The international break is over and the Russian Superliga is back! Although matchday nine started off on a sour note with the game between Yenisey and Zvezda-2005 Perm being postponed due to a number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Zvezda camp, the matches that did eventually go ahead delivered some decent entertainment. Let’s recap the action.
Krasnodar welcomed Lokomotiv Moscow on Monday to kick off round nine in what promised to be a great match-up. The Moscow outfit was desperate for three points after four consecutive draws, while Krasnodar, spearheaded by the deadly Elena Kostareva, are anything but pushovers.
Elena Fomina tweaked her system a bit, electing to play a 4-4-2, with Alsu Abdullina, who had played at left-back all season, further upfield. It looked like a more cautious approach from Lok, with their full-backs not venturing forward much, but ultimately they didn’t need to; such was the visitor’s dominance that their absence in the attack wasn’t even noticed. Krasnodar did get forward on occasion, but with little success.
Surprisingly, Marina Fedorova was benched yet again despite her impressive performances for Lok this season. When she came on at half time, however, she made an instant impact and proved just how valuable she is (and why I think she has been the signing of the season). She could have scored mere moments into the second half, missing an open goal from a tight angle on her weak foot. A couple of minutes later, she more than made up for it with a pinpoint pass into the space between Krasnodar’s right back and center-back for Nelli Korovkina to latch onto. The 2019 golden boot winner’s first touch left a lot to be desired, but she still managed to finish off the chance, despite the best efforts of Russia teammate Tatyana Shcherbak.
Captain Anna Kozhnikova doubled Lok’s lead just six minutes later, heading home an Alsu Abdullina corner and Nelli Korovkina got her brace in the 81st minute. A thoroughly dominant display from the capital club and a much-needed victory for Fomina’s side which saw them temporarily close the gap to CSKA to four points.
Tuesday’s action commenced in Ryazan, as lowly Chertanovo traveled south to face Airborne. It was a mismatch on paper, with the Devils still looking for their first point of the season, and the game turned out exactly as expected.
Veteran Anna Sinyutina put Ryazan on the board after just 13 minutes with a nice free kick and even though the match continued in a similar vein, it took the hosts until the 71st minute to get their second, when an unmarked Nadezhda Koltakova headed in a free kick. Chertanovo ‘keeper Diana Ponomareva could and perhaps should have done better on both goals.
Chertanovo’s rotten form continues, while Ryazan have now climbed into third ahead of Zvezda, who have a game in hand after the recent postponement.
The main event of the round was a rematch of opening day, as Zenit hosted CSKA. The defending champions were keen to reestablish their seven-point lead over Lok, which they carved out in the additional game against Yenisey (a convincing 3-0 win) just prior to the international break. Zenit, on the other hand, were looking to put a stop to their recent slump.
New Zenit signing Natalya Mashina slotted straight into the starting line-up against the club she departed before the international break, while Alina Koroleva, CSKA’s newest recruit, was an unused substitute. Olga Poryadina once again proved that she trusts her young players even up against the defending champions: 16-year-old Zarina Sharifova and 17-year-old Nika Belova got the start in midfield and despite their tender years, the duo is basically undroppable at this point. An interesting development at CSKA has been the waning influence of Margarita Chernomyrdina this season. She is one of the side’s most naturally gifted players, but head coach Maksim Zinoviev seems to prefer the industrious Anastasia Pozdeeva.
Former CSKA player and defensive stalwart Lyudmila Shadrina was unavailable for this match after her red card against Ryazan and Zenit captain Ekaterina Sochneva, another former CSKA player, was particularly fired up to face her former teammates; she was dangerous throughout.
A turbulent, back-and-forth start to the game provided the lone goal of the encounter, as Gaby Onguéné – despite being surrounded by three Zenit players – continued her impressive goalscoring form with a nice finish in the 16th minute. The Cameroon international equaled Olesya Kurochkina’s tally of seven goals and is now joint top in the race for the golden boot. She also paid tribute to goalkeeper Anastasia Ananyeva, who had just turned 24, with her celebration. Ananyeva was actually dropped on the day, as captain Elvira Todua made her return from injury.
Although the side from St. Petersburg held their own, it was ultimately a deserved win for the champions in a tough match – just ask Olga Chernova, who got absolutely clattered on numerous occasions. With only a handful of games left, CSKA now look well on their way to retaining their Superliga title. Barring an epic collapse, CSKA’s lead of seven points seems insurmountable even if Lokomotiv do still have a game in hand.