The epic, transitional Russian season restarts this weekend with a top-of-the table clash between champions FC Zenit St Petersburg and second-ranked PFC CSKA Moskva. Zenit lead CSKA by six points as the campaign enters its decisive second phase, which sees the top eight play each other home and away until May in a concentrated battle for the title – taking their points totals from 2011 with them. UEFA.com looks at the weekend ahead.
FC Zenit St Petersburg (1) v PFC CSKA Moskva (2)
With the UEFA Champions League challengers missing their first-choice goalkeepers, CSKA are expected to field Sergei Revyakin – who will not be 17 until 2 April. South Korean midfielder Kim In-Sung, a midwinter signing, may also get a place in Leonid Slutski's side.
Zenit's hand, meanwhile, has been strengthened by former captain Andrey Arshavin's loan return from Arsenal FC, with the 30-year-old charged with covering for the injured Danny. "He is very skilful, has great intuition and pace, can explode and create a chance out of nothing," said Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti. "But on top of that he needs to be able to work for the team."
FC Rubin Kazan (5) v FC Spartak Moskva (4)
Rubin, in fifth, ended 2011 on a high by beating CSKA and FC Dinamo Moskva and clinching a place in the UEFA Europa League round of 32. They have since been eliminated from the latter competition by Olympiacos FC, though, while midfielder Christian Noboa moved to Dinamo and coach Kurban Berdyev offered his resignation – which the club refused. Forward Sergey Davydov's arrival from FC Kuban Krasnodar lifts spirits a little.
Fourth-ranked Spartak's only significant winter recruit was Everton FC’s Russian international midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. "It makes no sense to buy players in bulk because we already have a strong squad," said Spartak coach and chief executive Valeri Karpin.
FC Dinamo Moskva (3) v FC Anzhi Makhachkala (7)
Defeat by Rubin in their last game of 2011 took some gloss off a fine autumn for third-placed Dinamo, who also lost goalkeeper Anton Shunin to injury. The 37-year-old Roman Berezovski joins from FC Khimki to cover for him, with Noboa and Balázs Dzsudzsák being the higher-profile signings. Coach Sergei Silkin said: "Officially our target is to finish top five but the boys want more and they can do it."
Anzhi, in seventh, have landed Blackburn Rovers FC defender Christopher Samba, Russia Under-21 midfielder Oleg Shatov and FC Alania Vladikavkaz captain Georgi Gabulov, as well as hiring ex-Russia coach Guus Hiddink, who promised: "I will do everything to make sure our football matches the club's ambitions."
FC Lokomotiv Moskva (6) v FC Kuban Krasnodar (8)
Sixth at the end of the regular season, Lokomotiv have acquired Russia forward Roman Pavlyuchenko from Tottenham Hotspur FC. The Railway Boys took just one point from their last four outings of 2011, yet key midfielders Dmitri Loskov and Vladislav Ignatyev are back from injury.
Although eighth-ranked Kuban saw striker Davydov leave for Rubin, incoming Zenit midfielder Aleksei Ionov and FC Krylya Sovetov Samara counterpart Anton Sosnin show promise, as do the signings of Armenia attacker Marcos Pizzelli from FC Metalurh Donetsk and Moldova goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco from Lokomotiv.
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