Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

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With the end of the season approaching, the top two of the Russian Superliga continue to set the standard, while their challengers are starting to fall by the wayside. Let’s recap the action.

Matchday twelve kicked off on Saturday with a game that had the potential for fireworks, but it ultimately ended up being quite the slog. Zvezda, fresh off beating Yenisey in the cup quarterfinal, traveled to Moscow to give us a preview of the semifinal, as they faced Lokomotiv.

Although the hosts were in control for the entirety of the first half, the game never really got going and the only noteworthy thing about that first 45′ was the sheer amount of times that Lok players were flagged for offside. The second half wasn’t much better, truth be told, but at least we got to witness a bit of action when Lina Yakupova scored the lone goal of the encounter in the 58th minute. The 30-year-old got in front of her defender with a nice bit of movement and reading of the situation; it was a decent finish, but the goalkeeper should probably have done better.

Zvezda were completely devoid of ideas, barely getting out of their own half and Lok never looked in danger of conceding, even after taking the lead. With two games left to go in the season, the Muscovites still have a shot at stealing the title right from under CSKA’s nose, and barring a slip-up from either side this weekend, the league will be decided when these two heavyweights face off on the final day. Lok have to play Zvezda again in the cup semifinal first, though; if they are triumphant once more, we will see Lok versus CSKA in the final of the Russian Cup, too. What a way to end the season!

Sunday’s action commenced in Krasnodar when Yenisey came to town, but the game finished 0-0, so let’s not waste too much time talking about it. The only thing worth mentioning is that this was Krasnodar’s second successive goalless draw which is a worrying trend, but if they step their game up in the next couple of weeks – which they likely will seeing as they have the kindest schedule out of anyone in the league – they could realistically still overtake Zvezda in fourth.

Ryazan hosted CSKA next and it was a similar story; it wasn’t a great game to watch. CSKA came into this encounter with confidence sky-high after dominating Estonian champions Flora in the Champions League – they will face Austrian side St. Pölten in the next round – but it didn’t really translate to the pitch in Ryazan, although the champions did come out on top. The capital club was the better side on the day, but that isn’t saying much; Valeria Bespalinkova’s finish just before half time, after the goalkeeper misjudged the flight of the ball, was enough to down the hosts.

Scrappy goals have been a common theme throughout this season for CSKA and maybe that’s worthy of a closer examination at some point further down the line, and perhaps Maksim Zinoviev’s bafflingly early substitutions and the fact that CSKA have lost their air of invincibility despite being arguably just as dominant as last season will also be discussed there. Either way, CSKA are a step closer to the title and this was an important if uninspiring win against a good side.

The final game of round twelve pitted Chertanovo up against Zenit in what was a clash of two of this season’s poorest sides. Zenit certainly looked up for it on a cold and rainy day in Moscow, and they took the lead in the 17th minute through former Chertanovo defender Ekaterina Morozova, who headed home Nika Belova’s corner.

Zenit kept piling on the pressure, but another breakthrough wasn’t to be found in the first half. Chertanovo actually came out swinging after the break, however, the tide of the battle soon turned and Tatyana Morina’s strike in the 64th minute broke any last resistance and the Devils began to crumble. Nika Belova made matters worse when she scored directly from a corner and she got her brace just mere moments later, tucking home a nice pass from Vera Simanovskaya.

Neither Zenit nor Chertanovo have much to play for with two games to go, but this was the St. Petersburg outfit’s biggest ever margin of victory, so I guess there is some cause for celebration; and it was a solid performance, too. Lok face Zvezda in the cup semifinal on Wednesday and the Superliga returns on Sunday with some tasty match-ups.


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