Confident move "Zenith" and the desire to unload the players
The ending of the current season of the RPL promises to be extremely interesting. An exciting fight will go both for medals and tickets to European competitions, and for survival. But the fate of the championship has almost been decided. For eight rounds to the finish, Zenit is nine points ahead of its closest competitors - Lokomotiv and Krasnodar.
True, the wards of Sergei Semak, who renewed the contract with the club, are still waiting for meetings with CSKA, Krasnodar and Rostov, all of which will take place on the road. However, the remaining rivals (Wings of the Soviets, Tambov, Sochi, Akhmat and Orenburg) Zenit is quite up to the task.
At the same time, in personal meetings, Petersburgers have no advantage either over Lokomotiv or over Krasnodar. An away match with the railway workers ended in a red-green victory with a minimum score, while a home match ended in a goalless draw. With “Krasnodar”, the team of Semak in the first round met in St. Petersburg, and in that game the rivals split the world - 1: 1.
However, it is unlikely that it will come to the calculation of additional indicators. It is likely that Zenit will again secure its title ahead of schedule. Last season, they managed to do it in the 27th round. This year, the team will try to solve the problem even earlier, especially since a year ago after 22 matches the separation of Petersburgers from the nearest pursuer, Krasnodar, was only four points.
Yes, and Vyacheslav Malafeev, who recently resigned as Zenit’s deputy sports director, said bluntly to RT that the team has the task of guaranteeing the championship as soon as possible in order to “offload the players before the new season.”
Change of trainer in Lokomotiv and outbreak of coronavirus in Rostov
But the struggle for medals and tickets to European competitions should not stop until the last round. Currently, the second or third places are shared by Lokomotiv and Krasnodar, each scoring 41 points. Three points behind them are “Rostov” and five - CSKA. Moreover, the railway workers are ahead of the southerners only due to the greater number of victories (12 vs. 11). In personal meetings between opponents, complete equality: both matches ended in a draw with a score of 1: 1.
If we take the calendar of the remaining meetings, then Lokomotiv has it much easier. Red and green are waiting for the game mainly with outsiders and middle peasants. Matches stand against Spartak in the 27th round and with CSKA in the 29th.
However, non-football problems can interfere with the team. At the end of May, Yuri Semin left the club with a scandal, and was replaced by Marco Nikolic, who at first would have a hard time counting on the support of the fans. Plus, two weeks after arriving in Russia, the Serb quarantined and only then started working with new wards.
Krasnodar has yet to meet with Rostov (away) and Zenit (at home). As part of the 25th round, the southern derby could become a key one in the fight for tickets to the Champions League and medals, but now it is not clear whether it will take place due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the yellow-blue camp.
What happened may even leave the team without a ticket to the European Cups, because the team will almost certainly not play the main team for the next three matches (with Sochi, Arsenal and Krasnodar). Rostov sat in quarantine for two weeks. In these meetings, the wards of Valery Karpin will either score technical defeats, or the youth team will take part in them, or they will be rescheduled for other dates.
Thus, at least one candidate for a ticket to the Champions League may be less. The outbreak of coronavirus in Rostov in this regard will only be in the hands of Lokomotiv and Krasnodar.
Moreover, the schedule of the wards of Valery Karpin is quite comparable with the Lokomotiv calendar. In addition to meetings with Zenit, Krasnodar and Arsenal, they will have to play matches with the same opponents as the railwaymen: with Sochi, Wings of the Soviets, Ufa, Orenburg and Rubin. At the same time, in personal meetings, southerners are inferior to the competitor in the fight for medals (2: 1 - away, 1: 3 - at home).
As for CSKA, it will be extremely difficult for CSKA to return to the fight for medals, because already in the first three rounds after the resumption of the season Viktor Goncharenko’s team will have three difficult matches: with Zenit, Dynamo and Spartak. After this stretch, the red-blue ones risk not only finally drifting away from the battle for trips to the Champions League, but also letting the pursuers close to them.
