15.04.2022

Matchday 25 Preview: Reading Dynamo’s title challenge, winning with kids, Vanoli’s key

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We look ahead to the matchday 25 fixtures in the Russian Premier Liga to bring the key points to watch out for.

Dynamo Moscow vs Akhmat Grozny: How to read Dynamo’s title challenge

By anyone’s standards, winning five straight away games is a remarkable feat. Dynamo’s incredible streak matches their longest such run in almost exactly two decades, so long ago in fact that the five vanquished rivals are all either in the second and third tiers of Russian football, or no longer even exist. Not only is the current run five wins, but includes three clean sheets in the last four. That is a serious statement of intent, and consistency that most would die for.

On the other hand, four of those opponents are in the bottom six sides, with the last two matches being scrappy narrow wins. Then there is the home form, which has seen them go winless in the last three league games at the VTB Arena; again though, two of those came against historic rivals Spartak, and reigning champions Zenit. Given that the last time Dynamo finished higher than third in the table was almost three decades ago, it might seem they are suffering an element of stage fright.

Akhmat were on course for setting the highest finish in their own Russian top-flight history not long ago, and still retain a stubbornness that will concern Dynamo, as demonstrated by their two consecutive goalless draws on the road. After five wins in six games, however, they have failed to win any of the last five. Anton Shvets and Daniil Utkin being suspended will hamper plans significantly, while last season’s talisman Bernard Berisha is still yet to score after returning from injury.

So how much challenge will they pose Dynamo on their own patch? They’ve only managed one win away to the Blue-Whites in almost a decade, and have lost three of the last four overall league games against Dynamo. The season is effectively over for Andrey Talalaev’s men in terms of tangible rewards or danger of the drop, and yet will offer a significant barometer to their hosts’ chances judging by their last two visits to the capital this season (beating Lokomotiv 2-1 and coming within three minutes of a 1-1 draw against Spartak).

Spartak Moscow vs Rubin Kazan: Has Vanoli found the key?

If there’s one thing we know about Spartak Moscow, it is that they never do things by halves. Thrilling and unpredictable have become practically bywords for the Red-Whites, even in a topsy-turvy season that has seen them off the pace in the league table. Last weekend’s emphatic 3-0 win over Arsenal Tula was a much needed tonic after three winless games for Paolo Vanoli, and saw a switch that worked wonders for the Italian’s plans as he started with Shamar Nicholson and Aleksandr Sobolev up front together for the first time.

With only six games left it might be too late for a revolution on the pitch, but if the new central strike partnership continues to explode the blueprint for a dangerous assault on next season could be ironed out before summer. Nicholson was the beneficiary of the extra space created for him by Sobolev’s hard work, with the Russian international feeding the Jamaican for the second goal. Once Quincy Promes returns to the lineup to boost the supply line alongside Zelimkhan Bakaev and Victor Moses, not many sides will cope.

Rubin Kazan have a real fight on their hands just to survive in the meantime; blueprints are the last thing on Leonid Slutsky’s mind as he tries to salvage their top-flight status. Eight defeats in the last nine matches have seen them slump further down the table and in serious danger of dropping into the relegation playoff zone by the end of the weekend. Their two previous visits to Moscow this season so far have been miserable affairs - a 6-1 hammering at the hands of CSKA, and a 2-0 defeat to Dynamo.

Surely the 2008 & 2009 RPL champions, the club who beat Barcelona away in the Camp Nou just over a decade ago and managed by arguably one of the most successful Russian coaches of modern times, will dig themselves out of the spiraling descent… won’t they? First they will have to counteract the Vanoli formula.

Krylia Sovetov Samara vs Krasnodar: You’ll never win anything with kids - or will you?

Krylia Sovetov have amassed a squad of players that have extensive grounding in Russian academy systems, with a significant portion arriving from head coach Igor Osinkin’s former club Chertanovo. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that youth has been trusted - of currently available players, Mateo Barac and Sergey Bozhin rank as the squad’s senior statesmen at 27 years of age.

It would be lazy to suggest inexperience has cost Krylia Sovetov a push at the top four places, but there will be a lingering sense of what could have been in Samara. Three wins from the last 10 league games was preceded by a run of seven wins from the previous 10; had they maintained the pace of the earlier 10 matches, they’d be level with CSKA in third place right now. At any rate, they showed considerable grit and determination to control a difficult visit to Ekaterinburg last weekend that boosted their reputation for showing character.

Their opponents this week, Krasnodar, boast one of the most vaunted academy systems in Russia - which is being heavily relied upon in this spring part of the season, and with some success too. The Bulls lie fifth, four points above Krylia Sovetov, having lost just once in the last nine matches. Last weekend’s winner, for example, came courtesy of former M-Liga star Sergey Volkov, while eight of the starting line-up came through the youth setup.

When former Liverpool legend Alan Hansen famously claimed “You’ll never win anything with kids” about Sir Alex Ferguson’s soon-to-be champions grown from Manchester United’s academy, he could hardly have realised quite how wrong he would be. Were he to pay attention to Krylia Sovetov and Krasnodar’s recent form, he might not make the same mistake twice.

Sochi vs Lokomotiv Moscow: Cassierra and Isidor in battle of electric strikers

Sochi’s hold on a top-four spot was beginning to wobble somewhat after three winless games in a row. A commanding performance away to Ufa was just the tonic, topped off by Mateo Cassierra’s exquisite return to scoring form. The Colombian’s start to his Sochi career was blistering as he bagged seven goals in his first eight RPL matches, but followed that up with just one in the subsequent eight before the 2-1 Ufa away win last weekend.

It might come as little surprise that Cassierra’s dry patch coincided with a run of just three wins in nine games for Sochi (Cassierra was injured for the 3-0 win over Spartak in December), so his return to form is extremely timely. With only Fedor Smolov, Artem Dzyuba, Dmitry Poloz and Gamid Agalarov ahead of him in the RPL goalscoring charts, he still has a chance for personal recognition; against a Lokomotiv side that has averaged two goals conceded over the last five league games, he will surely be targeting more glory this weekend.

On the other side is another foreign striker making immediate waves in Russian football. Wilson Isidor has hit the ground running every bit as successfully as Cassierra - in fact, were it not for Yusuf Yazici’s even more startling run of scoring in his first six matches, the record would lie with Lokomotiv’s 21-year-old Frenchman instead. He does play in a slightly different system - or at least has done so far - playing with a more obvious and direct strike partner in Jan Kuchta, but the challenge will come to an intriguing head at the Fisht Central Stadium.

Official platitudes usually eschew personal targets for team success, but given the unlikely event of Russian clubs participating in European football next season, the motivations at this stage will understandably begin shifting towards other targets. So influential are the pair for their respective sides that whoever comes out on top in this fascinating individual skirmish will almost certainly influence the team outcome.

Photo: Kristina Korovnikova / Dynamo Moscow


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