The ending of the current season of the Russian football championship promises to be one of the most intense in recent years.
Nine rounds left in the standings an abnormal density was recorded - the first eight teams are no more than eight points from the leader, and Krasnodar, ninth, is 11 points behind Zenit.
This has never happened in the history of the RPL after the transition to the "autumn - spring" system, and after the 22nd round, the intrigue plans to twist with even greater force.
To a large extent, this will depend on the results of the matches with Dynamo, Lokomotiv and Rubin, which gained an excellent pace after the resumption of the championship.
In the last two games, all three teams have won two wins.
But if Dynamo only strengthened their position in the leading group and once again confirmed their readiness to compete, if not for medals, then for tickets to European cups, then Lokomotiv and Rubin managed to return to the struggle for high places.
In this context, it is especially worth noting the railroad workers, who performed extremely unsuccessfully at the end of last year.
In the period from the 12th to the 19th round, they lost five times and took the upper hand only twice.
At the same time, the defeats were extremely sensitive and could well cost the head coach Marko Nikolic.
We are talking about the meetings with Dynamo and Krasnodar, which ended with a total score of 1:10.
However, Lokomotiv has come to its senses and has already managed to beat CSKA and Arsenal.
In the next round, he will have another test of strength, based on the results of which it will be possible to talk more specifically about the prospects of the red-greens in the dispute over the awards.
The team will face Sochi, which has a five-game unbeaten run (four wins, one draw).
In case of success in the confrontation with direct competitors, Nikolic's wards can not only bypass them in the table, but also get close to the leading three.
In many ways, this will become possible if Dynamo for the first time since May 2018 cope with Spartak in the Premier League.
It is this meeting that can be considered central in the 22nd round - and not only based on the status of the opponents, but also on the position in the table.
The match between the third and fifth teams of the championship has chances to confuse the situation in the table to the limit.
In case of victory, Dynamo will not only bypass Spartak, but will also give a number of other teams a chance to get close to the European competition zone.
It is noteworthy that the bookmakers consider Dynamo to be the favorite with a minimum margin.
And this is despite the fact that in the last round Spartak left no stone unturned from Krasnodar, upsetting Stanislav Agkatsev six times.
Apparently, the victory in the Russian Cup (2: 0) and the overall impression that the team leaves after Sandro Schwartz came to the coaching bridge played a role.
With him, the blue and white did not receive a noticeable increase in points, but they began to look like a much more ideological and progressive team.
This is confirmed by statistics.
The PPDA index has improved (8.83 instead of 9.82), which demonstrates the effectiveness of pressing, and the DC indicator has also increased (91 instead of 57).
It shows how often the players deliver the ball to the final 18.2 meters of the field (20 yards).
Moreover, awnings are not taken into account, due to which it becomes possible to analyze the ability to move the ball to the opponent's goal with the bottom.
If Dynamo wins in the derby, Rubin will get a chance to get closer to the red and white.
At the moment, it is the wards of Leonid Slutsky who claim to be the main newsmaker of the spring part.
After the season resumed, they first prevailed over Spartak, and then over Zenit, thanks to which they returned to the dispute for tickets, if not to the Champions League, then at least to the Conference League.
Unlike the remaining leaders, most of whom will face serious tests in the 22nd round, Rubin will have a little easier.
At least on paper, because they are waiting for the departure to located in the relegation zone "Ufa".
True, the situation is getting worse by a number of injured, including defenders Alexei Gritsaenko and Mikhail Merkulov, midfielders Leon Musaev, Hwang Im Bom and Mitsuki Saito.
The question is also whether the guests will be able to break into the enemy's massive defenses.
Ufa is unlikely to act as number one, which will deprive Rubin of the opportunity to catch her on counterattacks.
But this is exactly how two of the four goals were scored in the last two meetings.
But, judging by the statistics, there are prerequisites for this.
The Kazan team share the seventh place in the league in terms of the number of goals as a result of combination attacks (16), which gives their fans reason for optimism.
Of course, the aforementioned teams stand out in the last two rounds due to the series of victories, but also two southern teams should not be written off.
Rostov and Krasnodar have never taken three points each, but at least in one case there are objective reasons for that.
After the restart, Valery Karpin's wards managed to play against Zenit and Sochi, but they never lost.
Therefore, it is hardly surprising if in the near future they will return to the victorious rails and compete for getting into the European cups.
It is too early to give up on the charges of Murad Musayev.
A devastating defeat in the previous round and only one point in the last four matches in all tournaments - a terrible result for the team claiming medals.
But you need to pay attention to your rivals.
"Spartak" and "Sochi" are in the leading group of the RPL, and Zagreb "Dynamo" nearly set the record for the group stage of the Europa League.
Until the last round, the Croats did not concede a single goal, and only the Moscow army team could interrupt their dry streak.
Unreasonable can be called perhaps that the loss of points in the confrontation with the "Ural", but in the next round, "Krasnodar" will be able to rectify the situation.
To do this, it will be enough to beat the crashing Tambov.
Of course, the density in the table and the prerequisites for a super-intense ending of the season cannot but please the ordinary fan.
However, it is necessary to understand that this is not due to the increased level of the RPL teams (which was clearly confirmed by the European cups), but to the poor form of the leaders.
The same “Zenith” does not look the best, and the results of matches with his participation largely depend on the state of the leading players.
If Artyom Dziuba and Serdar Azmun are on the move, then the reigning champions win.
Otherwise, they stray into permanent overhangs, which often do not pay dividends.
So, in the last two games, the Petersburgers made a total of 55 crosses into the opponent's penalty area, and scored only once from the second floor.
It would be a stretch to include Nikolai Poyarkov's own goal here, although the serve from the flank turned out to be inaccurate.
But if Zenit is clearly experiencing a crisis of ideas, once again raising the question of a possible change of head coach, CSKA is struggling with the consequences of an unsuccessful transfer campaign.
In the summer, the army team spent huge amounts of money on strengthening the squad, but there is still no full return.
Suffice it to note that in recent matches, only two of the players purchased in the summer entered the field, and only Bakhtiyor Zainutdinov worked from bell to bell.
Adolfo Gaich is already on loan at Benevento, Bruno Fuchs continues to recover from injury, and Chidera Ejuke has only 64 minutes on the pitch.
At the same time, the Nigerian did not show effective actions.
As for the winter acquisitions, then everything is not so simple here either.
Overall, Jose Salomon Rondon left a good impression of himself.
The forward has already managed to score a goal and a pass, although now he is clearly not in perfect shape.
And Emil Bohinen has not yet made his debut for a new club.
According to Viktor Goncharenko, the Norwegian can start working off the € 1.5 million paid for him (according to Transfermarkt) already in the game with Arsenal.
Like Rondon, Quincy Promes immediately began to justify the advances entrusted to him.
He also scored a goal and an assist, and according to the average score for the match according to WhoScored (7.21), he is already in third place in the team, behind only Ayrton (7.23) and Jordan Larsson (7.37).
However, the lack of stability makes us think about Spartak's prospects for the rest of the season.
Unlike the autumn part, they will have to compete with teams that are fully focused on the national championship.
In addition, the level of motivation of the head coach also raises questions.
Previously, Domenico Tedesco did not work in an environment where both he and his players know about the imminent departure of the mentor.
To fight for medals, red and white need a collected and purposeful mentor, and it is not yet known whether a German will meet these criteria.