A draw for FC Zenit St Petersburg at home to PFC CSKA Moskva on Wednesday will be enough to secure the Russian Premier League title with three games to spare, but Luciano Spalletti's charges are taking nothing for granted.
"We can't celebrate just yet," warned defender Nicolas Lombaerts. "In 2007, 61 points was enough to seal the title. Now we have two points more and it doesn't guarantee a thing. The fight for the title is still alive and any setback could be costly. We have strong rivals, so we need to go for the win."
Such caution does not quite tally with a team whose success this season has been based on Spalletti's commitment to free-flowing football. Zenit average two goals per game and an eight-point advantage at the summit looks decidedly comfortable for a side that have lost just once in 26 league outings to date.
CSKA, however, are eager to "spoil St Petersburg's party" according to Army Men defender Sergei Ignashevich. "We have only slim hopes of first place but we are maintaining our challenge for the second spot," he said following a taxing 4-3 weekend win at FC Krylya Sovetov Samara. "I hope we have enough strength for Wednesday's game. I'm sure we will."
Sunday's triumph left CSKA 12 matches unbeaten in all competitions – nine of them wins – as they vie with titleholders FC Rubin Kazan for the second UEFA Champions League group stage place. A three-goal win at a packed Petrovsky Stadium would leave top spot within CSKA's reach, leaving a nervous Zenit needing four points from their last three outings to guarantee silverware.
However, that scenario is not giving sleepless nights to Zenit midfielder Sergei Semak, who has won two titles with Rubin in the past two years to add to the 2003 championship he claimed at CSKA. "The media always creates tension – it's one of the most difficult aspects of a footballer's life," he said. "But we will cope with it. Our coach, Luciano Spalletti, knows what to tell us before games like these."
Whatever the former AS Roma boss has been saying so far this season has certainly been working. Appointed last December, the Italian guided Zenit to their first Russian Cup in 11 years in May and the St Petersburg outfit, like CSKA, are through to the UEFA Europa League round of 32 with two games to spare.
The league title would eclipse all that: given Zenit's form this term and an unbeaten home record stretching back to August 2009, few will be betting against them.
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