06.03.2021

What to look out for on Matchday 21: Super Quincy to the rescue, Rostov revenge, battle of the bogey teams

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We have picked out the key points to watch out for on matchday 21 in the Russian Premier Liga.

Can Super Quincy save Spartak Champions League hopes?

Talk about being thrown in at the deep end - Quincy Promes has only just come back to Russia after a few years in western Europe, and already his triumphant return has become a rescue mission for Spartak’s Champions League hopes. After their shock 2-0 defeat at home to Rubin Kazan last weekend, Domenico Tedesco’s side have now lost three Russian Premier Liga fixtures in a row for the first time in 18 months.

The only consolation for the Red-Whites is that second-place CSKA Moscow also dropped points, so the gap is still only two points with 10 games to go. This weekend could potentially be the first game with all four of Spartak’s frontline forwards on the pitch after Jordan Larsson completes his suspension. It remains to be seen how the flying Dutchman will be blended into what is already an electric attacking unit.

Krasnodar, for their part, have ground to make up too after coming from behind to draw 2-2 with Ural Ekaterinburg at home last matchday. The result completed a four-match run of home fixtures, leaving them with six of the last 10 matches on the road. Murad Musaev’s men have struggled away from home, picking up just two away league wins all season, and seeing only Arsenal Tula and FC Ufa losing more away games.

There’s time for them to cry over spilt milk though; the gap to Spartak in fourth - and the last European qualification spot - can be closed to just one point in theory with a win at the Otkritie Arena.

Zenit and Rubin battle of the bogey sides

From one perspective, life is comfortable in St. Petersburg right now. Zenit sit at the top of the table, on course to retain their league title having extended their advantage over their nearest rivals, CSKA Moscow, to five points. Three of the four teams directly below them dropped points last weekend too.

Now they travel to Kazan to face one of the few RPL sides to have beaten them in the last couple of years or so. Not only have Rubin picked up three points in the not-so-distant past, but they have done so twice, and in Zenit’s back yard both times. Although Sergey Semak has a comfortable lead with his side riding high at the top of the standings, they cannot afford to let doubt creep in with the chasing pack prowling.

Rubin pulled off a rousing 2-0 win away to Spartak last weekend thanks to a Djordje Despotovic double. They have kept three clean sheets in a row - all away from home - and beat second-placed CSKA Moscow last time out at home. Three of the last four meetings saw both sides score, as the away side won 2-1 in all of those three. 

As rosy as that sounds, however, Zenit represent something of a personal block for Rubin manager Leonid Slutsky. Other than his old side CSKA Moscow - and teams whom he has only faced no more than five times, including Sochi this RPL campaign - he has the worst winning percentage against Zenit than any other opponents. 

Rostov revenge?

In the last two meetings between these two sides, Rostov have conceded no fewer than 14 goals. By any measure that is a chastening statistic, although of course there are mitigating circumstances; nine months ago Sochi set a new RPL record by beating a Rostov side made up entirely of youth players 10-1 after the senior side had been affected by a coronavirus outbreak.

On their return to the Fisht Olympic stadium in October, a late Anton Zabolotny double secured another convincing win to lay down a serious marker in the battle of southern sides. Sitting three points behind Vladimir Fedotov’s men means that a three-goal winning margin will catapult Rostov above their in-form rivals - what better way to strike a blow in the run-in?

A large element of Sochi’s strength comes from their indomitable home form. They have now gone an entire calendar year unbeaten on their own turf, a record nobody else in the top flight can match. Now, however, they must rely on improving their away form. Only three sides in the current top 10 - Lokomotiv, Krasnodar and Zenit - have scored fewer goals on the road, while they have the joint-fewest number of away wins in the top six.

Given that RPL games between these two average over six goals per fixture, and the pride that is at stake, this could be an explosive encounter.

Rotor and Khimki smashing glass ceilings

The effect Igor Cherevcehnko has had since coming in at Khimki has been little short of remarkable. The former Arsenal Tula and Lokomotiv Moscow boss has crafted a run of form that not even the champions and leaders Zenit St. Petersburg can rival; at their current trajectory, they will break into the European places by the end of the season.

Six wins in their last seven RPL games has thrust them firmly into midtable safety - the question is how far can they go from here? Khimki Arena has hosted some of Europe’s finest teams in the last decade, from Manchester United to Bayern Munich, and while expecting the Moscow Oblast side to hustle their way into the top two is a near-impossible ask at this stage, a return to continental visitors is not our of the question.

Rotor have been breaking boundaries in their own way too. Alongside Khimki and FC Sochi, they are in the elite group to be on a three-match winning streak (four in Sochi’s case), and amassed a quarter of their entire season’s goals tally last weekend alone as they beat FC Tambov 3-1 away. For all Khimki’s success, they still have a problem conceding goals after letting in 31 in 20 matches - just three fewer than the leakiest defence in the league - so Rotor may sense a chance to upset the apple cart and drag themselves closer to safety.

Photo: Aleksandr Stupnikov/Spartak Moscow


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