A changing wind: Can Lokomotiv become Moscow’s new football kings?

Locomotive standing outside Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow. Photo: Toke Theilade/RFN

It’s been 13 years since Lokomotiv Moscow were last crowned as the kings of Moscow and Russia, but with half of the 2017/18 campaign now elapsed, Lokomotiv find themselves atop the division, and they preserved that position with a last-gasp equaliser against bitter city rivals, CSKA Moscow before the national team break.

CSKA have been the dominant force for many years now, but it is Lokomotiv who are showing the most potential for breaking that supremacy. A 2-2 home draw between the two Moscow sides on Sunday, 5th November demonstrated that Yuri Semin’s men are no longer pushovers and are credible contenders to secure their first league title since 2004. Both CSKA and Spartak Moscow are still in the UEFA Champions League, and despite being 250/1 outsiders with bookmakers BetStars, it’s still possible that Lokomotiv could benefit from those clubs focusing more heavily on European than domestic matters, just like Spartak did last season.

It’s not only their city rivals that Lokomotiv are showing up domestically; big-spending Zenit St. Petersburg have also incurred the wrath of Semin’s side. Zenit boss, Roberto Mancini, arrived in Russia’s second city with the aim of transforming the club’s spending power into consistent success on the pitch. Nevertheless, Lokomotiv clearly hadn’t read the script ahead of their recent clash at the end of October, with the Railwaymen running out comfortable 3-0 winners. There is no doubt that Lokomotiv are vastly inferior to many of the other sides in the top six of the Premier Division in terms of financial clout, but boss Yuri Semin has fostered fantastic team unity, whilst extending a new lease on life to many battle-hardened veterans within the squad.

That team spirit was underlined by their fantastic 2-2 fightback against CSKA, which was a big confidence-booster after they suffered their first loss in the Europa League this season at the hands of Sheriff Tiraspol earlier in the week. Semin admitted that his side lacked freshness following the Tiraspol clash, and some within the Lokomotiv corridors may believe that the squad lacks the depth of their bigger city rivals to compete both domestically and in Europe.

The performances of veteran Peruvian striker, Jefferson Farfan, cannot be overstated. The 33-year-old has rolled back the years at the RZD Arena with five goals in 17 competitive games this season, displaying a better goals-to-games ratio than the one he enjoyed during a seven-year spell with German outfit, Schalke 04. Similarly, Brazilian journeyman, Ari appears to have found a team and system that works for him, having blasted seven goals in 11 appearances so far this calendar year. Combine that with the wily experience of Croatian defender and skipper, Vedran Corluka, who’ll soon return from an injury, and long-serving goalkeeper, Guilherme, and they certainly have a dependable spine to call upon.

Ultimately, much will rest upon how far Lokomotiv and their rivals go in European competition. Both Spartak and CSKA could fall into the Europa League should they fail to qualify for the knock-out stages, while Lokomotiv themselves face an uphill battle to qualify for the Europa League knock-out stages, having earned only three points from their opening four group games. A valiant exit from Europe could be the best thing to happen for Semin’s side, allowing them to dedicate 100% focus to upsetting the applecart and breathing new life into Russian football once again.

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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