Latin spice to Moscow derby

The winter break is finally over, and right away we have a Moscow Derby to whet the appetite for the run-in. Lokomotiv Moscow host CSKA Moscow at the RZD Arena on Saturday evening, fresh on the back of both sides having successfully navigated their Russian Cup Round of 32 ties last weekend against FC Tambov and SKA Khabarovsk respectively. The Railroaders have some ground to make up in terms of league table position, but in fact are still only five points off the European places as things stand, and with a win would close the gap to CSKA - currently in second and on course for a Champions League spot - to six points.

Both sides will have Latin American debutants in their matchday squads, although one has already played in the cup. Brazilian international centre-back Pablo pulled on the Red-Greens’ shirt in the Moscow snow against Tambov and marked his bow with a headed goal to spur his new teammates to a 3-0 win. Having been on the books at Ligue Un side Bordeaux for five and a half years - interspersed with a loan spell back in his homeland - he brings a wealth of continental experience to Marko Nikolic’s side.

CSKA’s new man needs little introduction to RPL fans. Salomon Rondon has returned to Russia initially on loan from Chinese Super League side Dalian Professional to spearhead the Armymen’s forward line, replacing the gap left by Adolfo Gaich who has been loaned out to Benevento in Italy’s Serie A. Rondon was crowned champion of Russia with Zenit St. Petersburg in 2015, having already played for Rubin Kazan, racking up 33 goals in 73 RPL appearances in his three years here.

With only 10 more matches left in the league season after this weekend, and now only two places for the Champions League instead of three, the pressure is already well and truly on. Spartak Moscow lurk ominously just two points behind CSKA, so Viktor Goncharenko can scarcely afford to let slip any vital advantage. 

Promes’ return to Spartak

After a quiet start to the winter transfer window, some big names have continued to filter through - although arguably none are bigger than former RPL champion and Spartak cult hero Quincy Promes. The Dutchman only arrived in the capital on Wednesday so it is perhaps a little early to expect a full 90 minutes from the flying Dutchman this weekend, but with Aleksandr Sobolev returning from injury, having come off the bench last weekend in the Russian Cup, as well as Jordan Larsson and Ezequiel Ponce still in sparkling form, Domenico Tedesco has the firepower to launch an assault on the top two.

In his first spell in Russia, Promes spent four years at Spartak, winning the RPL title in 2017 under Massimo Carrera, and cemented his status as a modern great with 66 goals for the club in 135 appearances in all competitions. In the RPL alone he ranks as the sixth-highest foreign-born goalscorer behind Vagner Love, Sardar Azmoun, Danny, Seydou Doumbia, and Ari.

Spartak take on Rubin Kazan at home this weekend after suffering the indignity of being knocked out of the Russian Cup by their historic rivals Dynamo Moscow last weekend, so will be desperate to restore some pride. Only league leaders Zenit St. Petersburg have been involved in more goals than them so far this campaign, so with the added boost of Promes’ return to wear the red and white they will offer a fearsome prospect for Rubin.

There is a powerful record for Leonid Slutsky to overcome if his team are to stage an upset. In their last 19 RPL meetings with Spartak, Rubin have won just once, while their last win away in Moscow came over a decade ago. Both starting keepers from that day are still plying their trade in the RPL - Spartak’s Soslan Dzhanaev now represents FC Sochi, while Rubin’s Sergey Ryzhikov is FC Tambov’s number one - while Christian Noboa is Sochi’s top scorer.

Champions take on Rostov in European battle

Zenit St. Petersburg begin the spring season in a commanding position at the top of the table, although they cannot afford to allow complacency to creep in. Last weekend they were rocked by Arsenal Tula’s surprise Russian Cup win at the Gazprom Arena, and the gap down to CSKA in second is only four points. 

Rostov themselves have a very real carrot of at least Europa Conference league football dangling in front of them. Just a solitary point separates Valery Karpin’s side from a return to continental competition, and there is a little more than Zenit’s recent Cup disappointment to spur them on. Although Zenit are top of the pile with the most goals scored and least conceded, they have remarkably only managed to keep one clean sheet at home all season.

Roman Eremenko has left Rostov though, after his contract was mutually terminated for personal reasons. His absence will leaves creative gap in midfield that will need filling, Gambian striker Ali Sowe has joined on loan from Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia after scoring 14 goals in 28 games in all competitions, including a double against AS Roma in the Europa League in October, to add some goal threat.

Photo: Aleksandr Stupnikov/Spartak Moscow; Konstantin Rybin/RPL


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