Clubs from Moscow are primed to dominate the 14th Russian championship when it starts on Saturday.
By Pavle Gognidze
The 14th Russian league championship starts on Saturday with the new season promising to be just as exciting as the last when FC Lokomotiv Moskva clinched the title on the final day.
The Football Union of Russia has introduced new rules on overseas players, with each side now only permitted to field five at any time. An exception will be made for those who have played more than ten international games, meaning high-profile Brazilian players such as PFC CSKA Moskva recruit Dudu Cearense and FC Spartak Moskva's Vágner Love will be subject to the restriction.
There was plenty of transfer activity in the lead up to the new season. CSKA paid €3.5m for Dudu but saw influential duo Jiri Jarošik and Sergei Semak depart. Dinamo brought in several Portuguese players including Derlei and Jorge Ribeiro, the brother of Maniche, and could make a real impact with distinguished Russian coach Oleg Romantsev at the helm. Lokomotiv's defence will be strengthened somewhat by the arrival of Aleksei Bugaev, Igor Lebedenko and Sergei Omelianchuk.
Recent seasons have seen a fierce rivalry between Lokomotiv and CSKA but other clubs are expected to mount a challenge this time around. While FC Krylya Sovetov Samara, who have just signed the experienced Ukrainian international Andriy Husin, and FC Zenit St. Peterburg will be serious contenders, much more is expected of Spartak and Dinamo as each looks to restore former glories under new ownership and new coaches.
Following the recruitment of former Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs in September, Spartak appear to have bought wisely in recruiting talent from Russia (Denis Boyarintsev), Czech Republic (Radoslav Kovac), Austria (Emanuel Pogatetz) and, unsurprisingly, Latvia (Andrejs Rubins). The return of Spartak's favourite wayward son, playmaker Yegor Titov, after a one-year suspension provides another boost.
Zenit, Torpedo, Krylya Sovetov and FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast will all be setting their sights on European qualification, but only Zenit look like matching the Muscovite challenge. FC Moskva and FC Shinnik Yaroslavl will no doubt have designs on troubling the leading pack, while FC Alania Vladikavkaz, FC Rubin Kazan, FC Amkar Perm, FC Rostov and Premier League debutants FC Terek Grozny and FC Tom Tomsk can expect a battle for survival.