The Russian Premier League kicks off this weekend after an abbreviated offseason. Reigning Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg will have to wait four days from the league’s kick off on Saturday to get their campaign underway. They will head to the Volgograd Arena to face off with Rotor Volgograd on Tuesday night.
Manager Sergei Semak’s team won the 2019-20 Russian Premier League with little issue amassing 72 points from 30 games. They posted a 22W-6D-2L record during the season finishing 15 points ahead of runners-up Lokomotiv Moscow. Not only did Semak’s team win the league at a canter but they tallied 65 goals and allowed a mere 18.
Rotor Volgograd won the Russian National League in 2019-20 earning automatic promotion to the top flight this term. The club spent nearly two decades outside of the Russian Premier League wallowing in the second tier. Now, manager Alyaksandr Khatskevich has his eyes on keeping the club in the Russian Premier League.
Staying in the top flight will be difficult for Rotor Volgograd and it starts off with reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg heading to town.
These sides have not met in recent time. There is no historical data that can be gleaned for the fixture with these sides playing for the first time in at least 16 seasons. It is also the first match of the term and these sides go in with everything to gain on opening day. Zenit St. Petersburg will kick off their season on Friday in the Russian Super Cup. The club will play Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian Super Cup which is why they will start the league on Tuesday night.
Zenit St. Petersburg have won back to back Russian Premier League titles. They will be surely tipped as favourites by sportsbooks to lift the title once more. However, this season starts after a short break in action. The 2019-20 league season only finished on July 22. By the time Zenit St. Petersburg kick off against Rotor Volgograd, it will have been 20 days between the end of the last and start of the new term.
Rotor Volgograd had a longer lay off heading into the new season. The Russian National League was abandoned in May due to the coronavirus. Rotor Volgograd were in first place at the time and achieved automatic promotion.
Semak heads into the first match of the Russian Premier League season with just one injury. However, the club must play the Russian Super Cup against Lokomotiv Moscow four days prior to heading off to Volgograd. Therefore, Semak could see another player or two suffer an injury before the new term starts. Andrei Lunev is the only player currently listed as out of action for Semak. He has a muscle strain that isn’t likely to be healed until September.
There has been quite a lot of turnover at Zenit St. Petersburg with players leaving the club. A few new names have arrived with the biggest being veteran centre-back Dejan Lovren. The former Liverpool defender moved to Zenit St. Petersburg after winning the Champions League and Premier League title in consecutive years at Anfield. Zenit St. Petersburg paid £10.8 million for the defender.
Semak will rely on striker Artem Dyzuba to lead the team in goals once more this season. The Zenit St. Petersburg man tallied 21 goals in all competitions (17 in the league) in 2019-20. The 31-year-old also added 14 assists and was Zenit St. Petersburg’s most important attacker.
Zenit St. Petersburg’s Malcom is another player to watch out for. The Brazilian was another of the signings that failed at Barcelona before being shipped out. He scored four goals in 19 games last term.
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Dzyuba was fantastic for Zenit St. Petersburg last season. He bagged 21 goals in all competitions and averaged a goal every 149 minutes. Dzyuba should start the game in spite of the short time off between seasons. The striker will turn 32 this month and despite his age, remains Zenit St. Petersburg’s top striker. He may not be able to lead the side deep into the Champions League but remains a star in Russia.
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Zenit St. Petersburg allowed just 18 goals last season. The defence has been upgrade with Lovren’s arrival. The only problem Semak will have is keeping the big centre-back fit. Still, Lovren is a solid defender that will help the club keep goals out at the back. Zenit St. Petersburg kept eight away clean sheets in 2019-20 and 17 overall. They should start the season against a newly promoted side with a shutout.
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Rotor Volgograd won the Russian National League last season. They are a good side but should struggle to adapt to the Russian top flight. It has been 16 years since they were in the Russian Premier League and playing against the reigning champions will be a tough task. Roto Volgograd had a long layoff between the abandonment of the Russian National League and the start of this season’s Russian Premier League.
Zenit St. Petersburg have had the same issues in terms of a layoff. They will play the Russian Super Cup on Friday, four days before venturing to Volgograd. They should be fitter for the game and that fitness could be all the difference between a reigning league champion and newly promoted team.
Rotor Volgograd are in line to struggle this season. The club just came up do not have the same firepower as the top sides in the 16-team league. Zenit St. Petersburg should continue to roll in the Russian Premier League and get off to a great start with a win.
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The stadium hosting Rotor Volgograd vs Zenit St Petersburg is Volgoggrad Arena.
The Rotor Volgograd vs Zenit St Petersburg match kicks-off at 16:00 UK time on Tuesday 11th August.