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From Russia With Love: The Russian Premier League Returns

After the successful restart of multiple leagues in Europe, the Russian Football Union announced the Premier League will resume on June 19th. It has been over three months since a ball was last kicked, but Stats Perform has all the data you need for a quick refresher – as well as some predictions for how the final table may look.

By: Joris van den Ban

On June 19th  – 95 days after the last game in the Russian Premier League  – Krylia Sovetov and Akhmat Grozny will face off in the first game back since the league’s break.

With the imminent restart of football in Russia, Stats Perform is on hand to provide a data-driven reminder of the key narratives from the Premier League.

Zenit Look to Defend Their Crown

After 22 out of 30 matches played so far, reigning champions Zenit Saint Petersburg sit top of the Russian Premier League. Lokomotiv Moscow and FK Krasnodar are their nearest challengers, but the nine-point gap between them and the leaders seems too big to overcome in the eight remaining rounds.

Zenit – who have previously clinched the title in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015 and last season – have looked impenetrable in 2019/20, having recorded 12 clean sheets and conceded only 10 goals across the entire campaign. In fact, no team have managed to score more than once in a league game against the Zenitchiki this season. Their outstanding defensive performances have been fundamental in establishing and increasing their lead throughout the season.

Despite Zenit’s comfortable buffer at the top, it was as recently as October that CSKA Moscow were the ones topping the table, with 25 points from their first 11 matches. Back then, the margins between the top five were incredibly small with Lokomotiv Moscow, Rostov, FK Krasnodar and Zenit all tied for second on 23 points. But since then, CSKA have only managed to win two league games and are now ranked fifth, while their current run of five consecutive league games without a win (D3 L2) is their longest such run since October 2013.

It was left to the other frontrunners to capitalise. Lokomotiv, Krasnodar (both 18) and Rostov (15) all managed to grab a decent number of points in the subsequent 11 rounds, but Zenit were the ones who really took advantage of CSKA’s barren run, having dropped just six points out of the 33 on offer since CSKA were top (W8 D3). With Zenit’s most recent loss against Russian opposition dating back to late September (a 1-0 defeat vs. Lokomotiv Moscow) it seems Sergei Semak and his men can put the champagne on ice. That will leave Lokomotiv, Krasnodar, Rostov and CSKA to fight over Russia’s other two remaining Champions League places for next season.

The Russian title has not been successfully defended since CSKA Moscow won the competition in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and a sixth Premier League title would see Zenit St Petersburg equal CSKA Moscow’s record. Only Spartak Moscow, ranked eighth in the current campaign, have won the Premier League title more often since its inception in 1992 (10 times).

The Battle at the Bottom

Krylia Sovetov (22 points, 15th) and Akhmat Grozny (20 points, 16th) are the teams in the relegation zone when the competition resumes, but their discomfort will be shared by all teams currently in the bottom half of the table. The gap between Krylia Sovetov and Ufa, currently ranked ninth, is only five points.

Russian Premier League Bottom Half 2019/20

14Rubin Kazan225891222-1023
15Krylya Sovetov2264122229-722
16Akhmat Grozny2248101629-1320

League debutants Sochi failed to score in their first five matches of the season and were bottom of the league during the winter break, with only 15 points after 18 matchdays. Manager Aleksandr Tochilin resigned due to poor results and Vladimir Fedotov – who was sacked by Orenburg in December 2019 – took the vacant position.

His influence on the squad, together with the signing of Aleksandr Kokorin in February (on loan from Zenit) have helped Sochi’s results improve significantly. No player has scored more Russian Premier League goals in 2020 than Kokorin (3, joint with Zenit’s Sardar Azmoun and Sochi teammate Andrey Mostovoy) and Sochi are the only team to have registered three back-to-back wins in the league this calendar year. Their winning streak includes a ruthless 5-1 victory over Fedotov’s former employer, Orenburg, which helped Sochi rise to 12th spot in the league table. Their latest signing, Adil Rami from Fenerbahçe, will also be a key figure as Sochi look to extend their stay in the top-flight.

Another team involved in the battle to avoid the drop are low scorers Ufa. Only Rubin Kazan (12) have scored fewer goals in the league than Ufa (16) this season. Going forward, Ufa’s numbers do not make for good reading. They have created the lowest number of Big Chances in the league (20), recorded the lowest number of shots (226) and their expected goals total (19.7) is also a league low.

