Three Rounds Left – The fight to escape the RFPL drop

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With three matches left to play, tension at the wrong end of the Russian Premier League has reached breaking point. If no team’s fate is sealed this mid-week, this coming weekend promises to be the most nerve wrenching affair with the bottom six all due to play one another.

Five seasons back when the league underwent their restructuring to fall into line with the European season schedule (Autumn-Spring), the relegation playoffs were introduced to add an extra dimension to the domestic end of the season.

Broadly their introduction has been positive from the fans, thusly the bottom two are directly relegated, whilst the two above the drop face 3rd & 4th placed finishers from Russia’s second tier FNL. Alongside the neutral fans, there’s been little opposition from the clubs who more often then not conquer their second tier opposition.

As it stands Anzhi Makhachkala (19 points) and Kuban Krasnodar (20) currently occupy the relegation spots, five and four points behind Mordovia and Ufa (both on 24) respectively in the relegation playoffs, another point behind giants Dinamo Moscow (25) and a further three points adrift of Amkar Perm (28) who despite the perceived wide gap still need to close out the season to avoid being dragged into the playoff race.

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For Anzhi fans this feels a familiar scenario. Rock bottom two years ago, their yo-yo few years look set to continue with much to do in their last three matches to survive. If you put aside their hopeless record this season and the fact they haven’t recorded a win this calendar year, they do however have the easiest run in on paper in the bottom six. Away against an erratic Rubin Kazan who are already safe, while also travelling to Samara last game of the season to face mid-table Krylya, if Anzhi are going to break their duck away from the Anzhi Arena this looks as good a time to do it as ever.

Their home tie with Mordovia however that’s sandwiched by those trips looks to be the critical encounter of the remaining weeks’ drama. As Andrew Flint outlined last week, Mordovia have been all sorts of chaos off the pitch this season but have put that behind them in the last fortnight with victories over high flying Rostov and fellow battlers Kuban that take them comfortably into the playoffs, leaving them in a position where one win you’d assume would be enough to guarantee at least an end of season encounter.

Defeat at home to Anzhi would alove to be it ignite some worries within the fan base, with tough challenges ahead in title chasing Zenit this Wednesday before Lokomotiv Moscow on the last day, it will wholly depend which Mordovia turn’s up.  In the end, the fact that the quality in Anzhi and Kuban’s squads may limit their resistance to direct relegation.

Kuban’s slide, directly parallel to their neighbour’s FC’s rise in the Premier League is tough to watch from an outsider. Kuban’s defeat to Mordovia which sets them back four points looks too much of an ask (given they’ve achieved only 2 points in their last 7 matches), increasing the likelihood of relegation for the first time in seven years.

As much as we try to spin it, the real intrigue will likely come in the playoff escape. Mordovia are the team in form, while Ufa at the beginning of the month have shown their winning touch and shouldn’t be discounted. It looks like one victory could even be enough for either to avoid the playoffs, as both start to eye a falling Dinamo Moscow a point ahead of the danger mark.

Dinamo will want this season quickly erased from their memory as soon as they can, from Financial Fair Play violations at the beginning of the season, to multiple sell offs of their star international players to their current form crisis which has seen them record one of the worst records in the league (only worsened by Kuban). One win in 14 matches, only 1 point from 7 matches; its clear why they’re in the position they’re in. In reality you’d predict they could need up to 6 points to see off the charge from below them, with matches against two title contenders to come in Rostov and Zenit that’ll be a tall order.

In the end, the number of wins (not goal difference) could prove most pivotal, as this will be considered in any direct point ties. Concerning the relegation spots, Kuban look the worst off with just 3 wins compared to Anzhi and Mordovia’s 4 and Ufa and Dinamo’s 5. In case the teams finish on the same number of wins head-to-head points decide the outcome. In this case, Kuban are again the weakest side, without any direct advantage over those around them, Mordovia with their victory over Kuban at the weekend will stand on top of the bottom two if points are leveled. The same can be said of Dinamo who have a stronger record against Ufa and Mordovia.

A surprising new inclusion to the battle are free falling Amkar Perm, who despite having a 4 point cushion over Ufa in 13th are without a win in their last 9 and face Ufa at the weekend, in potentially a match that could see the opposition leapfrog them. One victory should be enough for Perm however, even if the sides below up their game, but for continuous slips which have been present recently (only drawing with Kuban, Mordovia and Dinamo over the last month) they’d be able to relax now.

The build up to the last fortnight of the season definitely adds an extra dimension to what has been an openly fought contest at the top of the RFPL. Considering the matches still to play, this coming weekend’s fixture list looks like we’ll finally see at least one team go down. With that in thought, the RFN predicted table (with point tallies) can be seen below.

11. Amkar (30 points)
12. Dynamo (28)
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13. Mordovia (28 – PO)
14. Ufa (26 – PO)
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15. Anzhi (22 – R)
16. Kuban (20 – R)


Follow Martin on Twitter: @PlasticPitch and check out his personal blog.

Author: Martin Lowe

Russian and Asian football follower and blogger.

Comments

  1. Фримпонг says:

    Anzhi 21 pts Kuban 25pts Mordovia 25pts Dinamo 26pts
    Ufa 27 pts Amkar 31pts

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