Loko, Zenit Head Into International Break With Perfect Record

Lokomotiv and Zenit have been the early pacesetters thus far in the 2021 Superliga season and both consolidated their place at the top of the table on matchday three, the final round of fixtures before a crucial international break. Let’s recap the action!

Four of matchday three’s five fixtures kicked off simultaneously, the odd one out was the opener that saw Yenisey host Ryazan. Clear-cut chances were at a premium in this encounter, so it came as no surprise that Oksana Yeremeyeva’s 21st-minute strike turned out to be enough to down the visitors. Ryazan will certainly be keen to use the upcoming break in play to clear their heads a bit as they are yet to pick up a single point this season. Yenisey, on the other hand, have actually done quite well so far, they have now taken points off last season’s third and fourth-placed sides. Not bad!

Undeterred by their scoreless draw with Rostov to start the season, CSKA have clearly found their shooting boots now, racking up eleven goals in their last 180 minutes of football. After round two’s comprehensive 7-0 demolition of Rubin, this week’s unfortunate victims were Krasnodar, who were forced to pick the ball out of their net four times.

The hosts didn’t even play that badly, they had one or two good chances, it’s just that CSKA were absolutely relentless – and, honestly, quite wasteful; Gabrielle Onguéné alone could – and probably should – have had a hattrick, in the end, she only hit the target once. Tatyana Kozyrenko opened the scoring with her second strike for last year’s champions, Olga Chernova scored a rare goal, and captain Nadezhda Smirnova rounded off the rout with a penalty. A very good win for CSKA, but Krasnodar shouldn’t be too disheartened by this performance despite the brutal scoreline.

After last week’s mauling, Rubin were out for redemption when they welcomed Zvezda to Kazan on Saturday. Unfortunately, there was to be little in the way of improvement from the hosts as this was another mediocre display. Rubin only mustered a meager four shots throughout the 90 minutes and it was once again the opposition that ultimately came out on top. Zvezda scored two identical goals, but only the latter actually counted; Sofia Shipkina bundled the ball home in stoppage time after an intense scramble in Rubin’s box to spare the visitors’ blushes and to give them their second win of the season.

Concurrently, league leaders Lokomotiv paid a visit to this season’s other debutant, Rostov, and it wasn’t to be a pleasant afternoon for the newbies. The players of the capital club were in inspired form and put four past a hapless Kristina Fedorova in the Rostov goal. Nelli Korovkina was the first name on the scoresheet, but it could already have been 1-0 a few minutes earlier had Anna Belomyttseva’s strike not been disallowed. Yana Sheina was credited with Loko’s second goal, but in truth, it was an almighty howler from the keeper and could well have gone down as an own goal. Korovkina doubled her tally in the 56th minute and she could easily have had a hattrick in this game. In the 81st minute, Maria Galay showed a nice bit of determination before rewarding herself with a goal, the fourth on the day and the final nail in Rostov’s coffin. Loko keep up their perfect record while both newcomers, Rostov and Rubin, are yet to win a match.

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about Chertanovo hosting Zenit. This encounter was eerily similar to the Krasnodar – CSKA game. Zenit’s super aggressive press effectively suffocated Chertanovo, but the Devils did occasionally manage to play through it and get forward. Zenit ultimately ran out 3-1 victors, however, it wasn’t necessarily as straightforward as the scoreline would suggest.

I thought Lina Yakupova struggled a bit playing as the ten. She wasn’t ghosting or anything like that – she saw plenty of the ball – it was more a case of her looking a bit awkward and out of place perhaps, and the things she tried to do with the ball rarely came off. Maybe tweaking the formation a bit and playing her in her more natural position out on the wing could unlock her, but it’s not a major worry right now since they’re still seemingly scoring for fun.

Speaking of which, Anna Dias opened the scoring in the 25th minute before doubling her tally a little over ten minutes later with a clinical finish. Despite Zenit impressing once again, it was Chertanovo’s Kristina Komissarova who stole the show; her inch-perfect free kick cut her side’s deficit in half, but, unfortunately, the hosts were unable to build on it and mount a proper comeback. Substitute Elizaveta Lazareva restored Zenit’s two-goal advantage a minute from time and the St. Petersburg outfit once again came out on top. Zenit look like genuine title contenders, but we already knew that. Chertanovo, on the other hand, actually look a lot better than I anticipated, I have been pleasantly surprised by them so far this season.

It’s still very early days of course, but a quick gander at the standings will tell you that we could have a real title race on our hands this season. Zenit and Loko will share top spot for now while CSKA and Zvezda are hot on their heels as we head into a mightily important international break: Russia has to face Portugal twice in April with a place at the Euros at stake. Let’s hope that Yuri Krasnozhan’s side can get the job done!

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