Russian Premier League Picks: Week Four

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Russian Premier League Picks: Week Four
Dima Korotayev/Getty Images

All eyes in Russia were on CSKA Moscow this week, and for good reasons. The Army Men headed to Milan and the San Siro for the first Champions League quarterfinal in club history. 

While Leonid Slutskiy's side struggled to produce any offense, they defended very well, got some great goalkeeping from Igor Akinfeev and what could be an enormous goal-line save by Aleksei Berezutskiy late in the match. 

A 1-0 result isn't ideal, but quietly Slutskiy must be pleased with the result in a few ways. His side kept the score reasonable when they hardly played their best match and only allowed one goal in a very challenging environment against a superior side.

He has to feel like if his club, even without Milos Krasic in the second leg, plays slightly better in every category at the Luzhniki, they have more than a chance to advance.

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Vasili Berezutskiy duels with Inter goal scorer Diego Milito.

After an unconvincing domestic result against Anzhi, it was certainly top marks to every defender against Inter, Akinfeev most of all. 

On the home front, Rubin Kazan slipped up for the first time, playing to a draw with Terek Grozny while Spartak Moscow earned their first victory of the season with an early blitz. 

The other Spartak, from Nalchik, continued their dream season, taking over possession of the top spot in the table after a 2-0 road win over Sibir. 

But let's get to the Week Four action in Russia. As always, home sides are listed first. A "1" stands for home victory, "X" stands for a draw and a "2" stands for an away victory.

 

1. Amkar Perm (9th) - Sibir Novosibirsk (15th): 1.

Saturday, 3 April 2010, Zvezda Stadium

Amkar have been good, if not special, at the Zvezda Stadium over their last few matches. They have not allowed a goal in three of four matches, with the only team to score there being Spartak Moscow. They also earned a 1-0 victory over Fulham in the Europa League, although losing on aggregate score.

The krasno-chernye have also historically been able to beat the teams they should: clubs below them in the table. Despite having one of the worst offenses in the league, they always seem to find that one extra goal at home.

The Siberians however, have not won a match in the Russian Premier League, even though they showed signs of life in a 2-0 home loss to Nalchik. The final finishing has really not been there for them.

It's also been a challenging task for Sibir to get through the entire 90 minutes at the same pace they begin it, as over half the squad is over 30 years old. 

Former Spartak goalkeeper Wojciech Kowalewski has been a lone bright spot so far though, as he has kept his club in matches they really had no business being in. Their minus-four goal differential could really, and probably should be, much worse.

 

2. CSKA Moscow (4th) - Zenit St. Petersburg (3rd): No Pick.

Saturday, 3 April 2010, Luzhniki Stadium

The match has been postponed until April 14. But we will leave you with a pair of superb goals from last weekend's frivolities.

First, a disgusting pass from Serbian striker Danko Lazovic finds Danny for Zenit's first goal against Dinamo.

Next, Japanese sensation Keisuke Honda does it again with a magical free kick to level the match against Anzhi in Dagestan. That's a "Hondagol! " according to Sergei Bondarenko if you'll ever see one.

 

3. Anzhi (14th) - Alania (12th): X.

Saturday, 3 April 2010, 

A region that has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past week, the two Caucasus area foes are separated by less than a two-hour drive. 

So far, there has been nothing impressive on paper about Anzhi's performance this season.

They've only scored once in three matches and honestly the goal was handed to them on a plate, as CSKA's Igor Akinfeev mishandled a cross to give Andrei Streltsov an empty netter.

The Dagi were also heavily penalized for fans throwing stones at CSKA's bus on their way out of Makhachkala.

Alania has been slightly more impressive, earning home draws against Amkar and Saturn, two solid mid-table squads.

Alania manager Vladimir Shevchuk has stated that it is of the utmost importance to his club that they come away with all three points. They have the skill to compete and win against lower-level opposition, but it hasn't translated to wins yet.

In the First Division, this matchup has been entirely unpredictable. This will be no different.

 

4. Spartak Nalchik (1st) - Rostov (10th): X.

Saturday, 3 April 2010, Stadion Spartak

Nalchik has been without any doubt, the most pleasant surprise of the season so far. Considered by many a primary relegation candidate, they currently sit at the top of the table, thanks to the stellar play of 21-year-old attacking midfielder Vladimir Dyadyun. On loan from Rubin Kazan, Dyadyun has scored twice, provided an assist and currently sits at the top of the league in points.

But their credentials will be put to the test - at least more so than in the first few weeks. All three of their first opponents were newly promoted squads. Rostov, while certainly not a favorite for European play, will pose more of a challenge.

The Selmashi faltered early, but turned the ship around with an impressive victory over Saturn. A roster dotted with players on loan, new center back Isaac Okoronkwo has made an instant impact on the back line. The Nigerian veteran was a part of FC Moscow's brick wall defense in 2009.

Aleksandr Pavlenko, on loan from Spartak, has also had a very nice impact on the midfield.  

