26.02.2022

Matchday 19 Preview: Vanoli’s Derby debut, Old boys’ reunions in Khimki, Krychowiak’s revenge

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We have looked ahead to the first matchday back after the winter break to bring you the key plots to look out for on RPL Matchday 19.

Spartak vs CSKA: Vanoli baptism of fire

Spartak Moscow underwent significant change over the winter break, perhaps unsurprisingly parting ways with under-fire Portuguese head coach Rui Vitoria after the Red-Whites had slumped to a disappointing ninth place, having won only six of their first 18 RPL matches. In his place comes Paolo Vanoli, who - like 2017 title-winning manager Massimo Carrera - earned his coaching spurs at youth team level for Italian national teams, and under Antonio Conte at club level.

With him have arrived a raft of youthful reinforcements in under-21 Russians Leon Klassen, Danil Prutsev and Daniil Khlusevich, as well as Jamaican hotshot forward Shamar Nicholson (24) and Christopher Martins Pereira (25). No comfortable game to ease him in though; straight up, Vanoli must resurrect Spartak’s season in a heated Moscow derby; the good news? Spartak haven’t lost a Moscow league game at home in eight attempts. The bad news? They’ve only won three of those.

CSKA have done a fair bit of restructuring themselves in the transfer market, and will have some considerable readjustment themselves. Aleksey Berezutsky is joined by his twin Vassily on his coaching staff, but the real upheaval has come in midfield, where four major arrivals must gel instantly; Jean-Phillipe Gbamin, Jorge Carrascal, Jesus Medina and Yusuf Yazici. The latter two arrive as national champions of the USA and France respectively, so carry a certain level of expectation.

The Armymen are undoubtedly in a stronger position. They sit in fourth place, on course for a return for Europe, and boast the tightest defence in the RPL with just 16 goals conceded. One issue lies at the other end of the pitch, however - they have managed just 21 goals scored, with only Spartak themselves scoring fewer from top-10 sides. Fedor Chalov has also departed on loan to Basel, leaving considerable pressure on Anton Zabolotny as the only nominal striker left in the squad. Will the derby be a pizza cake for Vanoli?

Khimki vs Dynamo: Old boys’ reunions as Yuran returns for third Khimki spell

Another hotseat change that was hardly surprising was Igor Cherevchenko’s departure by mutual consent - for the second time this season - from his post as Khimki head coach. With the Moscow Region side rock bottom on just two wins and more goals conceded than anyone else, the trigger was pulled and his predecessor, Sergey Yuran was appointed this week.

Not only is Yuran a well-recognised and respected figure at Arena Khimki, having overseen an escape from relegation in 2008, a romping promotion charge two seasons ago and a Russian Cup Final, but his new playing staff is a reunion of experience too. Yuri Zhirkov has joined after a few months without a club, along with Pavel Mamaev, both of whom were Russian international teammates of Khimki talisman Denis Glushakov. Throw in a smattering of experience in Didier Lamkel Ze and Gia Grigalava, and Yuran might just have enough ingredients to save Khimki once again.

In contrast, Dynamo Moscow are a far more settled side, but that didn’t stop them from making a major cross-town move for Lokomotiv Moscow top goalscorer Fedor Smolov. The former Dynamo youth product will slot right into the forward line of Zenit’s closest title challengers as a counter balance to the youth of Vyacheslav Grulev and Konstantin Tyukavin. Dynamo could have even come into this fixture as the league leaders if they had managed to beat Zenit in the final game before the winter break.

The surroundings are another call to the past; Dynamo resided at Arena Khimki itself for a number of years before the VTB Arena was completed. With a second debut for Smolov expected and a return to their old stomping ground, they will be confident of spoiling Yuran’s return to the Black and White.

Zenit vs Rubin: Leaders face relative bogeymen Rubin

Fresh from their Europa League exploits midweek, Zenit have a real challenge on their hands domestically. Just two points separate them from Dynamo, so there is precious little margin for error if they are to protect their league crown. They have often allowed opponents a sniff too, keeping just two clean sheets in their last 12 RPL games and conceding more goals than 11th-placed Ural.

Losing the record-equalling Sardar Azmoun will require a considerable adjustment, after relying on the Iranian forward for one half of the league’s most explosive strike partnerships for three years. With not one but two replacements in Yuri Alberto and Ivan Sergeev, however, and a rejuvenated defence bolstered by Arsen Adamov and Nuraly Alip, the champions will still be strong favourites.

Very few sides register major threats to the powerful St. Petersburg outfit, and even fewer have beaten them three times in the last four years; step forward Zenit’s unlikely bogey side Rubin. Even the latest meeting that Zenit won required a stirring fightback, but the two wins registered by Leonid Slutsky’s side in their last three visits to the Gazprom Arena will remain firmly in Zenit minds.

Before they focus too heavily on past glories, Rubin need to redress their more immediate issues at the back. Four defeats in the last five games have seen what slender hopes they had of qualifying to Europe dissipate on the back of 13 goals conceded in that poor run. With that sort of form, it won’t matter if their forwards take advantage of whatever opportunities fall their way.


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