Matchday 12 Preview: Zenit’s unchartered territory, Krylia flying high

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We have looked ahead to the matchday 12 fixtures in the Russian Premier Liga to bring you the key areas to look out for.

Zenit vs Spartak: Unchartered territory for Zenit’s table-topping fleet

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose once can be regarded as misfortune, but to lose twice looks like carelessness; what would it be for Zenit to lose three times in a row? It is highly unusual to talk such terms about a side that last failed to become champions in 2017-18 season, is currently top of the table, and has still scored far more than any other side - but then it is the nature of the beast when the stakes are as high as they are for Sergey Semak and his men.

After Kings Kangwa’s sensational last-gasp winner in Tula last weekend to cancel out Artem Dzyuba’s 100th Zenit strike to equalise, the Blue-White-Sky Blues have now lost two Russian Premier Liga games in a row. The last time they lost three in a row came way back in 2005; of the three victors in that run, one no longer exists, and another is in the third tier of Russian football.

There is no rest for the wicked. An agonising late defeat to Juventus after going toe to toe with the illustrious former European Champions on Wednesday must be pushed back, but the respite comes in the shape of bitter rivals Spartak Moscow. Yes, the Muscovites suffered European heartbreak of their own as they threw away a two-goal lead over Leicester City to lose 4-3, and they have talismanic centre-back Samuel Gigot’s suspended, but singular occasions such as this take on their own enclosed atmospheres.

The bubble has been burst in Zenit’s invincibility at home too, after Sochi broke their 10-month unbeaten home run in the league, so Spartak will smell blood. Jordan Larsson finally got off the mark this season, and although they lost at the Otkritie Bank Arena, Aleksandr Sobolev also bagged two of his own while Quincy Promes returned to match action. Suddenly, the Zenit fleet has some serious defending to do. 

Lokomotiv vs Sochi: Gisdol guides Lokomotiv to title race contention?

Lokomotiv’s new manager certainly arrived to RPL action in dramatic circumstances last weekend, as his side showed some real character to fight back from 2-0 down away to Rubin Kazan to snatch a share of the spoils. Fedor Smolov bagged the first before Rifat Zhemaletdinov left precious few seconds of added time remaining before he slotted the equaliser; that kind of spirit will be needed if they are to drag themselves back into the top four.

Mathematically, the perfect opportunity presents itself for Markus Gisdol’s home debut, as Zenit’s recent conquerors Sochi, currently second in the table and just three points ahead of Lokomotiv, roll down the tracks into the RZD Arena. There’s more than one problem though; not only are Sochi flying from their stunning win in St. Petersburg on matchday 10, they also have the joint-most wins in the league.

Sneaking into Europe at the end of last summer is perhaps a little unfair on the meteoric rise under Vladimir Fedotov. Sochi have already firmly established themselves as bona fide powerhouses at the business end of the RPL despite their still-brief spell in existence. Mateo Cassierra has added a cutting edge that perhaps needed filling up front since Aleksandr Kokorin’s loan spell ended last summer with three goals, including one last weekend in the 3-2 win over Rostov.

With plenty of points being dropped at the top of the table - no top-six side has won more than three of their last five, with four of the top five losing at least once in that time too - Sochi must surely be allowed to dream big. With their relatively smooth recovery from a brave departure from the UEFA Conference League qualifiers, they have proven their squad can manage. Let it all unravel this weekend, though, and they will be back to restoring their reputation.

CSKA vs Krylia Sovetov: Krylia flying higher - or shot down by Armymen?

Amidst the top-half chaos, this fixture offers up rare examples of calm and upward momentum. Aleksey Berezutsky has guided CSKA to an unspectacular but impressive five-game unbeaten run, which is now the second-longest in the RPL after Krasnodar’s six-match streak. 

Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the club’s former rock with over 500 professional appearances under his belt should be capable of crafting a solid defence; nevertheless, four clean sheets on the trot is as firm a base for a tilt at the European places as it comes. Considering the absences CSKA have had to put up with following injuries to Kirill Nababkin, Bruno Fuchs, Viktor Vasin and Hordur Magnusson for periods this campaign, it becomes even more impressive.

Krylia Sovetov have really taken flight after a stumbling early few matchdays this season, and have glided into the top half of the table. Title-chasing Sochi? Win and a clean sheet. Second-placed Dynamo away from home? Sure, another win and another clean sheet. Igor Osinkin may be one of the best respected coaches with a strong record of developing brilliant youth, but he clearly has some trouble reading scripts.

Or does he? Krylia are not just any old newcomers of course, with more top-flight matches under their belt than the RPL’s four current Moscow clubs and Rostov. They have beaten CSKA 24 times in the Russian era, winning more often only against Zenit and Dynamo. It’s a tall order for them to blunt their hosts; on their current form, however, they will have every confidence of upsetting the apple cart.

Photo: Vyacheslav Evdokimov / Zenit St. Petersburg; Ruslan Yaroshenko / FC Sochi; Anna Shaimardanova / Krylia Sovetov Samara


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