Matchday 17 Preview: Krylia’s bette noir, Colombians collide, Ural seek revenge

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We have looked ahead to the Russian Premier Liga matchday 17 fixtures to bring you the key points to look out for.

Zenit vs Rostov: Lambs to the slaughter?

Two of the few chinks in Zenit’s armour could be said to be their away form, which for runaway leaders is a little shaky (remarkably, they have only won two of their last nine league matches on the road), and their inability to keep clean sheets. Even those appear to be on the mend after they picked apart CSKA Moscow last weekend with ruthless efficiency to restore their four-point lead at the top of the table. Is there any stopping them?

Zenit have an enviable record against most teams in fairness, but for Rostov it makes quite grim reading. The Blue-White-Sky Blues have won five and drawn two of the last seven league meetings in St. Petersburg, scoring 19 to Rostov’s five goals in that run. It almost doesn’t matter that they have conceded goals this season; they simply scored more at the other end, 16 in the last three home games alone.

Rostov are looking over their shoulders nervously now, after all other sides in the bottom seven places picked up at least one point last weekend. Just three points separate them from the automatic relegation zone, while only Arsenal Tula have let in more goals overall this season so far. The last time they kept a clean sheet on the road was last season against soon-to-be relegated Rotor Volgograd.

All is not lost though. While the defence has leaked consistently, ex-Zenit forward Dmitry Poloz has spearheaded the joint-third most prolific attack in the RPL. Poloz himself has bagged five goals in his last eight matches, and will surely have at least a slither of drive to prove himself to his former employers. In 12 games against them, he has only won twice and scored two goals, both for Rostov in the same game in St. Petersburg. Can he pull off a miracle for Rostov this time?

Krylia Sovetov vs CSKA Moscow: Can Krylia battle their bette noir?

Krylia Sovetov have won over plenty of neutrals upon their return to the top flight with their brand of attacking youthful vigour, and their reward is to be on the cusp of the European qualification places after the halfway stage. Granted, it hasn’t all gone their way - six defeats already testify to that - but for a newly-promoted side to be mixing it in with the big boys with more than just a flash in the pan of form is impressive.

It almost feels odd to call Krylia new boys though, as one of the historic members of Russian football. They have only spent three seasons outside the top tier of Russian football since the end of the Soviet Union, so unsurprisingly they have faced off against CSKA (one of three ever-present top-flight sides alongside Spartak and Lokomotiv) a lot. Joy has been hard to come by though; in the last 22 RPL meetings, CSKA have won 18 and lost just twice.

Problems are starting to seep in for Aleksey Berezutsky’s side though. They are currently on the longest winless streak under the former defender’s charge, last going longer than the current four matches without a win 17 months ago. One goal in the last four games is poor - even goal-shy Ural have managed more in that time - and has contributed to their slide down to sixth, level on points with Krylia.

The chasing pack from Lokomotiv in third down to Krylia in eighth are separated by a single point, so a single result can give an instant material boost in the standings. Eleven other teams have top scorers on more goals than CSKA too; top marksman Chidera Ejuke is only level with Nizhny Novgorod defender Aleksey Kozlov. They will need to channel all of the historical dominance in this fixture to have a chance.

Lokomotiv vs Ural: Sliding fortunes clash between bitter rivals

There is no time to truly recover in the battle for the top two before the winter break for Lokomotiv with just two matchdays left before the RPL’s hiatus till February. Off-field matters have not helped the focus with Ralf Rangnick’s departure to Manchester United, but in the arrival of bottom side Ural there is an unmissable opportunity to grab some much-needed respite.

The fixture’s ease on paper could be taken one of two ways. It might help boost confidence after three games without a win, but alternatively the pressure of knowing it is in theory an unforgivable chance to boost the points tally could play on the minds of Markus Gisdol’s men. Ural are not known for their devastating attacking flair, but have built a fearsome reputation as stoic defenders, and if the game creeps into the latter stages without a breakthrough nerves will play a part.

These two sides have usually produced fiery encounters after some high-profile meetings in recent years. Russian Cup Finals in 2017 and 2019 both ended in the Railroaders’ favour - the former with four red cards - while just one of the last eight competitive meetings has been settled by a margin greater than one goal.

Missing Eric Bicfalvi will be a huge blow to Ural’s hopes of springing a shock win. Although the magical Romanian’s mystical powers are beginning to wane a little as his pace slows, his genius can always spark a moment of brilliance to unlock the most stubborn of defences. If the pressure is on Lokomotiv in any way, the spectre of relegation places even more on Ural to hold out. It would count as a major bonus if they resist a reaction from Lokomotiv - but dare they dream of more?

Sochi vs Krasnodar: Colombian strikers collide for southern rivals

Mateo Cassierra has hogged more than his fair share of column inches since bursting onto the RPL scene for Sochi this season, and with good reason. The former Ajax striker has stormed to joint-third place in the RPL top scorers charts in just 10 appearances, his doubles against CSKA Moscow and Arsenal Tula in particular crucial match-winning performances. In fact, since he arrived, Sochi have won every game he’s scored in, and not won any he hasn’t.

It would of course be wrong to paint Sochi as a one-man operation, but there is no questioning his value to their attacking threat. Ural Ekaterinburg, for example, managed to keep him quiet last weekend, and as a result were able to absorb the pressure. After a frustrating 2-1 defeat to Rubin last time at home, Cassierra’s role to play in this game will be vital.

Facing him for Krasnodar will be compatriot Jhon Cordoba, who boasts a wealth of experience in western European leagues and has enjoyed his own good form in front of goal in Russia. Lately his radar has been slightly off, with just one goal in the last 10 competitive matches, but nonetheless his effect on his side’s fortunes are similarly vital. In the nine games when Cordoba has failed to hit the target, Krasnodar have won just twice.

Three points is the gap, but Krasnodar can still jump above Sochi with a win. Which Colombian striker turns up in more lethal fashion may well determine the fate of this one.

Photo: Andrey Shramko / FC Krasnodar


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