PFC CSKA Moskva and FC Amkar Perm will kick off the new Russian season on Friday afternoon, but FC Rubin Kazan may once more be the team to watch as they bid for a third successive title.
Alejandro Domínguez's departure for Valencia CF has not taken the heart out of Kurban Berdyev's team, and they have brought in some quality additions including former FC Zenit St. Petersburg striker Fatih Tekke and midfielder Bebers Natcho, who lined up against them in the UEFA Europa League for Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC. The coach is happy enough with the winter trading, noting: "The government of Tatarstan has done all we demanded of them, including fulfilling all our requests in transfer terms."
Runners-up last season, FC Spartak Moskva have freshened up with the signings of Czech defender Marek Suchý, Montenegro midfielder Nikola Drinčić and Brazilian striker Ari, while Aleksandr Sheshukov has returned to his old club following FC Moskva's exclusion from the league. Coach Valeri Karpin was not satisfied though, saying: "We wanted to buy more players but they did not want to come to Russia. I don't know if it will be harder than last season but I am positive."
Under newly-arrived Italian coach Luciano Spalletti, Zenit have much to prove, but Russian and Serbian internationals Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Danko Lazović look handy signings, while FC Lokomotiv Moskva have made canny acquisitions in Dmitri Tarasov and former FC Dynamo Kyiv midfielder Oleksandr Aliyev. "The least we are aiming for is a top-three finish; at best we are going for gold," said midfielder Oleg Kuzmin. "However, eight of ten teams have similar targets."
CSKA have put their faith in Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda; a star in the Netherlands with VVV-Venlo, though a 1-0 loss to Rubin in the Russian Super Cup last weekend suggested they may not be ready for a title charge. FC Dinamo Moskva also fancy their chances, having signed Aleksei Rebko, Aleksandr Samedov, Ukraine's Andriy Voronin, Moldova's Alexandru Epureanu and Lithuania's Edgaras Česnauskis.
Keeping a grip on the bigger clubs' coat-tails may be all that the remaining contenders can hope for, but keep an eye out for ambitious FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast, of whom district governor Boris Gromov has demanded a top-five finish, and FC Rostov, who will be led by former Soviet Union and Ukraine striker Oleg Protasov.
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