As discussed on this site earlier in the season, FC Rostov are challenging at the top of the Russian Premier League and have cemented themselves in the hearts and minds of (some) fans across Europe as the ‘Leicester City of Russia’.
Like Leicester, this time last year they were riding high after surviving relegation after a late season turnaround. Like Leicester, they have already secured European qualification. But unlike Leicester, they will go into their last game of the season needing a win, and hoping results elsewhere go in their favour, in order to win the league title.
With one game left of the domestic season, FC Rostov have already guaranteed themselves a top-two finish. Whichever way the final round of games goes, this will represent their highest ever league finish by some margin – their previous highest was sixth in 1998.
Their final game sees Rostov travel to Chechnya to face seventh-placed Terek Grozny. Grozny have a relatively mean defence by Russian standards, may pose Rostov some problems. The reverse fixture this season saw the two clubs play out a 1-1 draw in Rostov-on-Don, a game in which Rostov took the lead only to be pegged back by Grozny. It will take an improved performance from Rostov to get the win against a tough Grozny side, but Rostov are on a three-game winning streak and have only lost one game in their last ten.
Sitting two points ahead of Rostov is CSKA Moscow, a titan of Russian football lead by Leonid Slutsky (who also manages the Russian national side). A win would guarantee Slutsky’s men the title for the third time in four years, reclaiming the title from Zenit St. Petersburg.
On paper, CSKA have a simpler tie, as they travel to tenth placed Rubin Kazan. Kazan concedes a lot of goals and doesn’t score too many themselves, so it is hard to look beyond CSKA for this one, particularly as CSKA are also on a three-match winning run. CSKA have already beaten Kazan 3-0 at home this season, back in the first few rounds of the tournament, and Kazan comes into the fixture on the back of a five-match winless run. Unfortunately, all signs point to a CSKA away win over Rubin Kazan, therefore handing CSKA the title.
Should CSKA draw and Rostov win, they will finish the season on equal points, but this would still be unlikely to be enough for Rostov to clinch the title. Russian Premier League rules state that teams that are level are separated first by a number of wins (they would both be level) and then by goal difference. Currently, CSKA Moscow are six goals better off than Rostov, meaning that Rostov would have to thump Terek Grozny in order to claim the title, in the event of a draw in Kazan.
Disappointingly for those of us who love to see the underdogs doing well, it seems highly unlikely that FC Rostov will emulate Leicester City and win the Russian Premier League. Nevertheless, this should not be seen as too much of a disappointment for the club, and they should rightly be proud of the excellent season that the club has enjoyed – its best ever in the RPL so far. If they can build on their success this season, they could easily challenge again next year after coming so close this time around.