Russia: Zenit favourites as extra-long campaign begins
The Russian Premier League kicks off this weekend with a prolonged season in store. The league has decided to switch to a more conventional autumn-spring season, as used in most other major European leagues, and will see the 2011-12 campaign last for a much longer than usual eighteen months before reverting back to the usual nine month season from 2012-13.
Zenit Saint Petersburg are the defending champions having dominated the 2010 campaign which they led for all but one round of matches. Coach Luciano Spalletti has resisted the overtures of major European clubs and will lead Zenit for a second campaign and his team remain favourites to win consecutive league titles. Their main challengers are expected to come from Rubin Kazan, back-to-back champions in 2008 and 2009, as well as the traditional powerhouses of CSKA and Spartak Moscow. One team who could also throw their weight behind a title challenge is Dynamo Moscow with a squad including players of experience such as Andriy Voronin, Kevin Kuranyi and Zvjezdan Misimović. The championship trophy hasn’t been lifted by a capital side since 2006 and for the success starved Moscovites it is imperative that the clubs can, at the very least, push the champions all the way this time around.
There has also been some interesting developments lower down the pecking order with clubs such as Terek Grozny and Anzhi Makhachkala showing their ambitious streak by making some unexpected signings. Terek, the flag-bearers of the Chechnya region, have brought in Dutch legend Ruud Gullit to manage the club whilst Anzhi, who hail from the southern province of Dagestan, have added to their playing roster by signing veteran Brazilian World Cup winner Roberto Carlos in what has been heralded as a major coup for the club. Sadly things haven’t been so kind to FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast who had to forfeit their place in the RPL due to going bankrupt and Amkar Perm have only recently given assurances about their finances in order to continue their participation.
Amongst the newly-promoted clubs last season’s First Division (2nd tier) champions FK Kuban Krasnodar, coached by former Romanian international Dan Petrescu, are joined by local rivals FK Krasnodar and FK Volga from Russia’s fourth largest city Nizhny Novgorod. All three clubs have made major changes to their squads bringing in dozens of new players in the hope that they can last in what should be a long, arduous campaign. All sixteen teams play their opponents on a round-robin, home and away basis with the first stage of the league completed after thirty games. Following this the league will split into two – a Championship Group (used to determine the championship and UEFA club qualification) and a Relegation Group (to sort out which three teams will go down at the end of the season). After the completion of the second stage each team will have played 44 matches and it will certainly be the case that whoever comes out on top will have earned it the hard way.
MATCHDAY 1 FIXTURES
Anzhi Makhachkala v FK Krasnodar
Spartak Nalchik v Krylia Sovetov Samara
Lokomotive Moscow v Dynamo Moscow
FK Kuban Krasnodar v Rubin Kazan
CSKA Moscow v Amkar Perm
Terek Grozny v Zenit Saint Petersburg
FK Volga Nizhny Novgorod v Tom Tomsk
FK Rostov v Spartak Moscow