At the half-way turn of the Russian Premier League, two teams, Lokomotiv and Zenit, look to be the prime contenders for winning the competition.
The Russian Premier League has constantly grown in reputation in recent years as is now viewed as one of the more exciting competitions in Europe. It’s a league that features strong rivalries passed down through generations, fiercely devoted supporters and, of course, large sums of money floating around.
Who are the league’s top contenders?
After 16 matchdays, two teams seem to have made the biggest impact and are generally backed by bookies to go down to the end in winning the competition. Zenit St. Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moskow are two of Russia’s biggest sides. They are also teams that European football fans will be familiar with from their participation in international competitions in recent years.
Zenit finished last season in 3rd place. The performance was deemed disappointing. Roberto Mancini replaced Mircea Lucescu as team manager and with €85 million at his disposal, began reorganizing the team, bringing in players. A particular focus seems to have been placed on Argentine players, with five arriving at Zenit.
The team is currently in second place, three points behind leaders Lokomotiv. Recent weeks have proven problematic, with the team unable to win in their last four encounters. Aleksandr Kokorin has been one of the league’s top performers Leandro Paredes has proven to be one of Zenit’s biggest assets, as he showed his worth in the team’s 5-1 victory over Spartak, earlier this season. In many ways, it was the victory that announced Zenit as an important contender for the title.
Lokomotiv Moscow is currently running the show in the Russian league. The team finished 8th in the league last season. Winning the Cup was the side’s sole consolation. Manager Yury Semin has made the best of the resources he has needed to deal with at Lokomotiv. Also, their transfer policy, generally made on the cheap, has proven successful. Younger players have also been given a chance to break into the squad and have, generally, made the best of their opportunity.
The team has displayed excellent mental fortitude. Their level mental toughness could prove to be what takes the side to the top of the league table come the end of the season. Away victories to some of their top rivals in the league (including CSKA and Zenit), have gone to prove that Lokomotiv is in for the long haul this season.
Who are the year’s disappointments?
Spartak Moscow is, in many ways, this season’s top underperformer. The team won the title last year and their objective was to do the same this season. The team lingers around mid-table, currently in fifth place. It certainly seems to be a case of the team trying to do too much in too many places. Spartak has performed well in Europe, against top teams like Sevilla and Liverpool. The team will need to greatly improve in the second part of the season.
CSKA Moscow is a way off the level expected by fans, with the team in fourth place. The team’s failure to win the championship last season, finishing second, was considered a disappointment. Fans of the club will be in good spirits after the opening of the club’s new 30.000 capacity stadium. This, however, has reportedly left the team in considerable debt. CSKA may still get back in contention for the title if they can string a number of good results.
It may be unfair to speak of Dinamo Moscow as a disappointment yet. The team promoted in the first division after one year stay in the second tier. Regardless, expectations are high for the side. They now sit in 15th place (out of 16 teams) and are the worst performers of the newly promoted sides this season. Should things not change dramatically, it looks like Dinamo could return to the second league quicker then they expected.