Lokomotiv Moscow vs Copenhagen – Thursday 23 November 18:00 GMT/19:00 CET – RZD Arena, Moscow
Russian Football Premier League leaders Lokomotiv Moscow have a golden opportunity to thrust themselves into a commanding position to qualify from Group E of the Europa League by beating Danish powerhouses Copenhagen. A pitiful one point gained from two matches against Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol has placed a lot more significance on the result of this fixture than Yuriy Semin would have wanted, but all, if not lost – win, and point away to bottom side Zlin in the final group-stage match, will see them through.
It is remarkable that domestic rivals as accomplished as Zenit Saint Petersburg, Krasnodar and Spartak Moscow have all been felled but Sheriff remain unbeaten. Lokomotiv’s form has been assured and creative, especially with the prominence of both Miranchuk twins and Manuel Fernandes’ renaissance, and by this time next week they could have quite feasibly wrapped up the top spot for until spring.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that all this has been achieved without the leadership of captain Vedran Corluka and the goals of Brazilian forward Ari for some time now. Goalkeeper Guilherme is out until after the winter break so that Anton Konchenkov will deputise. Jefferson Farfan should be available too after helping Peru become the last country to qualify for the World Cup next summer, although Portuguese striker Eder is still out injured.
As expected, Copenhagen have put themselves in prime position to launch an assault on the top two places in the group after cautiously going unbeaten so far. The return fixture in the Danish capital was dreary and uninspiring to provide both managers with a satisfactory result, if not thrill the spectators, but coming near the start of the continental campaign the atmosphere and urgency was utterly different. Domestic and continental priorities are in far sharper focus now and may influence the preparations of Stale Solbakken.
They haven’t prepared brilliantly for this crucial clash in Russia though after losing their last two domestic fixtures to leave them 14 points adrift of bitter rivals Brondby, who won their derby just over a fortnight ago. In fact, they have only won once in their last six domestic games, raising the catastrophic possibility of them missing out on making the championship round when the top six sides compete for European places and the title itself. For a club of Copenhagen’s stature and relative resources, the consequences would be unfathomable.
One positive from this recent barren run, however, is the freshness of top-scoring winger Benjamin Verbič. The Slovenian has ten goals in all competitions, including two of his team’s four Europa League goals, but has missed the last two matches due to suspension. His ban even runs until the round after the Lokomotiv match, so he won’t need to be preserved. William Kvist is in a similar situation with a one-match domestic ban following the trip to Moscow, but Slovakian international Jan Gregus is out with a broken foot.
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Copenhagen – Players to Watch
Anton Miranchuk #60 – Lokomotiv Moscow
The marginally younger twin of Russian golden boy Alexey had lived in the shadow of his more prominent sibling for almost his entire career until Yuriy Semin began throwing him into the first team this season. So far he has been almost as dangerous as his brother, providing seven assists – the joint-highest number in the squad alongside Alexey – and starting almost every game. His intelligent running and use of space is a tangible asset to Lokomotiv’s attacking plan, as demonstrated perfectly by the winning goal he set up for his twin at the weekend.
Benjamin Verbič #7 – Copenhagen
The Slovenian is an obvious point of danger for Lokomotiv due to his goal threat, but his aggression has been known to get the better of him. His aforementioned domestic ban, for example, was given for kicking out at an opponent after the ball had gone. But when he channels his mood in the right way, his pace and technical ability can cause real problems for defenders, so Lokomotiv must shackle him to keep their visitors quiet.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Lokomotiv Moscow vs Copenhagen: 3-0
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Copenhagen – Match Stats
- Before their shock defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol last time out, Lokomotiv had only lost twice in 11 Europa League matches
- Lokomotiv have only kept two clean sheets in their last 11 home matches in the competition
- Copenhagen won the only previous competitive meeting in Russia a decade ago 1-0
- Copenhagen can secure qualification with a win
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Copenhagen – Possible Lineups
Konchenkov – Rybus, Pejčinović, Kverkvelia, Lysov – Ignatyev, Igor Denisov, Fernandes, Anton Miranchuk – Alexey Miranchuk – Farfan
Manager Yuriy Semin
Olsen – Ankersen, Lüftner, Vavro, Bengtson – Kusk, Zeca, Kvist, Verbič – Sotiriou, Pavlovic
Manager – Stale Solbakken
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.