Matchday Six Preview: Semak hosts former teammate Berezutsky, Nikolic’s revenge, Spartak pressure

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We have looked ahead to the upcoming matchday six fixtures in the Russian Premier Liga to bring you the key areas to watch out for.

Zenit vs CSKA: Former teammates meet in clash of titans

Sergey Semak could hardly have won more in his three years in charge at Zenit, lifting the league title every year as well as the Russian Cup once and Russian Super Cup twice. Although his side are not top of the table after five matchdays, they remain unbeaten with the most goals scored and Brazilian playmaker Claudinho recently signed.

This matchday Semak faces the club he represented more than any other as a player, turning out for CSKA for nearly a decade before leaving to join Paris St. Germain in January 2005. Towards the end of his time with the Armymen, he played alongside an emerging centre-back who would wear the red and blue stripes for even longer; Aleksey Berezutsky. 

On the pitch, Semak endured his least successful record against CSKA, losing half of his 14 appearances against them with Asmaral Moscow, FC Moscow, Rubin Kazan and Zenit. Now both have graduated to the dugout, the battle will swing more in his favour, with his established success, greater managerial experience and home ground on his side.

CSKA’s last win in St. Petersburg came over a decade ago, and more recently they have lost four of the last five league clashes, so the omens are not immediately promising for Berezutsky. On top of that, they have only managed five goals away to Zenit in their last eight league meetings.

Spartak vs Sochi: Will Spartak withstand the mounting pressure?

If it was a honeymoon for Rui Vitoria, it wasn’t particularly sweet; the Portuguese head coach has seen his new side knocked out of Champions League, and struggle to replicate the blistering form that carried them to a major european tournament spot last term. Only bottom side Ural Ekaterinburg have scored fewer goals so far.

Sochi have proven to be stubborn opponents of late for Spartak to make things worse. In fact in four meetings since the southerners earned promotion to the top flight, Spartak’s only win came via a narrow 1-0 victory in the first competitive clash between them, with the only recent respite coming from the 4-0 thrashing handed out by the Red-Whites in the PariMatch Premier Cup pre-season tournament last month.

There are only domestic matters to focus on once again for Sochi after their brush with European royalty in Belgrade, and so far they’re making a pretty good fist of it up in fifth place, just three points off top spot. 

They do struggle slightly to keep it tight at the back though, with just two clean sheets away from home in the RPL (a run that stretched back almost a year), so will need Christian Noboa back match fit and raring to go to have their best chance of continuing their decent start. 

Dynamo vs Lokomotiv: Can Nikolic exact revenge for Dynamo humiliation last November?

Sandro Schwarz continues to impress with his vigorous, youthful playing style imposed on Dynamo, with arguably his crowning moment the deliciously satisfying 5-1 derby hammering of Lokomotiv last season. That encounter was about as explosive as derbies get - three red cards, nine overall bookings, a penalty and six goals.

Best of all, though, is how he has calmly guided them to the top of the table after the first five matchdays. Bar a disappointing 2-1 defeat away to Akhmat Grozny, they have been in scintillating form again, setting the bar for their city rivals to meet.

Lokomotiv have plenty of firepower of their own though. Fedor Smolov is back to the form of his life, earning a Russian national team call-up as reward for his five goals in five games - making him the RPL’s top goalscorer - while Rifat Zhemaletdinov is currently the most productive player in the league in 2021 in terms of direct goal involvements (16).

Makro Nikolic has a decent record against other Moscow clubs, the 5-1 defeat aside. Since arriving in the summer of 2020, the Serbian has overseen nine derbies, winning five and losing just one other. If anyone can put a spanner in the works of Dynamo’s table-topping form, it is him.

Krasnodar vs Rubin: Can Rubin hold onto their unbeaten record?

Krasnodar simply don’t do things by halves, it seems. Opening up the season with a confident 3-0 win away to Ural Ekaterinburg they then collapsed at home to allow Khimki their only win of the season before a couple of 3-2 results - one in their favour and one against, naturally - before a tiring comeback away to Lokomotiv last weekend came up just short.

Jhon Cordoba is growing in confidence and already has four RPL goals to his name, one shy of leading scorer Fedor Smolov. His goal threat - especially in the absence of Djordje Despotovic for the visitors - could be a decisive factor, especially while his streak is hot.

Recent matches have been traditionally close, with four of the last five settled by single goal. Krasnodar have the upper hand, having never lost a home game since first meeting Rubin, winning all but one of their 10 home league games.

Although Rubin share the impressive record of still being unbeaten in the RPL with Zenit St. Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow, they have now only won once in their last five matches in all competitions. They have one trump card - their last defeat on the road came almost nine months ago, with seven wins and two draws since then.


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