The Russian weather warms, the Premier League clubs are feeling the heat of an end of season battle for Europe or survival. The fine performance by Zenit in the Europa League was a spring highlight and accompanied the club’s steady progress at home.
While going out to reigning Champions Sevilla in two very good matches, the St. Petersburg side showed that it is possible to compete on two fronts, contrary to the English commentators.
Only yesterday, before the Everton-Manchester United match, Graeme Souness bemoaned travelling to “far off” parts of Europe and sleeping in “strange beds” had destroyed the Toffee’s season. While it might be okay to claim that Krasnodar might be “far off”, but Lille and Wolfsburg?
I understand that his former team-mate Ian Rush claimed that he couldn’t settle in Italy as it was like living in a foreign country, but Graeme was quite the accomplished traveller and no way is Berne or Kiev far from the beaten track.
And as for Premier League players waking up in “strange beds”, as a man who suffered from tabloid scrutiny, surely he’s read a paper or two?
Zenit, in contrast to Liverpool and Everton (and English sides), have been consistent all season in one of the most competitive leagues for some time.
Krasnodar have proved that solid planning and consistent investment means results and they look set to improve on last years “tiring” Europa League exploits where they had to start in the Second Qualifying Round in Estonia, followed by a two leg win over Diosgyor of Hungary and a play-off victory against Spain’s Real Sociedad.
The southern side’s Russian-born coach, Oleg Kononov, has been impressive since his arrival from the Ukranian League and his Boss, retail magnate Sergey Galitsky, will be no doubt tweeting his delight if the club secure second place.
However, the very real danger remains, that without his hard-earned money, the whole enterprise closes down overnight.
CSKA Moscow have been consistently inconsistent with surprise European results, a win and draw with Manchester City, a draw with Roma and two narrow losses to Bayern Munich.
They have been scoring goals but at the back have been more than suspect. Igor Akinfeev has not been steady since the World Cup, and three losses since the debacle in Podgorica finished any remaining title hopes for the Armymen.
As things stand, they might well be overtaken by Dinamo Moscow who have been in impressive form this year, though surrendering a two goal lead yesterday to Rostov might have damaged their charge.
Unfortunately the club’s potential push for second place would always suffer when the owner (Boris Rotenberg) insists on his son (Boris Jr.) getting a game. It would be funny except it is true. Not good enough for a regular spot in the League of Ireland (or even the Russian First Division), yet starts in the Russian Premier League.
Rubin have been solid this year but are a work in progress. This weekend’s loss to a stuttering Spartak signalled an effective end to European football in 2015-16.
Spartak will be looking to go even further to war with itself in the Summer. Since landing in the Fedun Arena (also known as the Otkritie Arena) in North Moscow, the club have been at their most entertaining (off the pitch) best with the annual ritual offering of the coach position while the man in charge, Murat Yakin, is still trying to build something.
Apparently winning the Swiss League twice and beating Chelsea home and away in the Champions League doesn’t mean he is any good.
The Dzyuba comedy and the batting of eyes in the direction of other coaches contributed to a weakening of resolve in the camp. Lively Dutch striker Promes has been impressive in his 24 games so far with 10 goals in the bank.
The 23-year-old cost a reported €15million from FC Twente and the winger has been looked at by teams in England and Spain, though he needs a better physical training regime to make a step up.
Freefalling Torpedo Moscow look doomed and in danger of going out of business again. Only last week Polish International Adam Kokoszka made public what had been common knowledge, that the club were not paying players (in full or part) since Winter.
Owed four months wages he felt enough was enough and had his contract cancelled. It was a brave move that more players need to do in order to bring the league into reality. Amkar Perm are fighting as always and with two wins in the last three games have given themselves a chance. But with a tough run in they should be in the FNL next year.
Hipster beloved Arsenal Tula are suffering from the downturn in the Russian economy and local government subsidies. If they survive another season in the Premier it will be down to the implosion of teams around them and postponing the inevitable trapdoor.
Ural and Ufa will muddle their way to safety again, with Rostov’s dedicated amateurs being led by Croatian legend Stipe Pletikosa.
Lokomotiv and Kuban will look for European football through the Cup, with the mid-table wobblers facing Gazovik Orenburg (FNL) and CSKA respectively.
Terek’s early promise slipped away as the focus on Chechnya returned to politics, with Mordovia only being noticed when their “white elephant” World Cup stadium coming into the spotlight.
Unless there will be some real shocks, it should be a procession for Zenit to the title, with Krasnodar holding off a CSKA attack on second place and Dinamo, Rubin and Spartak duking it out for the last European spot.
One thing is positive, no club has gone out of business this season and despite the spotlight becoming brighter on fan trouble, the results in Europe and TV coverage has been better.