FC Zenit St Petersburg have lifted the Russian Premier League title for the second successive season thanks to a 2-1 victory against FC Dinamo Moskva. As a result the Sine-Belo-Golubye have earned themselves a place in the group stage of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League. UEFA.com looks at the decisive factors in their third championship success.
This is Zenit's fourth trophy under their Italian coach, after a league and cup double in 2010 and last year's Russian Super Cup. Spalletti was named as the best coach by Russian Football Union (RFU) last term and is the leading contender for the prize again. In an 18-month season, due to a transition from the spring-autumn format to the autumn-spring calendar favoured by the majority of Europe, Zenit have suffered only three defeats. A pair of 2-0 victories against PFC CSKA Moskva confirmed Zenit as the best team in the country and their coach's reputation for smart tactical football.
Not many remember now that Zenit trailed CSKA by seven points last summer. However, the Moscow club's form slipped and injuries to key players decisively hampered their challenge. Dinamo dropped too many points at the beginning of the campaign and a slow start left FC Spartak Moskva with a lot to do.
Zenit have been unusually quiet in the market of late, but their new policy of bringing in one star player in every transfer window has paid off in spades. Last summer they captured Genoa CFC's Italian international defender Domenico Criscito, who has missed only one match, while Andrey Arshavin rejoined on loan from Arsenal FC in February. Despite an initial lack of match sharpness, Arshavin ultimately proved a shrewd replacement for the injured Danny, a fine goal against CSKA reminding supporters of his talents.
With Spartak, CSKA and FC Rubin Kazan suffering from injuries and suspensions, Zenit enjoyed a stroke of good fortune. Long-time absentees Sergei Semak and Vladimir Bystrov were successfully replaced by the likes of Viktor Fayzulin, whose progress has been noticeable, while Arshavin stepped in for Danny and Szabolcs Huszti has also come to the fore.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov's goals
An ankle injury at the start of October meant that the striker missed more than five months of action, an absence which probably ended his challenge to CSKA's Seydou Doumbia as the league's top scorer. Kerzhakov has still managed 22 goals and nine assists, and at 29 he feels there is more to come. "I don't feel like a veteran," Kerzhakov said. "I feel like I'm 18. The most important thing is to avoid injuries. If I stay healthy than I will have enough power. My dream is to see the star on the Zenit shirt when we get our fifth Russian league title." For player and club, the good times show no signs of stopping yet.
Luciano Spalletti, Zenit coach
This time we achieved a tremendous result. This success can be added to the list of Saint Petersburg's greatest victories. There are a lot of monuments in the city and our success can be become one of them. It's not just a victory. I see it as a masterpiece as we achieved an impressive margain of victory over the strongest teams like CSKA, Spartak and Rubin. You need a job to be done well by many people to make a masterpiece.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Zenit forward
We don't feel the real joy yet, we're too tired for it. The second half was difficult, as we had to play without the ball a lot, so it's tough for us right now. We'll enjoy the success tomorrow, but now we're tired. We'll have enough time to celebrate and make a party on 6 May when we host Spartak.
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