Matchday 14 Preview: Contenders collide, all-or-nothing Sochi fortress, Polar opposites

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We have looked ahead to the upcoming matchday 14 fixtures in the Russian Premier Liga to bring you the key features to look out for.

Dynamo Moscow vs Krasnodar: To be contenders, or not to be contenders - that is the question

There is no question that Sandro Schwarz has turned Dynamo Moscow into genuine powerhouses in the RPL since taking charge just over a year ago. Now his side have taken the first step though, the real challenge begins; proving they belong at the very top. Last week’s heavy defeat to Zenit St. Petersburg was a damaging blow to their momentum - although considering Spartak’s heavier collapse the week before, perhaps in the context it wasn’t so hurtful to their prospects.

Welcoming Krasnodar presents a significant challenge in itself too, with the visitors just two points behind and with the second most goals scored in the league. Both sides have stumbled slightly but remain firmly in the hunt for Champions League football with Lokomotiv just a point ahead of Dynamo.

Viktor Goncharenko has a fair bit to prove himself in this fixture. Last weekend’s defeat to Krylia Sovetov Samara was a setback of their own, and leaves them with just one win in their last four league games. The former Kuban Krasnodar, Ural Ekaterinburg, FC Ufa and CSKA Moscow boss only picked up his first win against Dynamo last October after nine previous attempts, and although Krasnodar themselves have scored freely, they have failed to win three league games in a row since last December.

That’s not to say they’re struggling at all though. Before the Krylia loss they had gone on the longest unbeaten streak in the RPL stretching back to August, and they have gone four games without defeat away from home, a run in which they have scored an impressive seven goals. This fixture will set a very strong marker for who could emerge as the frontrunners in the battle for honours.

Sochi vs CSKA Moscow: CSKA invade all-or-nothing Sochi’s fortress

Vladimir Fedotov has certainly made Sochi one of the RPL’s teams to watch. From newly promoted strugglers to European qualifiers, their ascent has been spectacular - and a huge part of the success has been the solid platform of their home form, rivalled only by Zenit St. Petersburg, who have also only lost twice at home in the last 18 months.

This season has a rather strange look to it for the southerners. The maiden continental adventure ending in heartbreak in Belgrade has given way to another powerful league campaign, but along with Akhmat Grozny they are one of only two RPL sides still to draw a single game. Most bizarre of all, although they sit level on points with second-placed Lokomotiv, they have still lost the same number of league games as second-bottom Khimki, showing that for all their positive numbers they can be vulnerable.

Those opportunities for opponents rarely come at home though, where Sochi have won 11 of their last 13 RPL fixtures. The two defeats in that time came against champions Zenit and then-runners-up elect Dynamo. CSKA make the trip to the Black Sea on the back of a late defeat to Rubin too, so will have an almighty task on their hands to come away with points.

There are glimmers of hope for CSKA though. They scored in both of their two previous visits as they plundered four goals, and they boast the tightest defensive record with just 10 goals conceded this season so far. In Chidera Ejuke they have the most prolific, dangerous and in-form dribblers in the league - according to WhoScored he has completed 3.7 successful dribbles per game, giving him the best success rate for players attempting at least three dribbles per game. His spark may well be needed.

Spartak vs Lokomotiv: Gisdol’s Moscow derby debut

So far, so good for Lokomotiv’s new German head coach Markus Gisdol. A spirited comeback to claim a point away to Rubin Kazan, followed by a couple of 2-1 wins has maintained an unbeaten domestic start, equalled the club’s highest three-game points tally since July, and seen a rise up to second in the table. Now he enters the first Moscow derby since arriving, and will sense an opportunity to exploit Spartak’s inconsistency.

In this particular brand of the Capital clashes thrown up by RPL fixtures, visiting sides have struggled in recent years. In fact, only two of the last 10 Spartak vs Lokomotiv encounters at either side’s ground have been won by the visitors. Gisdol will also be without some key players after Maciej Rybus and Alexis Beka Beka were suspended, while top goalscorer Fedor Smolov came back after being tested positive for Covid a week earlier.

Rui Vitoria is still looking for his first Moscow win after losing 1-0 away to CSKA in September and coming back to draw 2-2 against Dynamo in October. Just five wins all campaign to date is not enough for a club of their stature, and they are currently on their longest winless run this season having conceded 10 goals in the last three matches alone. Throw in tough back-to-back Europa League games against Leicester City and the challenge for the Portuguese becomes tougher.

Despite that, they are unbeaten in their last four home league games, averaging two goals scored per match in that run, and know a win will bring them back to within three points of Lokomotiv. A title challenge is still very remote at this stage, but a morale-boosting win over a tough Lokomotiv side could be just the tonic to truly kick-start the season.

Ural vs Zenit: Polar opposites attract?

Not since the days of Fedor Smolov’s career-boosting loan spell have Ural boasted a genuine out-and-out goalscorer. This season the absence of a true poacher or target man is more keenly felt than usual with just five goals scored all season, leaving the easternmost club languishing at the foot of the table. That a goalless draw away to nearest rivals Khimki was a relative bright spot on the campaign so far tells its own story.

Facing the reigning champions is a daunting prospect for any side, yet alone for a team that has never beaten them, losing all but three of their 20 encounters in Russian top-flight history. One of those rare points claimed against Zenit did come in the last time they met in Ekaterinburg though - a 1-1 draw last September - and the RPL big guns have not coasted to comprehensive wins or late; CSKA and Dynamo both edged past by a single goal, while Lokomotiv were held to a draw. And here’s the kicker; despite being bottom of the RPL table, Ural have actually conceded fewer goals this season than Zenit. Hope?

After all, Zenit were beaten last time on the road, and by an Arsenal Tula side still in the relegation playoff zone too. Flying as they are, Zenit have only won one of their last four away league matches. It would still be a brave person to bet on against a Zenit side that has plundered more than double Ural’s total season tally of goals in their last two matches alone. In theory, this should be a walk in the park for Sergey Semak’s men, especially as they have Malcolm and Danil Krugovoy back available for selection.

Two away games in Moscow before the winter break mean that although they enjoy a five-point lead at the top of the table, there is still no room for error if they wish to head into the spring still leading the way.

Photo: Aleksandr Stupnikov / Spartak Moscow


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