Based on their performance in front of goal, it may seem surprising to see them sitting in ninth place, however their impotence in front of goal is made up for by their impressive strength at the back: only league leaders Zenit have conceded fewer goals (10) than Ufa’s total of 19.

Ufa goalkeeper Aleksandr Belenov’s performances, recording 11 clean sheets, have been vital in keeping his side away from the relegation zone. We can look at his impact more closely using our expected goals on target (xGOT) metric to deduce the number of goals he has saved his team.

By measuring the quality of each goal bound attempt directed at Ufa’s goal, and comparing them versus the actual number of goals Belenov has conceded, the 33-year-old leads all goalkeepers in Russia with a goals prevented tally of 8.4.

The Predicted Finish

The Stats Perform AI team has provided a simulation to generate a predicted Russian Premier League table. The statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team’s attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years’ worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for changes in form and personnel over time. The outcome of the season is simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Based on this data, here are the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table:

Russia Predicted Table

Click to enlarge

The Scoring Charts

Only four players have breached the 10-goal mark so far in this RPL campaign: Zenit’s Artem Dzyuba (13 goals) and Sardar Azmoun (10), Rostov’s Eldor Shomurodov (11) and current Spartak Moscow player Alexander Sobolev (10).

Before transferring to Spartak earlier this year, Sobolev scored 10 of Krylia Sovetov’s 22 league goals this season (45%). No other player has contributed a bigger share of a team’s total output so far in 2019/20. Sobolev led the scoring charts after matchday 12 along with Shomurodov (both 10 goals), but has failed to score in his last nine league games. Similarly, Shomurodov has netted only once in his last 10 appearances.

Artem Dzyuba’s first goal of the season on the opening weekend was his 101st goal in the Russian Premier League. The 31-year-old currently tops the scoring charts, but the underlying numbers suggest that his Iranian teammate, Sardar Azmoun, should be beating him. Azmoun’s 13.5 (non-penalty) expected goals output is by far the highest in the league. Rostov’s Shomorudov (9.1) and Dzyuba (8.9) sit second and third respectively in this ranking.

Azmoun XG shot map

Dzyuba needs to score another four goals to equal his career best. The striker netted 17 times for Rostov in the 2013/14 campaign.

Top Scorers - Russian Premier League 2019/20

1Artem DzyubaZenit St Petersburg13
2Eldor ShomurodovRostov11
3=Sardar AzmounZenit St Petersburg10
3=Alexander SobolevKrylia Sovetov / Spartak Moscow10
5=Grzegorz KrychowiakLokomotiv Moscow9
5=Yevgeni LutsenkoArsenal Tula9
7Đorđe DespotovićOrenburg8

The Creators

Dzyuba is not just clinical in front of goal. He has also provided more assists than any other player in the RPL as well (9). Last season Dzyuba also recorded the most assists in the competition (10) and along with the nine he has this term, is on the verge of becoming the first player to register at least 10 assists in back-to-back seasons since Joãozinho in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dzyuba´s passing contribution is widely spread across the opposition half, but as we may expect from a target man all of his high expected assist passes came from in or around the box.

Spartak Moscow’s Zelimkhan Bakaev has created a league-high 63 chances this season. Bakaev ranks joint-third with Dzyuba when it comes to chances chanced from open play (44), behind CSKA Moscow’s Nikola Vlasic (53) and Rostov’s Aleksey Ionov (45).

Bakaev, Spartak’s 23-year-old academy graduate, made his debut for the Russian national team in October 2019 and has taken up a more central role in the squad throughout the season after starting the campaign as a right winger. The promising creator has completed the second-most dribbles (50) and ranks second for assists this season (8 – 6 from open play).

Most Assists - Russian Premier League 2019/20

1Artem DzyubaZenit St Petersburg9
2Zelimkhan BakaevSpartak Moscow8
3=Sergey TkachevArsenal Tula7
3=Aleksey IonovRostov7
5=Anton ZinkovskyKrylia Sovetov6
5=Sardar AzmounZenit St Petersburg6

Russia is just one of several competitions currently in the process of restarting across Europe. If you would like to get back up-to-speed on the current state of play of the other major leagues which have recently restarted, check out our other refresher pieces on the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Austrian Bundesliga, Portuguese Primeira and the Turkish Super Lig.

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Stats Perform provide pre- and post-match Opta facts for every Russian Premier League game, as well as data-filled match day packs for the biggest fixtures. For more information on these products, or to find out more about Stats Perform’s AI simulation model, get in touch.