Battle of the Newbies Outshines Dull Moscow Derby

We have reached the halfway point of the 2020 Superliga season! Matchday seven had some tasty match-ups on the menu, but unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to the hype; only two of the four fixtures actually provided goals. Let’s recap the action.

Ryazan versus Zvezda was supposed to be the hors d’oeuvre for the subsequent big games, but the 0-0 result left quite an acerbic taste in the spectators’ mouths. To be fair to the protagonists, the game wasn’t actually that bad. The visitors from Perm had a handful of chances to find the back of the net, but for some bad finishing and that pesky crossbar. Ryazan had a few opportunities late on, but they, too, struggled to trouble the opponent’s ‘keeper. A draw was a fair result in the end.

Next up was a must-win game for both sides, as bottom-dwellers Chertanovo hosted second-from-bottom Yenisey. Chertanovo went into this match on zero points and Tatyana Sheykina made sure it stayed that way. But it was very much against the run of play.

Chertanovo got in behind Yenisey’s defense time and again, creating chance after chance, but that finishing touch was nowhere to be found. Ultimately, Sheykina’s turn and finish after a long throw straight into the box in first-half stoppage time was enough for the Siberians. The Devils should be heartened by a much-improved performance, but sitting on zero points after seven games is rough. Thankfully for them, there is no relegation in the Superliga.

Yenisey, on the other hand, have picked up the pace recently and although they still sit in seventh, only three points now separate them and Zvezda in third. Admittedly, they still don’t play great football; it’s more a matter of sitting back and trying to get something on the counter or from set-pieces, but you know what, fair enough, it seems to be working.

The big one, the Moscow Derby kicked off simultaneously to the Chertanovo game and there was plenty of hype. It was first against second, the defending champions versus the runners-up, but, sadly, it was also yet another case of a big game not delivering.

It was a physical but dull encounter with chances at a premium. Lok had the better of what few opportunities there were, although probably not enough to claim that they were robbed of a win. At one point, Nelli Korovkina was 1v1 with stand-in goalkeeper Anastasia Anayeva, who was deputizing for the injured Elvira Todua, but she tried to control the ball when she should have just hit it first time; that was probably the best opportunity of the match.

Speaking of the injured Todua, there were a couple of odd decisions made by Maksim Zinoviev prior to the meeting. Yulia Myasinkova made her first start after suffering a broken nose a few games back. That’s quite a big game to mark your return to the pitch, but her selection wasn’t the surprise, it was that she featured at left-back for the first time this season. That’s not an unfamiliar role for the Kazakhstan international, far from it, actually, it’s probably her best position, but it was interesting insofar as she had been the starting center-back alongside Maria Alekseeva prior to her injury. It appears that Margarita Manuylova made that position her own in Myasinkova’s absence, which is fine, Manuylova has been defensively solid, but on the ball and in terms of decision-making, she just isn’t on Myasinkova’s level. It will be interesting to see how that situation develops going forward.

Myasinkova’s shift to full-back also meant that Tatyana Petrova dropped out of the starting line-up; harsh, but given that she is still a youngster, probably not a terrible call. Olga Chernova returned to her favored right-back position and she was heavily involved in the game, as she always is, but without ever having a huge impact; I would like to see her be a bit more dangerous in the attack. The other odd decision from Zinoviev, at least in my opinion, was to start Anastasia Pozdeeva, however, she is an experienced player and it didn’t make CSKA any worse.

The only real surprise from Lok coach Elena Fomina was to bench Marina Fedorova for the second game running. Lina Yakupova showed some improvement after not having the desired impact so far this season and once subbed on, Fedorova did what Fedorova does best: get involved and make some plays. It wasn’t enough, though, and the game ultimately ended in a goalless stalemate. A point doesn’t do either team any favors, but with Zvezda also drawing, it really doesn’t change anything at the top of the standings.

The final match of the round pitted the new clubs in the league against each other, as Zenit hosted Krasnodar. It was pouring down in St. Petersburg, but that didn’t stop both sides from going hell for leather.

The two were at each other’s throats from the get-go, yet despite Zenit having the better of the chances early on, Krasnodar grew into the game and eventually found the back of the net through Elena Kostareva in the 34th minute; Viktoria Shkoda had a very nice assist in the build-up. Krasnodar doubled their advantage shortly before the break when Polina Organova’s shot was deflected into her own net by Zenit’s Ekaterina Morozova.

The hosts didn’t sulk in their misery for long, however, and they came out swinging in the second half. A mistake from sweeper ‘keeper Tatyana Shcherbak perfectly set up Tatyana Morina to tuck away her second vitally important goal in as many games. Zenit continued to probe Krasnodar’s defense, but when they were still trailing heading into the final two minutes of stoppage time, it seemed as though there would be little reward for their efforts. Fortune was on Zenit’s side, though. Ekaterina Sochneva’s cross was parried by Shcherbak into the path of Nika Belova. The 17-year-old showed a nice bit of composure and skill to get a shot off, and yet another block saw it looping across the box where Kristina Frolova was ready to pounce.

Zenit salvaged a point in an exhilarating match, but Krasnodar will be bitterly disappointed with themselves to have surrendered a 2-0 lead. A special mention has to go to 16-year-old Zarina Sharifova, who was once again imperious in the center of Zenit’s midfield; she is some talent.

And with that, the first half of the Russian Superliga season has finished. No real surprises so far in terms of the standings, but it has to be reemphasized that Chertanovo need to get their act together.

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