Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/5
Rubin Kazan and Spartak Moscow open their respective Russian Premier League campaigns against each other at the Kazan Arena on Saturday evening. It should be an interesting contest, with both sides looking to get the 2021-22 season off to a good start.
Rubin finished the 2020-21 season in fourth place with 53 points, three less than Lokomotiv Moscow, which means they just missed out on European qualification and it must have been extremely frustrating for manager Leonid Slutsky and his players. It will therefore be very important for their confidence to start the new season by getting on the right track straight away, though this match will likely prove anything but easy for them.
Rubin lost the services of Carl Starfelt, receiving a €5 million fee for the versatile defender who has made his way to Scotland to join Celtic. On the other hand, they’ve signed 22-year-old winger Sead Haksabanovic, who comes from Norrkoping reportedly for €6.5m, and 34-year-old right-back Valdislav Ignatjev, a free signing from Lokomotiv.
Form can hardly be discussed before the season actually starts and a couple of competitive games are played, but for what it’s worth, Rubin played a number of pre-season friendlies after the previous season ended back in May. The first played against Nizhny Novgorod twice, winning on both occasions (2-1 at home and 0-3 away). Earlier this month, they beat Khimki by 1-0, lost to Spartak 0-4, and lost to PFC Sochi by 1-3.
Defender Ilya Samoshnikov has been having trouble with a rather persistent Achilles tendon injury and is a doubt for the season opener, but the rest of the squad should be ready to play.
Slutsky usually arranges his team in a 4-2-3-1 shape, and it will be interesting to see if he’s cooked up anything different for the upcoming campaign.
Spartak ended last season as runners-up to Zenit St. Petersburg, finishing with 57 points – eight short of the champions. They will therefore enter the Champions League qualifications in the third round, where they will face Portuguese side Benfica in the first half of August. Like Rubin, Spartak will be hoping to start well, and aim to do one spot better than last season and lift the trophy in the end.
Spartak have signed 30-year-old wing-back Victor Moses from Chelsea for a reported fee of €5 million this summer, and promoted 21-year-old attacking midfielder Mikhail Ignatov from the Spartak 2 side. Midfielder Ayaz Guliev and winger Aleksandr Tashaev left on free transfers, joining Arsenal Tula and Rotor Volgograd, respectively. Guus Til, a 23-year-old attacking midfielder, has been sent to Feyenoord on loan.
As for the pre-season friendlies, Spartak lost 1-2 to Neftci from Azerbaijan, drew 2-2 against Slovenian side Bravo, beat Sibenik from Croatia by 4-2, PFC Sochi and Rubin by 4-0 both, and eventually thrashed Khimki by 5-1.
Rui Vitoria has only been appointed last month as the Spartak boss on a two-year contract, which means this will not only be the team’s first match of the season, but also his first competitive one in charge of the team. Like Slutsky, Vitoria has mostly used the 4-2-3-1 formation in his career so far, but he has also been known to employ a 3-4-3. The acquisition of Moses, an experienced wing-back, points to the latter as the more likely one for the start of the upcoming season.
Be that as it may, Vitoria will be without goalkeeper Aleksandr Selikhov due to a broken finger. He also won’t be able to count upon forward Ezequiel Ponce, who is currently representing Argentina at the Tokyo Olympics.
As has been said, it’s very hard to fathom form on the basis of pre-season friendlies, and that’s the only thing we’ve had to go on so far. Nonetheless, Spartak definitely seem like they’re in a better place than Rubin at the moment, and they’re considered favourites to start the season with a win.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/5