Nalchik has gotten the better of the meetings so far but there's no way not to like what Rostov is doing at the moment.

 

5. Tom Tomsk (5th) - Spartak Moscow (7th): 2.

Sunday, 4 April 2010, Trud Stadium

If the second week loss to Rubin Kazan is eliminated, Tomsk have won their past five matches. Former striker Sergei Kornilenko, who is on loan from Zenit St. Petersburg, has been a flawless fit in the offense.

They also responded in style, going down 2-0 in Samara last week only to come back to score three times before the half.

After a slow start, Spartak has also came on strong. A convincing 2-1 victory over Lokomotiv Moscow has supporters believing in their club again.

New Brazilian striker Ari scored his first since arriving from AZ while manager Valery Karpin has remained fully committed to the youth movement, starting numerous players under the age of 23.

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Ari nets the game-winner for Spartak.

Young keeper Soslan Dzhanaev has been great so far, but star midfielder Alex is still looking for a grove.

It might come a little easier this time around - Spartak has never lost to Tomsk. While Tomsk has put up much more of a fight at the Trud Stadium with some very early starting times (the match is scheduled for 11am MSK), Spartak just has too much firepower and will have loads of confidence after beating the Tomis 5-0 in their last meeting.

 

6. Terek Grozny (6th) - Krylia Sovetov Samara (16th): 1.

Sunday, 4 April 2010, Sultan Bilimkhanov Stadium

Politics aside, Terek has consistently been a very tough opponent at the Sultan Bilimkhanov Stadium with the zealous home fans. That support should be even greater given the club's inspired performance against Rubin Kazan last weekend.

Shamil Asildarov has lead the way in his return to the Chechen capital with two goals, while Bolivian Juan Carlos Arce has filled in superbly off the bench.

The pain for Samara continued as they blew a two goal lead at home. They've been playing like a chicken with its head cut off, running around aimlessly and accomplishing next to nothing offensively in 270 minutes of play.

Star striker Evgeni Savin has had no help at all. They are also the only team to lose all three matches to begin the season and sport a league-worst minus-five goal differential.

Oddly enough though, the teams have never played a match with a shortage of goals, and the home side has won nearly every meeting this decade. But Krylia Sovetov are still attempting to figure out how to play without Jan Koller and Jiri Jarosik.  

 

7. Saturn (13th) - Rubin Kazan (2nd): 2.

Sunday, 4 April 2010, Stadion Saturn Ramenskoe

To say that Saturn has been one of the most disappointing teams in the league is an understatement.

A club that is widely considered the best non-Big Six team in Russia, their attendance has been way down, their performance has been lackluster, and have shown very little that indicates they are a decent team.

Even though the Aliens' back line isn't close to full strength, the offense has really let them down. Their age has really shown through, as well as lack of creativity.

Facing Rubin Kazan will do them no favors whatsoever. The defending champions were rampant against Saturn in 2009, outscoring their opponents 10-1.

Kurban Berdiyev's men will also be back to full strength, as team captain Sergei Semak is expected to return. Erasing the bad taste from a scoreless draw last weekend with Terek is high on the manager's to-do list, so there should be no lack of motivation from his side.

 

8. Lokomotiv Moscow (11th) - Dinamo Moscow (8th): 1.

Sunday, 4 April 2010, Lokomotiv Stadium

It's been night and day for the Lokomotives in 2010. They were beaten twice convincingly on the road, once by Rubin and the next by city rivals Spartak, but demolished Krylia Sovetov 3-0 in their home opener.

That's not a new trend however, as Lokomotiv has arguably been the best home club in the league over the past few seasons.

Oddly enough, the last time they lost a home match was in 2008...to Dinamo.

Strikers Dmitri Sychev and Peter Odemwingie haven't been on the same page so far, but newly acquired Ukrainian Oleksandr Aliev has picked up the slack, scoring three goals in three matches, a mark that leads the league. They are still without two key players although, in center back Rodolfo and playmaking midfielder Wagner.

Dinamo continues to run the gauntlet, as they have already faced Spartak, Zenit and CSKA, earning mixed results. They spoiled Spartak's home opener, earned a draw with Leonid Slutskiy's Champions League side then were torn apart in a horror first half against Zenit.

Young manager Andrei Kobelev still doesn't seem convinced by the play of former Liverpool man Andriy Voronin, as he has consistently felt the need to play another striker up front along with him.

The defense has been solid for the most part but they're going to need a more inspired performance than they delivered against Zenit if they want to hold down the east Moscow club for 90 minutes. 

 

Last Week: 4-4 (.500)

Season Record: 11-13 (.458)

Current Champions: Rubin Kazan (4)

Rubin once again defended their crown as the best team in Russia, but it was in much less convincing fashion than they had hoped.

With the chance to win it's first three matches and go to the top of the table, the Tatars stuttered in Kazan, playing to a scoreless draw with Terek.

Despite firing 13 shots, they were unable to beat Andrey Dikan. 

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