sports blog by andy shenk

Zenit Will Three-Peat

In Russian Football on April 26, 2013 at 12:51 PM

Published at Russian Football News, I make some late-season Premier League predictions. Click here or at the bottom of this excerpt to read the entire article. 

Forget the talk about CSKA and Anzhi knocking Zenit from their perch atop Russian football. Despite an early-season slump which saw Zenit pick up five points from five matches between August 25 – September 29, brought on in part by squad turmoil after the flashy Hulk and Witsel signings, St. Petersburg’s flagship club will nip CSKA on the final day of the season thanks to a superior head-to-head record. That’s right, on May 26, Zenit and CSKA will finish with 66 points apiece, eight clear of Anzhi, but Zenit’s 3-1 away win to CSKA last August will be the difference as the men in sky blue celebrate a third-consecutive Premier League crown after wrapping up a win on Amkar Perm’s artificial pitch, 1,500 kilometers from home. Cue the confetti for Zenit’s Italian maestro Luciano Spalletti.

In the first Russian Premier League season to be contested on a fall-spring schedule, five different teams have topped the table, Zenit, Spartak, Terek, CSKA and Anzhi. Yet it is CSKA that have been the undisputed favorites since passing Anzhi on October 28 for 1st place in the league, a spot they’ve yet to relinquish. The Army Men’s balance is easily noted by league bests in goals scored (44) and goals conceded (19).  Eight points up on Zenit with seven matches to play, CSKA’s 4th title in 11 years, and 1st since 2006, appeared wrapped up, but recent draws with rival Moscow clubs Spartak and Dinamo have allowed Zenit to close the gap to four points. With the late-season schedule favoring the challengers, CSKA fans are due for heartbreak.

Zenit face Kuban, Rostov and Amkar away and Alania and Volga at home, one of the easiest remaining slates in the league. CSKA, meanwhile, play at Rubin, Lokomotiv and Rostov, together with home games against Terek and Kuban. With the exception of Rostov, every team on CSKA’s schedule is still in contention for European competition next season. Zenit, conversely, on paper has only difficult match-up remaining – a trip to Krasnodar to play Kuban on Sunday.

The Premier League crown will be sweet validation for Zenit’s embattled manager, Luciano Spalletti, and the roster of foreign and domestic stars. Despite disappointing in Champions League group play and bouncing out to Basel in the Europa League round of 16, Zenit will be re-energized for another run at European glory in 2013/14.

Years from now, we may look back on Zenit’s string of four titles in six years as the end of an era in Russian football. The balance of power in the league is broadening its base, with Anzhi the most recent example, but other clubs such as Dinamo, Krasnodar, Kuban, and Terek also determined to build legacies of their own in the 21st century. Together with Zenit, CSKA, Rubin, Spartak and Lokomotiv, the odds that one club will dominate for years on end are growing slimmer. Improved infrastructure in advance of the 2018 World Cup and the potential United Championship with Ukraine, with its generous revenue-sharing system, could balance the playing field even further for the top 10 clubs in the league (though major problems remain for bottom-of-the-table clubs and Russia’s lower divisions).

As I peer into my crystal ball, what else can be expected from the final five weeks of the season? Eight clubs, after all, are fighting for up to four Europa League places, while six clubs at the bottom are at risk of relegation.

Continue reading at Russian Football News.


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