The Russian Premier League kicks-off this weekend in what will be the 21st season of the Russian football league since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It will be the first season in Russian football history to be played during the more common European football calendar rather than previously playing during the ‘off season’, because of their weather conditions. Zenit St. Petersburg last season defended their title and will be looking to win it for a third consecutive time and fourth overall after winning their first league in 2007. They are the new superpower of Russian football. Their first fixture sees them host less fancied Amkar who finished in 13th place last season.
Zenit finished two points above CSKA to win the title last season, losing only three matches, winning 17 and drawing 10. They fully deserved the championship as they scored the most goals in the league, 59 in 30 matches, and conceded the least goals with 25. Their home record was impressive conceding just seven times in 15 matches, scoring 30 goals. They also lost just one home match, drawing five and winning nine. Zenit are still trying to get back Andre Arshavin who made a return to his boyhood club on loan last season to help lead them to the title. However, they have enough quality in their squad to defend their title. There are experienced Russian players like Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who was the league’s second top scorer last season with 16 goals, Portuguese duo Bruno Alvez and Danny, as well as some Italian flavour with two talented players brought in by the experienced former coach of many Serie A clubs, Luciano Spalletti.
Amkar have spent nine seasons in the Russian Premier League with not much to boast for except a fourth place finish in 2008, when Zenit finished three points behind them in fifth place. They finished in 13th position last season, mainly due to their poor away form which saw them win just one match on the road, drawing five and losing nine matches. Goalscoring was also a problem. The minnows bagged just 20 goals in 30 matches, conceding 39 in the process.
Zenit featured in the annual season opener last weekend, the Super Cup, which is contested between the league winners and the cup winners. They disappointingly lost 2-0 to Rubin Kazan. They will be keen to start the league on a different note and look a banker bet to do so. In the 17 matches these sides have met, Zenit have come out tops in 10 of those, drawing six and losing just once to Amkar. The home win is confidently tipped.