Russian Premier League: Season Preview

Taken from Transat Sports

After having barely been given any time to rest from the Euros, the new, highly anticipated RPL season is upon us. And it’s going to be a season like no other. 

Following the slightly strange structure of last season, which stretched almost a year and a half in total, this one won’t be quite so arduous, but it’s once again going to test every team and player to their maximum, in a season which in total which will last around 10 months. 

Starting now, and running all the way through to May 2013, except for the winter break  because of the harsh and unforgiving Russian winter, players endurance skills are once again going to be tested to their limits, especially for the teams who are competing in European competition as well. 

Now that the Russian season has adopted the traditional European system of operating from summer/autumn to spring the following year, it’s going to be interesting how each club adapts to this, and with this change in system from the former spring to winter system causing much controversy, with in fact many disagreeing, it’s interesting who’s going to the proved right, the RFS, or the competing club themselves.

But don’t let that detract from what’s going to be a highly exciting and competitive season, with many clubs expected to give last season’s runaway champions Zenit Saint Petersburg a harder run for their money this time around. 

And in a comprehensive preview covering each club, all you need to know about the upcoming season for each club will be covered, starting off with the top 8 clubs from last season, 8 clubs which you would bet against again occupying the top 8 slots of the table again come next May.

Zenit Saint Petersburg- Reigning champions for the past two seasons, and once again heavy favourites to retain their title. But things aren’t quite going as planned in Saint Petersburg this summer. 

Surprisingly being overturned by Rubin in the season opener, the Russian Super Cup, it comes as a slight shock to the system to a team that it used to winning just about all the time. 

The majority of the Zenit team, who play for the Russian national team, look to be suffering a post Euro hangover, and they’re going to have to recover soon if things are going to pick up. 

A lack of transfer activity in the transfer market so far, again, hasn’t improved the mood, but the team as it is still easily has enough firepower and strength to give a strong defence to their title, and when the injured Danny returns from a long term injury in September, things should get only better and better. 

How the team balances Champions League football with domestic matters will be interesting to see once again.

Anzhi Mahachkala- The Manchester City of Russia are now seriously aiming to emulate their English counterparts and take their national title as well. 

Having managed to keep Samuel Eto’o, and adding one of last season’s star strikers Lacina Traore to their ranks, the firepower at their disposal is only growing stronger and stronger, and in turn causing more and more sleepless nights for their fellow competitors. 

Having finished in 5th position last season, a result which was deemed satisfactory by the club having fulfilled their primary objective for the season by qualifying for Europe, they’ll be aiming only higher this season, and I for one certainly expect Anzhi to post the sternest challenge to Zenit’s stronghold and dominance on Russian football. 

If Anzhi are firing on all cylinders, they are practically unbeatable, but last season too many times they operated well below what they are capable of, and this time around, consistency is the key.

CSKA Moscow- Having finished last season so miserably, which culminated in even missing out on Champions League football for the upcoming season, the Army club are looking to sharply make amends this term. 

Having so far at least being able to keep hold of star striker Seydou Doumbia, CSKA will always be a threat going forward, with players such as Keisuke Honda and Euro 2012 star Alan Dzagoev possessing the ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck at any moment, and along with Anzhi and Zenit, will be expected to make a serious attempt at the gold medals.  

But the defence will have to be more reliable at key moments, however, the main thing for the Muscovites has to be keeping hold of stars such as Honda and Doumbia, as without players of this calibre, CSKA are pretty ordinary at best. But expect better than last term, that’s for sure.

Spartak Moscow- 9 years without a trophy is pretty hard to take for any club, let alone perhaps the biggest club in all of mighty Russia. The long suffering Spartak fans have had to deal with disappointment after disappointment, but many are believing that this season, will finally be their season. 

Having pipped their bitter Moscow rivals CSKA to the second and final Champions League berth at the end of last season, confidence is high in the Spartak camp, and realistic talk of taking back their place at the top of the Russian tree is being heard again. 

Over the past years the red and whites have been far too easy to beat when playing in the real big crucial games, and that’s something that has to change if finally a trophy will be returning to Spartak once again. 

With a squad brimming with talent, in particular powerful striker Emannuel Eminike and new Russian defensive prospect Sergey Bryzgalov, if they can find their nerve at the crucial matches in the coming season, who knows, silver could be turning into gold.

Dynamo Moscow- Another club, just like Spartak, which has been starving for success and trophies with a realistic hope that soon could change all for the better. but not in my opinion. 

Dynamo has always had, and has, a team that has just about everything. Experience blended with exciting talented youth, and yet year after year, it materialises into nothing except disappointment. 

Why? Because for whatever reason, they are simply just not good enough. They aren’t helped when in house bust ups, such as what we saw last season between coach Sergey Silkin and captain Andrey Voronin, occur and for one that has to be stamped out if any success is to be on its way. But in terms of individual names and talent, Dynamo fans have every reason to believe. 

New club captain Kevin Kuranyi will be expected to hit the back of the net more frequently, and expect to see some more of exciting Belarusian midfielder Pavel Neykhachik. A place in the top three come the end of the season wouldn’t go amiss.

Lokomotiv Moscow- Perennial underachievers, and out of all the Moscow clubs in the top flight, probably the weakest, if only just. But they’re by no means anyone’s mugs. 

Having signed highly rated midfielder Alexander Samedov from Dynamo, and installing young but sought after Slaven Bilic to lead the team as manager, things are looking up. 

Having failed to qualify for Europe in last season, all their attention can be focused on domestic matters throughout the whole season, and if Bilic can install his mentality upon the team, the only way is up from last season’s 7th place finish. Expect a lot more than what we saw last time around, expect a Croatian revolution. 

While an attempt at challenging the so called big three of Zenit, CSKA, and Anzhi may just be a bit too much to ask, a place in Europe is easily achievable and should be achieved without too much fuss.

Rubin Kazan- Two times Russian champions, in 2008 and 2009, Rubin have pedigree. And having already impressing in beating Zenit 2-0 in the Super Cup last weekend, and beating Dynamo in the Russian Cup final back in May, out of the 3 trophies available in Russia Rubin have a firm grip on 2, and are aiming to return the title of Russian champions let again to Tartastan. But it’s easier said than done. 

Ever since attacking midfielder Alejandro Dominguez left for Spain a few years ago, Rubin have gradually become less and less of a force in the Premier League, and lack the firepower to challenge the fellow big guns when it matters. 

But their ruthless efficiency means that you can never right Rubin off, and with their defence being as strong as ever with the formidable central defensive pairing of Roman Sharonov and Cesar Navas, anything is still possible for one of the most effective teams in Europe let alone Russia.

Kuban Krasnodar- Having shocked everyone at claiming a club record 8 placed finish in last season, a fellow finishing in this season wouldn’t be greeted with any less joy and jubilation. 

Goal machine Lacina Traore has left a gaping hole in the team with his departure to Anzhi, and Dan Petrescu is going to have to work his magic again if they’re going to repeat what happened last season. 

But the core of the team from last year’s success remains, and there is no doubt that Kuban will be as physically strong as always and won’t give up until the last whistle, which is what has brought them so much success and acclaim over the past year and half. 

But a top 8 finish this time around will be a hell of a lot tougher to achieve than it was last season.

Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow me on Twitter @zenitfan93

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