Title Race FAQ: Who needs what to get the championship?

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This weekend, the Russian Premier Liga title race could be decided - but who needs what to lift the trophy? We have broken down the permutations for you.

What are the tie-breakers if teams end level on points?

Russian Premier Liga rules state that teams are separated by head-to-head record if they are level on points. This is calculated firstly by most points in matches between the sides in question, then by goal difference in their matches.

If that isn’t enough, then total wins against all teams in the RPL over the whole season are considered. With the same number of total overall wins, teams will then be split by overall goal difference, and finally by total overall goals scored.

In the unlikely event that all of these tie-breakers still can’t separate two or more sides, then a one-off playoff match would have to be scheduled to determine the final standings. This has only happened twice in Russian championships; in 2002 Lokomotiv beat CSKA 1-0 in a playoff to decide the RPL champions, while in 1996 Spartak were 2-1 winners against Alania Vladikavkaz.

In conclusion the order of tiebreakers is:

  1. Head-to-head record between sides level on points

  2. Total overall wins

  3. Overall goal difference

  4. Total overall goals scored

  5. One-off playoff (if the first four are all tied)

What do Zenit St. Petersburg need to be crowned champions?

League leaders and reigning champions Zenit have the simplest task by far - mathematically at least. They are in first place heading into matchday 28 with a six-point advantage over their nearest challengers - and an eight-point gap back to third-placed Spartak, meaning that a win will put them out of everyone’s reach.  

The more tangible obstacle comes in the immediate shape of those nearest rivals - matchday 28 opponents Lokomotiv Moscow, who are currently on a remarkable run of 11 competitive wins in a row. It is a double-edged sword; on the one hand a golden opportunity to control the fate of the championship for Zenit, but on the other a gilt-edged chance for Marko Nikolic’s men to take the fight to the last weekend.

Would a draw be enough for Zenit?

Not quite.

Earlier in the season Lokomotiv held Zenit to a 0-0 draw at the RZD Arena, meaning another draw will take the head-to-head record tie-breaker down to total number of wins over the whole season against all opponents. As things stand, Zenit have 17 wins to Lokomotiv’s 16, but to end level on points after 30 matches Lokomotiv would need to win the last two matches with Zenit also losing their last two, which would put Lokomotiv ahead on overall wins.

In any case, a draw would not mathematically guarantee the title for Zenit, although in practice it would all but rule out a chance of the Railroaders overhauling them.

What if Lokomotiv win?

If Lokomotiv become only the second side to win away in the RPL at the Gazprom Arena in over three years, then the race could go down to the last matchday. The gap would close to just three points, and hand Lokomotiv the better head-to-head record. This would leave Lokomotiv requiring Zenit to either lose one or draw both of their last two fixtures - both away, to FC Ufa and FC Tambov.

Zenit losing one and winning one of those last two matches, coupled with the Railroaders winning both of theirs at home to Dynamo Moscow and Ural Ekaterinburg, would see Lokomotiv crowned champions on head-to-head record. Two draws for Zenit and two wins for Lokomotiv would put the Railroaders ahead on points in the final standings. 

How can Spartak Moscow affect the title race?

Spartak are still in with an outside chance of becoming champions, but matters are out of their hands. They are currently eight points behind Zenit with only nine to play for, and with an inferior head-to-head record after losing 3-1 in St. Petersburg and drawing 1-1 in Moscow. 

This means if Sergey Semak’s men pick up one more point from their remaining three matches, then Spartak are out of the equation.

They would also be at a disadvantage if they were to end level on points with Lokomotiv, as they have a slightly worse head-to-head record following a 2-0 defeat away and a 2-1 win at home.

Photo: Sergey Plotnikov/RPL; Vyacheslav Evdokimov/ Zenit St. Petersburg; Konstantin Rybin/RPL


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