Artem Chobanian

Whilst almost all leagues in Europe are just shaking themselves out of their summer daze and beginning the new campaign afresh, in Russia the season is nearing its end. The fight to be crowed champions of that vast country, to claim European spots for the 2010/11 competitions, and to avoid slipping into the harshness of the second tier, is gaining pace.

After the 2008 season ended almost everyone in Russia was united in their belief that Rubin Kazan, who had shocked the nation by winning the title, could not do it again. But what has been witnessed in 2009 has been Kurban Berdyev’s men once again sweeping all before them, the recent 5-1 drubbing of Saturn Ramenskoe being an excellent example. Whether they will make an impression in the Champions League is yet to be known, but domestically they remain in the driving seat.

Six clubs chase Rubin in the title race and perhaps the most extraordinary performance amongst them has come from the team that dominated the 90s, Spartak Moscow. At Spartak a trio made up of two former players and a former coach have worked together to create a competitive unit. Coach Sergei Rodionov, director come chief executive Valery Karpin and consultant Oleg Romantsev have, between them, made crucial changes to Spartak. Currently sitting in second place, even if the club fail to catch Rubin, maintaining their position would be considered success, and the Champions League would beckon.

CSKA Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have been unable to get a proper challenge going, and each have suffered problems. At CSKA, the club management became disillusioned with Brazilian coach Zico, who just could not surpass Rubin, and was then overtaken by great rivals Spartak. After the charismatic and influential Valery Gazzaev, perhaps it did not matter who slipped into the CSKA hot-seat, they could not live up to the great man. Now Juande Ramos has arrived, but only with a contract until the end of the campaign, so the Spaniard remains very much on trial. Whether he can help CSKA to catch Spartak and Rubin remains to be seen. His tenure would need to be almost flawless to do it though.

At Lokomotiv Moscow, Yuri Semin returned as coach following an impressive spell with Dynamo Kyiv. From an attacking style at Dynamo, Semin changed in Moscow, building a hard to beat group. The result? Plenty of draws, too many. The loss of Dinjar Bilyaletdinov to Everton has also dealt the club a blow and Semin will need to work magic to secure the Champions League football that would allow him to demand the reinforcements he needs from the club’s owners.

Up in Saint Petersburg meanwhile, Zenit seem determined to follow the path laid out by Ajax in the mid-90s: That of winning everything but then selling key players and slowly sinking. Anatoly Tymoschuk, Andrei Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Alejandro Dominguez and coach Dick Advocaat have all left and now the club will undergo a period of transition. Russian football continues to need a strong Zenit, if only as a counterbalance to Moscow’s power.

The mid-table of the Premier League contains no surprises with Dynamo Moscow and Amkar Perm perhaps under-performing. Amkar have not yet solved their problems and continue to slide.

Dynamo Moscow have always been an ambitious club that just lack that extra something to go on and grab silverware. For the previous two seasons Dynamo were fighting for a place in the top five, but this year, with defeat in the Europa League and a poor domestic display, their fans can forget about Europe.

Amongst the remaining clubs, FK Moscow have shown promise. Last season was a poor one under former Ukraine manager Oleh Blohin, but with Miodrag Bozhovic in charge the club have pushed themselves up to the verge of a top five finish. If they can dislodge Zenit from that group then returning European football to the Eduard Streltsov Stadium will be a special achievement.

Towards the bottom of the Premier League, Saturn Ramenskoe, Krylia Sovetov, Terek Grozny, Rostov and Tom Tomsk should be safe from the drop, but as usual continued top flight football is the best they can hope for.

Spartak Nalchik and Khimki look like remaining in the bottom two spots come the end of the season, though a stirring revival from Nalchik cannot be ruled out altogether. Khimki especially owe their poor state to a lack of sponsorship and as the money has dried up so has the talent.

Rubin Kazan should be able to hold on for a second successive title, which would be a fantastic achievement. The club’s ambitions go beyond the Premier League as they will look to make some sort of impact in Europe. Increased competition can only be good for Russian football and the Moscow sides will once again have to up their game.

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