The fight for sixth place and Spartak’s bet on the Cup of Russia
In the event of a victory in the Cup of Russia for a team that already guarantees a ticket to European competition, the sixth place in the RPL will become the entrance to Europe. This is exactly the situation that happened last season, when the success of Lokomotiv in the Cup made it possible to make its debut in Arsenal LE. And in 2018, Ufa, which took the sixth line, got into European competitions thanks to the elimination of Tosno.
True, at the moment only one team claims to take the Cup, which occupies a place in the top 5 of the national championship. The Urals and Spartak are lower, while Shinnik and Khimki represent the FNL.
Thus, the pursuers of CSKA in the standings need a victory for the Petersburgers in the tournament. The sixth place claims a number of teams. After 22 rounds on it with a two-point lead from the closest pursuers, Spartak and Arsenal, Dynamo settled down, which had not been playing in European competitions for five years. Red and white are more likely to bet on the Cup. In order to win the trophy and get a ticket to the LE, they only have to win two victories.
Also, do not discount the original team of Vadim Evseev, “Ufa”, which is only three points behind Dynamo. Until the last, other pursuers will fight. Even the Sochi team, which has gained momentum, may well reach the clubs located above.
The rise of southerners only emphasizes the high density in the second half of the standings. The team began the year on the last line, but three victories in a row raised it to 12th, and now the gap from the potential sixth place in European cups is only six points.
Khimki’s refusal to upgrade and one departure ticket
Even greater density is observed at the bottom of the standings. So, the tenth Ural is only five points away from the Akhmat, which closes the standings. The struggle for survival this season could turn out to be one of the most interesting in recent years, but the coronavirus epidemic has made its own adjustments.
Due to the early completion of the season in the FNL, only one team will leave the Premier League. “Rotor” and “Khimki” climbed into the elite division, but the Moscow Region club was unable to find financing and refused to upgrade.
If we take into account the sporting principle, it would be logical to give the Khimki ticket to the third place in the Chertanovo National Sports League, but the RFU Executive Committee decided that in case of refusal to transfer to the RPL, the places of Rotor and Khimki will take 15-16- I am an elite team.
Such a verdict must have pleased a large group of RPL outsiders, because now only the last team will fly out of the Premier League. At the moment, Akhmat is closing the standings, which has been in the elite division for 12 years without interruptions.
However, the teams located above cannot be calm, because, as already mentioned, only five points are separated from the fifth place of Grozny. And at the distance of one victory are Orenburg, Rubin and Wings of the Soviets.
A place in history for Dziuba and another achievement of Akinfeev
As for the personal achievements of the players, Artyom Dziuba for the first time in his career can become the top scorer of the Russian championship. After 22 rounds, the Zenith striker leads the tournament with 13 goals in the sniper race. Eldor Shomurodov from "Rostov" behind him two accurate blows. Clubmate Serdar Azmun and Spartak Alexander Sobolev - by three.
Before Dziuba, even in the most productive raffle games for himself, RPL did not become the top scorer. For example, in the 2012/13 season, he, speaking for Rostov, scored 17 times, but was one goal behind Seydou Doumbia. Three years later, Artyom with 15 goals finished only in fourth place in the standings of snipers, losing to Fedor Smolov (20), Quincy Promes (18) and Hulk (17).
Dziuba also claims to be the best assistant to the Premier League for the second season in a row. He has nine assists on his account, and he is one pass ahead of Zelimkhan Bakaev. In the previous RPL draw, the captain of the Russian national team became the best with ten assistants.
And the goalkeeper of CSKA Igor Akinfeev can take the second place in the number of matches in the domestic championship in history. Currently, the goalkeeper has 449 meetings, and in this indicator he is second only to Sergei Ignashevich (489), Sergey Semak (457) and Dmitry Loskov (453). Thus, the veteran will bypass Loskova and catch up with Semak if he takes part in all the remaining matches of the season.