Russian league set to resume after winter break
The Russian Premiership league resumes this weekend after the winter break with a match which could go a long way toward deciding who will win the title this year.
Reigning champions Zenit St Petersburg and their closest challengers CSKA Moscow, who are both still in the Champions League, will face off at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium Saturday.
A win for Zenit, who have strengthened their squad by taking Russian international skipper Andrei Arshavin on loan until the end of the season, would give them a commanding nine-point lead over CSKA with only 11 matches remaining.
"I expect a tough and interesting match on Saturday," said Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti.
"Both teams played well in their Champions League matches and should come into the head-to-head clash in good spirits."
CSKA, who also strengthened their squad with defender Pontus Vernbloom of Sweden, South Korean midfielder Kim In Sung and Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa coming in, will be aiming to take all three points.
"We still have some certain personnel problems. However, we have no other choice but to win," said CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky. "A win for Zenit on Saturday would virtually end our hopes of winning the title."
Meanwhile, ambitious Anzhi Makhachkala will restart with a match at Moscow against third-placed Dynamo.
The club from the dangerous region of Dagestan have already made a big stir in the domestic league with a set of big signings.
Anzhi, which was purchased last year by oil and metal magnate Suleiman Kerimov, managed to attract Cameroon star striker Samuel Eto'o and Brazilian World Cup winner Roberto Carlos to a team that had been previously made up of players with little recognition even in Russia.
Anzhi also bolstered their line-up by bringing in Russian wing-back Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea and Congolese full back Christopher Samba from Blackburn Rovers.
On top of that Kerimov managed to persuade Dutch coaching legend Guus Hiddink to take over at the club, who are currently in seventh place, 13 points behind leaders Zenit.
The 65-year-old Dutchman has expressed enthusiasm over the chances of his new side.
"My first week in the new team was really splendid," Hiddink said. "We were practicing in excellent conditions in Turkey, laying solid foundations for the upcoming season."
"We played several friendy matches which showed we're moving in the right direction."
"On Monday we start with a match against Dynamo. I just can't wait for the kick-off."
Nine-time champions Spartak Moscow are also hoping to better their position, aiming a place in the top three by the end of the season along with another Moscow side Lokomotiv, who showed good form last year under Portuguese coach Jose Couceiro.
Tough battles were expected in the lower regions of the table between the league's minnows, who will battle it out to avoid relegation.
The two teams finishing 15th and 16th will be relegated, while the two teams above them will playoff against the third and fourth placed teams from the second division.
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