Matchday five of the 2021 Russian Superliga season pitted two of the league’s top dogs against each other and it turned into somewhat of a mauling. Let’s recap the action!
Let’s start with something moderately positive: last week, Rostov scored their first-ever goal and Rubin Kazan have now followed suit. It took them five games – in which they conceded 16 goals (oof!) – but the Tartarstan outfit have finally scored their first goal in club history; it was a penalty, though, so they still haven’t managed to find the back of the net from open play, but, you know, baby steps.
Unfortunately, the strike was merely a consolation, they were already trailing Krasnodar by three goals when Tatyana Dolmatova’s spot kick rippled the net. 3-1 proved to be the final score in what turned out to be yet another forgettable performance from the debutants; Rubin still haven’t picked up a single point. You have to give credit to Krasnodar, though. Yes, it was ‘only’ Rubin, but they were impressive and Elena Kostareva in particular was on fire and chipped in with a goal of the season contender.
We shall skip over the scoreless draw between Rostov and Yenisey because it’s really not worth talking about, so let’s move on to Ryazan versus Zvezda, a game quite different from the encounters we previously saw between these sides. Ryazan are struggling this season, they are really bad, actually. Last year, this would have been a clash between third and fourth, but Ryazan are currently languishing near the foot of the table, only a point above second-bottom Rostov.
Predictably, the visitors from Perm were the dominant side and took the lead right after the start of the second half through an expert finish by the ageless Olesya Kurochkina. Ryazan had their chances – and Zvezda almost shot themselves in the foot on more than one occasion – but the score remained 1-0 until the final whistle. Zvezda are quietly keeping pace with the title-chasing pack, but they need to be a bit more clinical and defensively stout to truly have a shot at the championship.
Defending champions CSKA were also in action as they hosted Chertanovo in a little Moscow derby. It was a fairly straightforward affair and one that pretty much tells the story of the season: CSKA are CSKA, they just keep on chugging along, while Chertanovo once again showed how far they’ve come since last year. In 2020, they could easily have shipped four or five in a game such as this, but they only conceded the one – a nice finish from Tatyana Kozyrenko – and, of course, there’s no shame in losing to a behemoth like CSKA. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I’ve been really impressed by the Devils this season, this young team has matured a lot.
Matchday five’s main event was undoubtedly the top-of-the-table clash between league leaders Zenit and Lokomotiv. Loko were determined to show that, despite dropping points to Zvezda last week, they are still the big dogs – and the team to beat – in the league and they got right into Zenit’s faces from the first whistle; the visitors didn’t know what hit them. Nelli Korovkina gave Loko the perfect start with her third-minute strike and had she not strayed offside five minutes later, it could easily have been a knockout blow for Zenit before the game had even properly got going.
It turned out to be quite the mud battle on a less than ideal pitch at the Sapsan Arena, but it was nonetheless an intriguing and thrilling encounter, not least because of how utterly dominant Loko were in the opening few minutes of the game. The hosts were clearly not impressed by Zenit’s imperious form and deadly attack. After the early shock, Zenit grew into the game more, but they were still largely second best. Towards the end of the first half, Korovkina got her second goal on the day and her fifth in as many games, that was game over for Zenit.
Since Alina Myagkova’s return to the Moscow outfit, Alsu Abdullina has been used further upfield and it has been a nice tactical tweak by Elena Fomina; Abdullina has really excelled in a more attacking role (Myagkova has also been exceptional). This game was certainly a learning experience for this new-look Zenit side. One player I have been somewhat disappointed with – not just in this game, but for most of the still-young season – is Gabriela Grzywińska. The Polish national team veteran arrived with big expectations, but she has flattered to deceive thus far. The effort is there, however, you would expect a player of her distinction to be able to exert more of an influence and to truly put her stamp on games; she hasn’t really been able to do that, unfortunately.
Loko now share top spot with CSKA, while Zenit are just a point behind. I’m sure the Blue-White-Sky Blues will bounce back – they are too good not to, really – but it’s going to be interesting to see how Olga Poryadina’s side handles being thoroughly outclassed by a direct competitor; I’d imagine that this result could be quite disheartening for some players even though Zenit do have a lot of title-winning experience on their roster.