07.05.2021

What to look out for on Matchday 29: Moscow Derby revenge, Goncharenko’s Irony of Fate, Southern tensions

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We have picked out the key plots to watch out for on the penultimate matchday of the Russian Premier Liga season.

Moscow Derby revenge just the tonic for Lokomotiv?

The biggest match of the RPL season was billed as a clash of two supremely talented and in-form teams at the Gazprom Arena last weekend, but after 90 minutes there was only one side left standing. Lokomotiv conceded more goals in one match, as they conceded what little hopes they still had of a title challenge, than they had in eight previous league games. 

As if the 6-1 thrashing wasn’t frustrating enough for Mark Nikolic and his men, they were also leapfrogged by city rivals Spartak in second and a Champions League place. There is no time to cry over spilt milk though, and they face another hype fixture as they host Dynamo - not at their RZD Arena home, but at Khimki Arena after a Disciplinary Committee decision from earlier in the season. There is just one point separating the Railroaders from second, so a derby win and dropped points from their rivals will put them back in the driving seat.

Maintaining a phenomenal winning run only gets tougher with each passing fixture, but to bounce back from it being ended in such crushing circumstances is an even bigger test of character. Dynamo still harbour hopes of their own, standing just three points behind the European places, so have plenty of motivation even before considering the local rivalry.

To say their last encounter was fiery would be a massive understatement; Dynamo ran rampant in a 5-1 thumping, their biggest win of the campaign, while there were three red cards; Slobodan Rajkovic and Guilherme for the visitors, and Sergey Parshivlyuk for the hosts. With so much at stake, and no margin for error with the season almost over, this could be an equally explosive game.

The Irony of Fate for Goncharenko?

CSKA vs Krasnodar brings Viktor Goncharenko back to the capital to his former employers at the VEB Arena, and the irony of him possibly being the one to deny them a return to European football. His start to life in charge at Krasnodar has been inconsistent in the few results so far, but with plenty of promise shown; with the low position the Bulls were in when Goncharenko took over, the end to this campaign brings little pressure given the lower short-term expectations.

The best finish Krasnodar can hope for is sneaking into the top half in eighth - and the worst is drop one place to 11th - but that would rely on Khimki losing both remaining games to even give a chance of overhauling them. A free hit, if there ever was one, then.

His replacement in the hot seat, Ivica Olic, has also experienced a tricky start. After two wins to kick-start his CSKA career, he has now failed to win in the last three games, dropping out of the top five places in the process. He is unbeaten in home matches, but both did come against sides in the relegation playoff zone.

Perhaps there is not quite an equal amount and type of pressure on these sides, but there is more than just a personal element to the clash on the bench. Not only does the manager himself have a direct link to the hosts, but club legend Vassily Berezutsky - who spent 16 years at the heart of the Armymen defence as a player - is also returning to Moscow having joined Gocharenko’s coaching staff.

Spartak spark Champions League challenge

Spartak Moscow’s electric duo Jordan Larsson and Aleksandr Sobolev dragged their side to a 2-1 win last weekend that catapulted them right back into the top two, but it will all have been for nothing if they fail to get past Khimki. Lokomotiv will not need a second invitation to take advantage of any slip-up from Domenico Tedesco’s men in the race for a return to the Champions League.

Their last home match of the season adds a demand to impress their fans one last time too. In fairness, they have done that in recent home games; 25 goals have been produced in the last six, with Spartak themselves scoring at least five in three of those. 

Newly-promoted Khimki have continued to defy all expectations under Igor Cherevchenko, picking up more points than any other side in the last 15 matchdays. There isn’t a great deal left for Khimki to play for in theory, although there is the unlikely chance of them squeezing into Europe by overhauling the five-point gap. Then again, for them to boast championship-winning form was equally unlikely, so it can’t be ruled out yet.

Southern tensions key to end-of-season picture

Very few people would have genuinely believed that both Rubin kazan and FC Sochi would still be leading the way for European places with just two fixtures left, but that is the scene before this upcoming matchday. The pair are level on 49 points, with Sochi behind only on head-to-head record, although it may well turn out to be enough if Lokomotiv win the Russian Cup.

Rotor Volgograd were in serious danger of slipping back into the second tier before last week, when they finally ended their uncomfortable run of seven games without a single goal. Thanks to Aleksey Shchetkin, they are back off the mark, but there is serious work to do. The Kazakh striker’s header edged Rotor out of the bottom two, but one slip and they could be back in the automatic drop zone heading into the final weekend.

The two sides can trace their paths back to the FNL - almost a decade if one considers Dynamo St. Petersburg as FC Sochi’s predecessors - with Rotor winning the first seven meetings between them, but Sochi have won the last two meetings. Rotor have immense pressure to survive, with Ufa breathing down their necks, while Sochi can’t take chances wither in their push for Europe.

The champions parade, or the Great Escape?

Now that Zenit St. Petersburg have confirmed their third consecutive Russian Premier Liga title, it remains to be seen how they will approach the last two fixtures. Fringe players are more likely to be given at least some minutes, but it would take a brave person to bet against Sergey Semak allowing his players to take the foot off the pedal completely. There are few records left to break, but personal pride is always on the table.

Travelling to Ufa will present an intriguing fixture, as their hosts have a totally different set of priorities, and a great deal more short-term urgency. Ufa are still in the relegation zone as things stand, although they have every chance of avoiding the automatic drop as they are level on points with Rotor Volgograd who are one place above. 

Semak will be returning to the scene of where he cut his coaching teeth in exceptional fashion too. The nine-time RPL champion’s first head coach role came in Bashkortostan in a hugely successful 18-month spell that saw him guide the relatively young club to its highest ever finish, and an improbable place in Europe. 

Photo: Konstantin Tverdovskiy/"Dynamo"


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