Matchday 3 Preview: Semin’s return, Moscow Derby, Zenit vs Krasnodar epic saga continues

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We have looked ahead to this weekend’s fixtures 

Zenit vs Krasnodar: The RPL’s hottest rivalry continues

Saturday’s glamour fixture is without question the early league leaders and reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg welcoming FC Krasnodar to the Gazprom Arena. The pair have run into each other in epic circumstances a number of time over the past few seasons, and it rarely produces anything other than a humdinger of a contest.

The statistics are remarkable; in the last seven matches between the teams, both have scored at least once. It has been over four years since the last time Zenit kept a clean sheet at home to Krasnodar, but the Bulls haven’t shut out Zenit in the last 10 matches overall. 14 combined goals have been scored just in the last three encounters alone.

The significance of this budding rivalry goes far beyond the numbers, however. The occasions are what make this fixtures special most years. Back in 2019, both side were right in the title race as Zenit travelled down to the south of Russia. The onus was on Krasnodar, sitting a few points behind  Zenit, but they fell behind to an Artem Dzyuba goal. They hit back through Ivan Ignatyev, only for Yaroslav Rakitsky to restore the lead. In added time Mauricio Peyreyra drew Krasnodar level again, only for Dzyuba to smash in a dramatic winner with almost the last kick of the match.

A year later they met again on the same stage, but with Zenit further ahead. In fact, they only needed to win to seal a record title win - no other side had won an RPL title earlier than three matchdays from the end of the campaign. The scoring sequence was exactly the same; Krasnodar broke the deadlock before Zenit came back twice, but this time Sergey Semak’s men didn’t leave it so late, as Sardar Azmoun and Aleksey Sutormin pounced.

Dynamo vs CSKA: Second Moscow derby in a row for CSKA

Dynamo’s rivalry with CSKA goes back a long way, further than most in the league, but they have a considerable amount in common. Both clubs have undergone a reasonable amount of refurbishment in recent years to their playing squad, with a heavy emphasis on youth. Dynamo’s two goalscorers on the opening weekend of this season were teenage academy products Konstantin Tyukavin and Arsen Zakharyan; over two-thirds of CSKA’s squad are 23 or under.

In fact, the two clubs have squads in the four youngest for average age; even their new stadia have both opened in the last few years share almost identical sponsor names. Their shared history adds extra spice to their derby, even more than other Moscow clashes.

Both showed some vulnerability last matchday. CSKA took on Lokomotiv at home, with some key stars missing for both sides (Grzegorz Krychowiak was omitted as a move to Krasnodar was considered - and now completed - while Nikola VLasic was shaking off an injury). Somehow Dynamo allowed Ufa to sneak back into the game despite being down to 10 men, before Sebastian Symanski’s late winner, while CSKA were beaten by comeback goals from Fedor Smolov and Rifat Zhemaletdinov.

One curiosity is that Dynamo have only managed to win one home fixture against the Armymen in the last seven years. If Aleksey Berezutsky can marshall his troops to extend that run, they will have a real chance of making a statement.

Khimki vs Rostov: Return of Yuri Semin

When Valery Karpin left his post as head coach of Rostov having been appointed Russian national team manager, there was significant interest to see who would replace him. A few days ago, the announcement was made that Yury Semin would take over on a two-year contract.

His name needs no introduction in Russian football. The 72-year-old has won everything there is to win domestically, and has nothing left to prove after an unprecedented four spells in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow. In fact, he has spent more time as head coach of the Railroaders alone than his first opponents as Rostov boss have even been in existence.

Rostov will be a challenge for Semin to resurrect after a less convincing start to the campaign with two comprehensive defeats in the first two matchdays. Khimki meanwhile have established themselves already as far more than just newly-promoted makeweights; taking the lead on the opening weekend against champions Zenit and then shocking Krasnodar away show they intend to be major players.

Spartak vs Nizhny Novgorod: Will Aleksandr Kerzhakov continue to lead a charmed life?

Spartak would probably not have expected to be welcoming RPL first-timers Nizhny Novgorod on matchday three of this season and already be behind them in the table, and have scored fewer goals. A challenging Champions League qualifying first-leg defeat to Benfica has further dampened the mood, and to make matters more difficult, they face a side that in effect have nothing to lose. 

Rui Vitoria has tasted success in his managerial career; his opposite number, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, has taken charge of two top-flight matches as a club manager. Reputations count for little in the short term though, and it is the new head coach who remains unbeaten so far.

As strange as it may sound, this might be the ideal time for Nizhny Novgorod to face Spartak away from home. Their safe but steady start has given them confidence, while Spartak have a lot more on their mind with a trip to Lisbon in a few days’ time. 


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