What to look out for on Matchday 30: Spartak and Lokomotiv fight for Champions League, Rotor for survival

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We’ve rounded up all you need to know about the final matchday of the 2020/21 Russian Premier Liga season.

Who will be Russia’s second Champions League participant?

For the third year in a row, both Zenit and Lokomotiv can qualify for the Champions League. However, unlike the previous two seasons, Russia’s quota has dropped from three to two: second place now qualifies for the third qualifying round. Lokomotiv’s only competitor in the fight for a runners up finish is Spartak, who are currently second and three points ahead of the Railwaymen. Other contenders dropped out of contention on the last day. Thanks to Spartak’s victory over Arsenal, the gap between them and both Rubin and Sochi increased to four points.

Finishing second and a first Champions League qualification since 2018 is the best result for Spartak in Domenico Tedesco’s last match in charge. The German announced his departure from the club at the end of the season in December. After victory over Khimki on 10 May, he said goodbye to the fans at the Otkritie Arena with his assistants, with the final game in his Russian career is a trip to Grozny to face Akhmat, where a point will be enough for Spartak to retain second place.

Lokomotiv will play the last match of the season at the RZD Arena against Ural, and not only a victory will be enough for the Railwaymen to have a chance. They also need Spartak to lose in Grozny. Then the teams will be level on 56 points, but Marko Nikolic’s men will be ahead on head-to-head record. Spartak won the first derby 2-1, but in the return fixture Lokomotiv came out on top 2-0. In this scenario, the Red-Whites will not be left without European football. They would finish third and take Lokomotiv’s place in the Europa League, which the Railwaymen had claimed by winning the Russian Cup.

Who will play in the Conference League?

Russia's initial quota in the new UEFA tournament was third and fourth place in the RPL, but thanks to Lokomotiv's victory in the Russian Cup and their top-five league finish, continental qualification has extended to fifth. If the top five remain as they are after matchday 30, Rubin and Sochi will qualify for the Conference League. Fourth-placed Rubin would enter at the third qualifying round, while fifth-placed Sochi would enter in the round before.

However, in addition to Leonid Slutsky and Vladimir Fedotov’s teams, CSKA still have a shot at European competition, sitting just two points behind. The Armymen need not only a victory over Dynamo on the last day, but also a defeat for one of their rivals. Rubin will host Rotor on Sunday, while Sochi are away to Khimki. A draw for either of them and a victory in the derby will not be enough for Ivica Olic’s team; CSKA have the worst head-to-head record amongst the three teams. This season, they lost both matches to Rubin (2-1, and 1-0), and against Sochi they picked up only one point out of six (1-1, and 2-1).

CSKA have already got no chance of a top-three finish. They can draw level with Lokomotiv on points if they beat Dynamo, and the Railwaymen lose to Ural, but the Red-Greens have a better head-to-head record after winning 1-0 and 2-0. But Rubin and Sochi are only one point behind Lokomotiv. For Rubin to get into the top three for the first time since 2010, they need both a victory over Rotor and Lokomotiv to drop points against Ural. The permutations for Sochi are more complicated. They need to beat Khimki and hope that both Rubin and Lokomotiv won’t win their matches.

Who will be the second team in the relegation zone?

Tambov confirmed last place ahead of schedule after losing 2-0 to Rostov on 2 May. On the same day, Zenit won the league title for the third consecutive season thanks to their epic 6-1 win over Lokomotiv. Nevertheless the upcoming meeting of the RPL’s top and bottom clubs in Saransk will definitely be historic: Tambov will play their last official match in history, as the club has not received a license to play in professional leagues next season. When Tambov joined RPL in 2019, Zenit were their first league opponents, and the champions defeated the newcomers 2-1 at Gazprom Arena.

The second team to drop directly out of the RPL will come from three contenders: Arsenal, Ufa and Rotor. Ufa and Arsenal will meet each other at the Neftyanik on this last day. A Rotor win in Kazan will send one of opponents in Ufa into 15th place. If the hosts are victorious, Arsenal will finish in the bottom two, while the visitors win or draw will make Ufa the unlucky side. Rotor will be saved by a draw against Rubin only if Arsenal win in Ufa; in that scenario, Rotor will be level on points with Ufa (22), but will finish above them due to their superior head-to-head record after drawing 0-0 and winning 1-0.

Both Rostov and Krasnodar are neither in the running for European football, nor in the fight for survival, so the southern derby at the Rostov Arena is just a chance to improve their final league position. Rostov can finish eighth at best, while the most Krasnodar can hope for is 10th. The Black-Greens have not finished this low since the 2012/13 season, when they finished 10th under the leadership of Slavoljub Muslin. Under Valery Karpin, Rostov were already ninth in the 2018/19 season, but the following year qualified for the Europa League.

Who can catch Azmoun in the top goalscorers’ race?

Sardar Azmoun is closing on a second consecutive victory in the top goalscorers’ race this season, but now it is more likely to be an outright victory. The Iranian is out in front on 19 goals, three ahead of Artem Dzyuba. The margin could have been greater if Azmoun had converted a penalty against Ufa, and then he would have become the sixth player in RPL history to score 20 or more goals in a season. The last was Fedor Smolov, who scored 20 goals for Krasnodar in the 2015/16 season.

There is no more intrigue in the goalkeepers’ race. First place was secured by Guilherme, who kept his 13th clean sheet in the derby against Dynamo. The last time he achieved such a tally came in Lokomotiv’s 2017/18 championship-winning season. His closest challenger, Sergey Pesyakov, is two behind. His run without conceding was broken last week by Ural’s Ramazan Gadzhimuradov. In the fight for second place, the Rostov goalkeeper still has competitors; Khimki’s Ilya Lantratov and Dynamo’s Anton Shunin are both on 10 clean sheets.

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


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