Lokomotiv Moscow vs Sheriff Tiraspol – Thursday, November 2, 18:00 GMT/19:00 CET – RZhD Arena, Moscow
Russian Football Premier League leaders Lokomotiv Moscow are riding higher than they have been for years after dismantling powerhouse Zenit Saint Petersburg away from home with consummate ease at the weekend. This has been without injured club captain Vedran Ćorluka or their proven goalscorer Brazilian striker Ari, demonstrating the immense experience of 70-year-old manager and club legend Yuriy Semin as he has brought through the likes of Mikhail Lysov and Anton Miranchuk.
In the Europa League, it has been relatively stable if uninspiring fare from the Railroaders, but it hasn;t needed to be much more. Going into matchday three, they were the only side in Group F to have even scored, and at the halfway stage they remain unbeaten just like their Moldovan visitors. A win two weeks ago would have set up this match as a chance to mathematically seal progression to the knockout stages, but in effect, Lokomotiv will still be able to all but guarantee passage with three points at home this week.
With a Moscow derby against CSKA coming up a few days after this Europa League match, Semin will almost certainly manager his squad accordingly to keep his key men fresh. Ironically, this might mean that more experienced full-backs in Vitaliy Denisov and Maciej Rybus may be given more game time, having lost their places to the teenage Lysov and converted winger Vladislav Ignatyev. Aleksandr Kolomeytsev, Arshak Koryan and Dmitri Barinov are also prime candidates to play some part.
Sheriff have set out their stall as hard-to-beat opponents having drawn all their matches in the competition so far. Domestically they have won 15 of the last 17 league titles to assume an entirely different role altogether, and after 15 league games have scored more than double the number of goals that any other team have managed. Four of the top seven scorers in the Moldovan National Division are from Sheriff.
Founded 20 years ago, their ascent has been remarkable, but the step up to translate domestic success into European competition has proven more taxing. Two third-place group-stage finishes are the best achievements so far, and a last-day trip to Copenhagen looks like being their best chance of improving on that. League top goalscorer Vitalie Damaşcan is yet to start in Europe this season, but the 18-year-old could offer what little hope the Moldovan champions may hold in Moscow.
The onus will very much be on Sheriff to get something from the game, but Semin is surely too smart to allow a deflating performance ruin the positivity ahead of a crucial domestic fixture this coming weekend.
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Sheriff Tiraspol – Players to Watch
Anton Miranchuk #60 – Lokomotiv Moscow
This season has been a revelation for the less-heralded Miranchuk twin as he has earned his place in the attacking lineup ahead of more experienced players. Often seen in the shadow of his more celebrated brother Alexey, Anton scored his first goal for the club in the return match in Moldova and has assisted five goals in the league too. His recent callups to the Russia national team squad have boosted his standing, and with Alexey most likely to be protected from a full 90 minutes, Anton has the perfect low-pressure chance to show his worth.
Vitalie Damaşcan #99 – Sheriff Tiraspol
The teenager has taken his country’s domestic league by storm, scoring almost a goal a game following his spring move from Zimbru Chisinau. An intelligent forward rather than a powerful presence, Damascan may well be used from the bench if Sheriff need a spark top open up Lokomotiv’s defence. While Italian manager Roberto Bordin has tended to opt for an understandably more conservative single striker, Damascan represents a potential ace up his sleeve.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Lokomotiv Moscow vs Sheriff Tiraspol: 2-0
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Sheriff Tiraspol – Match Stats
- Lokomotiv Moscow have only won two of their last nine Europa League fixtures
- The Russian side have only kept two clean sheets in ten Europa League home games
- Sheriff Tiraspol have drawn their last five Europa League games as part of a 17-game unbeaten run
- Sheriff have never won an away game in this competition
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Sheriff Tiraspol – Possible Lineups
Guilherme – Rybus, Pejcinovic, Barinov, Denisov – Denisov, Mikhlaykh – Fernandes, Anton Miranchuk, Kolomeytsev – Farfan
Manager: Yuriy Semin
Mikulić – Sušić, Kulusic, Posmac, Racu, Cristiano – Badibanga, Brezovec, Anton, Kendysh – Mugosa
Manager: Roberto Bordin
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.