Andrew Flint –
The Russian Premier Liga 2019/20 season had an exciting start last week. Time to take a look ahead to the matchday 2 and the possible outcomes of all games.
Dinamo Moscow vs Rubin Kazan
Last week: Arsenal 1-1 Dinamo; Lokomotiv 1-1 Rubin
Miguel Cardoso opened the Premier league with a bang last week with a delightful curling finish in Tula’s driving rain. It was always likely to take a moment of inspiration to break the deadlock rather than flowing attacking play, especially when one considers the laborious style of goal-shy Azeri striker Ramil Sheydaev. The former Krylia Sovetov forward hasn’t scored once in his last 11 club matches, while the processional midfield of Abdul-Aziz Tetteh and Artur Yusupov. The latter was subbed off moments before the dramatic equaliser came having barely had an impact on proceedings.
Much is expected of Dinamo after they secured the signing of Krasnodar’s midfield anchor Charles Kabore to support the creativity of new signing Sebastian Szymanski, Cardoso and Joaozinho. This will mark the club’s first competitive game in their brand new VTB Arena as a home club side, so an intimidating atmosphere and the lack of European distraction looming on the horizon weigh very much in Dinamo’s favour.
Rubin Kazan were stubborn away to Yuriy Semin’s notoriously rigid Lokomotiv side. Even though they rode their luck slightly when Anton Miranchuk missed his penalty, they registered a greater percentage and shot on target for the majority of the game. They have also brought in 24-year-old Swedish centre-back Carl Starfelt, while Alexandr Lomovitskiy is heavily linked with a loan move from the capital.
Claiming a point on the road to one of the most organised defences around is commendable for a side that struggle away from home. However, without Berdyev, there is a loss of steel at the club. Add in the Sutormin saga and some fairly depressing statistics away from home – one win in 15 months, no clean sheets in the last 11, five defeats from the last eight – and one can see how the odds are piling up against the Tatar side.
Shunin – Morozov, Sunjic, Evgenyev, Pliev – Kabore, Yusupov – Cardoso, Szymanski, Joaozinho – Panchenko
Dyupin – Danchenko, Sorokin, Uremovic, Denisov – Igor Konovalov, Bashkirov, Mogilivets – Kvaratskhelia, Markov, Podberezkin
Score prediction: Dinamo 1-0 Rubin
Ufa vs Krasnodar
Last week: Ural Ekaterinburg 3-2 Ufa; Akhmat Grozny 1-0 Krasnodar
This week Ufa are again without their experienced keeper Andrey Belenov through suspension, meaning that last week’s debutant, the 21-year-old 6’6” Aleksey Chernov, will most likely start again. Teenager Danila Emelyanov also made his first-team bow in the five-goal thriller in Ekaterinburg, but the absence of Dmitri Zhivoglyadov in defence was telling. Ufa conceded three goals away from home for the first time in 11 months. The concern this time is that they can’t fall back on the admittedly legitimate excuse of an exhausting Europa League qualification campaign.
Krasnodar impressed most observers with their efficient and ruthless turnover of players this summer, but Younes Namli and Tonny Vilhenna struggled to control the game in the face of Bernard Berisha’s all-action display. In a short 30-game season, playing catch-up after the first round of matches is less than ideal. To combat the upcoming Champions League qualification burden, Swedish veteran striker Marcus Berg has been signed on a free transfer. It raises further questions over the confidence in Ivan Ignatyev after the youngster’s fractious contract negotiations earlier this year but does offer more depth.
Score prediction: Ufa 0-1 Krasnodar
Krylia Sovetov Samara vs Arsenal Tula
Last week: Krylia 2-0 CSKA Moscow; Arsenal Tula 1-1 Dinamo Moscow
After the dreadful end to last season and a tails-between-their-legs transfer window that saw half of their experienced winter-break recruits depart, nobody gave Krylia a sniff for this opener. Snarling enforcer Alexandru Gatcan has joined on a free, while 36-year-old Aleksandr Anyukov returned to his former club after being released by Zenit and more than held his own. Aleksey Kozlov was instrumental in the win, not just for his two goals – the first of which took advantage of some poor positional play from CSKA’s defence – but for his intelligent use of the ball upfront. Despite enjoying less possession, they used it better than a side who thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 away last season.
Arsenal Tula enter unchartered waters this season after a devil-may-care attitude to attacking football led them into Europe for the first time. The great entertainers claimed famous scalps along the way, and although they have lost some key elements to loan spells ending there were some thrilling shoots of recovery. Daniil Lesovoy and 18-year-old Zambian new boy Lameck Banda were dangerous out wide all game and will be required to help threaten a confident Krylia.
Score prediction: Krylia 1-0 Arsenal Tula
CSKA Moscow vs Orenburg
Last week: Krylia 2-0 CSKA Moscow; Rostov 2-1 Orenburg
Viktor Goncharenko’s well-sourced squad will be smarting after being blunted fairly comfortably by Krylia last weekend. Hordur Magnusson was deployed slightly out of his usual comfort zone at left-back, and the absence of Rodrigo Becao was felt as an uncharacteristic disorganisation plagued their penalty area at the crucial moments for both goals. It is inconceivable that they will make the same mistake twice, especially with a threadbare struggling side as visitors.
