Manuel Veth –
Our match of the week takes us to Moscow for Dinamo Moscow vs Rostov. This match will be especially important for Dinamo were the crisis continues, as the club lost the vital derby to Spartak Moscow on Sunday afternoon 3-0. As a result Dinamo Moscow is now just one point above the playoff relegation zone—13th placed Ufa has 24 points, and Dinamo has 25 points.
With three outstanding matches it is mathematically possible for Dinamo to slip down to 15th spot—currently occupied by Kuban Krasnodar, who have 20 points. At first glance this would appear to be an unlikely scenario, but Dinamo have only managed to gain five points in 10 matches since the winter break—a 1-0 win over Ufa on March 19, and two draws against Amkar Perm and Ural Yekaterinburg.
Dinamo Moscow’s Battle Against Relegation
A look at Dinamo’s final three matches is also not encouraging, as the Muscovites face surprise title challenger FC Rostov on Thursday May 12. Rostov are just two points behind first placed CSKA Moscow, and therefore have a realistic chance to win their first championship.
Rostov recently slipped against Dinamo’s fellow relegation candidate Mordovia Saransk on May 1, but then quickly recovered to defeat Lokomotiv Moscow on May 6. Rostov coach Kurban Berdyev is considered a pragmatic coach, who seldom makes mistakes twice, and he will ensure that his men will not slip against another relegation candidate when they face Dinamo at Arena Khimki on Thursday.
Following the match against Rostov Dinamo will have to travel to Krasnodar to play Kuban in what could be a decisive relegation battle on May 16. Given the current trend it will be difficult for Dinamo to gain positive results in either one of these two matches.
But to make things even more difficult Dinamo will face Zenit Saint Petersburg on match day 30. Zenit is currently four points behind league leaders CSKA Moscow, and at this point might still have a realistic chance to win the title, or at the very least will play to cement a much needed UEFA Champions League spot. Under those circumstances it is unlikely that Zenit will drop points against Dinamo.
Hence, with three matches left Dinamo’s only realistic chance of gaining valuable points will be against fellow relegation candidate Kuban Krasnodar. Kuban on the other hand faces Lokomotiv Moscow, who have struggled in recent weeks, Dinamo, and finally eighth placed Ural Yekaterinburg, which have neither a chance to reach a European qualification spot or have to worry about relegation—finally the club has a history of giving away easy three points just when the opposition needs them the most.
Even a Drop to a Direct Relegation Spot is Possible
Of course there are two clubs—Mordovia Saransk, and Ufa—between Dinamo Moscow, and a direct relegation spot. Also Kuban has to gain at least six points out of the last three matches to throw Dinamo into the abyss. Furthermore, Dinamo Moscow are just one out of three clubs from the post-Soviet space that have never been relegated from the first division—the other two are Dynamo Kyiv, and Dinamo Tbilisi.
Yet Dinamo’s trend since the winter break is shocking, and it is likely that the club will have to face the prospect of participating in the relegation playoffs against either the third, or fourth placed team of the Football National League (FNL). The two clubs currently holding the playoff positions in the FNL are Tom Tomsk or Spartak-2 Moscow. As Spartak’s second club Spartak-2 would not be permitted to take part in the playoffs, and would be replaced by the fifth placed club Volgar Astrakhan.
— Saul Pope (@SaulPope) May 8, 2016
If they fall into the playoff relegation zone Dinamo would most likely prefer facing a club like Volgar Astrakhan, which has never played in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL). Tom Tomsk meanwhile was relegated following the 2013-14 relegation playoffs where they lost 6-4 on aggregate to FC Ufa (5-1, 1-3). Back then Tom learned the hard way that the playoffs are much easier to play for a second division club, than a first division club who has spent most of the season losing matches.
Dinamo’s management is therefore doing everything in its power to avoid the drop to the playoff relegation zone. These have not been easy times for Dinamo. Most recently head coach Andrey Kobelev departed on May 10—Dinamo’s official statement says the two parties parted in mutual consent. But in all fairness Kobelev never stood a chance, as the club was put in a difficult financial situation by its previous ownership group, which led to the club receiving a ban by UEFA due to breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations—officially the club is now owned by the Dinamo Sports Society, but the ownerships structure remains complicated (all the details can be found here).
Dinamo Moscow vs Rostov – A Must win for Dinamo
Due to the financial difficulties Dinamo was forced to sell many of its best players before the season, and then again during the January transfer window.
Then on April 13 Dinamo signed a cooperation deal with GestiFute—the player agency owned by Jorge Mendes. The club hopes that this deal will allow them access to talented young players from abroad, who could be developed at Dinamo before moving on to bigger clubs. Despite the fact that the deal is not without controversy, it is understood that Dinamo will need this arrangement in order to comply with UEFA regulations. Yet it is unlikely that Mendes will go through with the deal if Dinamo is relegated at the end of the season.
Finally Dinamo are due to move into a brand new stadium, which is currently built at the location of the old Dinamo Stadium at Petrovsky Park in Moscow, and it would be tragic to celebrate the club’s first league game in the second division at the new facility.
The club had no choice to remove Kobelev, who is going to be replaced by youth coach Sergey Chikishev. Chikishev will now have the unhappy task to prevent Dinamo’s first relegation in the club’s history. Chikishev’s task will be very difficult, as he now has just two days to prepare his team for Dinamo Moscow vs Rostov in what could be the most important match in the club’s recent history.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be defended in November. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.