25.09.2021

Matchday 9 Preview: Opposites attract in Khimki, Record-breakers meet in St. Petersburg

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We look ahead to the key points to look out for from the upcoming matchday nine fixtures in the Russian Premier Liga.

Khimki vs Lokomotiv Moscow: Opposites attract?

On paper, this is a seriously tough assignment for Khimki. For starters they remain in the relegation zone, just three points above winless Ural Ekaterinburg, and they are also on the longest winless run in over a year. They were one of only two RPL sides to lose to third-tier opposition in the Russian Cup Elite Round midweek too, as they lost to FC Saransk.

Manager Igor Cherevchenko has a long history with the visitors as well of course, having played for and managed them for almost 15 years. His managerial path has led him to Arena Khimki, with a rollercoaster ride of from leading to a struggling campaign this time round - although he has moulded his team into a tough outfit to beat on their own patch with four draws in their last five home league games.

It isn’t supposed to get any easier either as unbeaten Lokomotiv come to the Moscow suburbs. The Railroaders may have only won two of their last six RPL matches, but have still only lost once all calendar year. After a morale-boosting Europa League win last week against Marseille to kick-start their continental campaign, confidence is high.

The teams meet at polar opposite ends of the table, with only one team on more points than Lokomotiv - leaders Zenit - and only one team on fewer points than Khimki. The last time they met? Khimki ran out 3-2 winners.

Zenit St. Petersburg vs Krylia Sovetov Samara: Record-breakers meet in St. Petersburg

Last weekend saw arguably Zenit’s most impressive 45 minutes of football this domestic season as they blew Rubin Kazan away in the first half with three unstoppable goals and some electric showboating to boot. Considering that Rubin have established themselves as a serious top-four powerhouse and had only conceded five goals in the first seven matches of the season, it was all the more astounding how emphatic the performance was.

Zenit have set a seemingly endless series of records over the last few seasons; becoming the first side to win three RPL titles in a row could well become an even more impressive record if they continue at their current pace. Goalscoring benchmarks are there for the taking.

Under normal circumstances, when Zenit welcome a newly-promoted side to the Gazprom Arena on the back of such an emphatic performance, they would expect to be heavy favourites - but Krylia Sovetov are no ordinary new boys. For starters, only six other clubs have played more Russian top flight matches

On top of that, Krylia just set a Russian Cup record by scoring 10 goals in their destruction of Znamya Noginsk. Among the many goalscorers was the highest-ever scorer in the second-tier Ivan Sergeev, whose 40 strikes fired krylia back to the RPL last season. When you throw in the fact that Zenit have still only kept one clan sheet in the league all season, and Krylia’s 4-2 romp against Rostov last weekend, perhaps this won’t be quite as clear-cut as it seems.

Dynamo Moscow vs Rubin Kazan: Who will hold their nerve in European race?

Dynamo Moscow haven’t tasted a European competition proper since the 2014/15 Europa League campaign when they were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Napoli. The nearest they came to making a group stage of any continental competition was last summer, when they were knocked out by Lokomotive Tbilisi. To say a return to Europe is important for them is a massive understatement.

To get there is only getting harder too, with not only Russian clubs seeing their allocation drop from five league places earning passage to Europe (if one discounts the Russian Cup winners’ spot) to four, and an increasingly competitive battle to make the all-important qualification places in the RPL. As things stand, just three points separate Dynamo in second to city rivals CSKA in seventh - and in the middle is this weekend’s opponents Rubin Kazan.

 

Leonid Slutsky’s side boast an almost identical record to Dynamo. 13 goals scored to their 12, the same eight conceded, both with two defeats and Rubin with four wins to Dynamo’s five. Even if they were to pull off a special win this weekend, the fight would be a long way from over given how tightly packed the challengers all are.

Anders Dreyer’s spectacular hat-trick debut was quickly squashed by a chastening 3-1 home defeat to Zenit St. Petersburg last weekend, but there is no question they still present an obstacle every bit as tricky to negotiate as Dynamo’s previous visitors to the VTB Arena. The Champions League holds precious memories of glorious nights against the likes of Barcelona for Rubin; to revisit them, first they have to prove their worth against Dynamo.

Krasnodar vs Sochi: Redemption for Krasnodar?

Viktor Goncharenko has driven through a testing early period in charge of The Bulls, and seems to be getting back to the team’s potential. Only Zenit St. Petersburg have scored more than them this campaign, and with a direct confrontation against challengers Sochi there is a major test of Krasnodar prospects this term.

Having already beaten Rubin at home this season, confidence must be high. Throw in a Sochi defeat last time out dropping them from second to fourth, and indifferent away form for the visitors, and it looks even brighter for the hosts. There is the small matter of the track record against the RPL’s youngest club; in their last four clashes, Sochi have won three - including on both of their last two competitive visits to Krasnodar - and drawn once.

From setting themselves up to being title challengers, to losing their impressive five-match winning run at home, to perhaps slipping as far down as seventh in the space of two matchdays would be some short-term fall from grace for Sochi. This is arguably their most important test so far this season as their European credentials are put to the test.

Photo: Konstantin Rybin / RPL


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