Orenburg are slowly dragging themselves back towards a passable squad size with the signing of Ghanaian striker Joel Fameyeh, while Lorenzo Simic is said to be on the verge of joining from Sampdoria to bolster the defence. It must be pointed out that even in the face of such dramatic shortcomings in their season preparations with the raft of first-team players leaving without being replaced, Orenburg showed at least some resilience to fight back away to Rostov last weekend. The damage had already been done though; holding out to a wounded CSKA attack will be even harder.
Score prediction: CSKA 2-0 Orenburg
Rostov vs Spartak Moscow
Last week: Rostov 2-1 Orenburg; Spartak 1-0 Sochi
Rostov were dominant from the off against a dazed Orenburg as Eldor Shomurodov buried a powerful header 11 minutes in, and at one point they threatened to open the floodgates. Aleksey Ionov’s goal of the week contender swirled into the far top corner from his left boot to give them a thoroughly satisfying 2-0 half-time lead, something they hadn’t achieved in 13 home league games. Alexandru Gatcan’s dogged aggression was missing as he negotiated a transfer to Krylia.
Spartak Moscow had to sweat to break down a stubborn Sochi side at home last weekend. Samuel Gigot’s added-time header saved their embarrassment. In fairness, they were without their most dangerous striker from last season, Ze Luis, and being the first game of the season, Sochi had no pressure on them whatsoever. Breaching a defence that has let in just six goals in its last ten home league games will be an even tougher ask.
Score prediction: Rostov 1-1 Spartak
Ural Ekaterinburg vs Akhmat Grozny
Last week: Ural 3-2 Ufa; Akhmat 1-0 Krasnodar
A makeshift defence, Rafal Augustinyak making his debut in midfield and a low finish last season didn’t bode well for an entertaining spectacle from Ural’s perspective. When Erik Bicfalvi is in the mood, however, there is often little opponents can do. Two sublime headers from the Romanian put them firmly in control, but there were significant question marks over Roman Emelyanov and Armenian international Varazdat Haroyan as a central defensive partnership. Ural’s use of width is relatively uncharacteristic in the Russian Premier League and will be critical to unlocking gaps behind Akhmat’s wingers.
There are very few impacts as forceful and unstoppable as Bernard Berisha when he is in the mood. All game long he chased lost causes, turned Sergey Petrov inside out and caused endless mayhem. His first-half penalty was saved, but his just rewards came before the break with a scrappy deflected finish. Closing him down – far easier said than done – will be a primary aim. Once he has been neutralised, Akhmat are still dangerous on the break, but a more manageable danger.
Score prediction: Ural 2-1 Akhmat
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Tambov
Last week: Lokomotiv 1-1 Rubin; Zenit 2-1 Tambov
The pattern of Lokomotiv’s gameplan at home rarely strays from the tried and tested first-half patience followed my precise attacks after the break. As it turns out, it was two set pieces that provided their best goalscoring chances against a drifting Rubin Kazan side, but they only converted one. Anton Miranchuk smashed a penalty onto the underside of the crossbar before brother Aleksey curled a laser-guided free-kick into the very top corner. The referee admitted afterwards that the goals shouldn’t have stood according to new regulations as players from the attacking side were interfering with the defensive wall, but that he had allowed it to stand as “nobody would have understood why I had disallowed it.”
Tambov are prime favourites for an immediate return to the second tier and had arguably the most daunting fixture first up away to the rampant champions. However, they were rewarded for actually showing more intent than the visitors by keeping a respectable first-half clean sheet. Two quick-fire goals straight after half time broke their resistance as the expected deluge began, New signing Benito had other ideas; coming on as a second-half substitute, the 20-year-old Nigerian winger blazed off on a mazy solo run to stun the Krestovsky. While it wasn’t enough to change the result, it gives Aleksandr Grigoryan’s newcomers a potential ace up their sleeves.
Score prediction: Lokomotiv 1-0 Tambov
Sochi vs Zenit
Last week: Spartak 1-0 Sochi; Zenit 2-1 Tambov
If Sochi were a boxer, their walk-on music would be loud and brash while their shorts would be plastered with garish metallic colours. It is clear Boris Rotenberg Sr has no intention whatsoever of easing into Premier League life quietly as he hoovers up the best of the rest for his controversial side. Aleksandr Bukharov provides yet more experience up front. His arrival is not going to send shivers down the Premier League’s collective spines, but for the style, Sochi will have to adopt against far superior sides he could prove to be a very shrewd option. Grit and determination came within a whisker of earning them a point last week, with more of both to be needed against the champions.
Like last season’s fixtures against Orenburg, especially the away match, there are faint suspicions that Zenit will be offered a helping hand should they need it. Their relationship through Rotenberg’s Gazprom connections, which many believe led to their acquisition of four players this summer, will inevitably produce such speculation, but in truth, Zenit shouldn’t need to rely on outside influences to win. A brief burst of irresistible momentum was enough to see them home against Tambov, so all they should need to do is maintain their work rate.
Score prediction: Sochi 0-2 Zenit
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.