Friday, September 26, 2008

League of the Week: Russia / Premjer Liga

Welcomski once again to League of the Week, and before we start, no - this probably won't be the last comrade-like gag in this article because yes - this week we're turning our attention towards Russia.

First of all, a note to the more observant amongst you. It was suggested last week that we feature the American MLS as our next LoTW, but that will now be next week instead. (Apologies if you'd been gearing up all week for that.)

So, what's to know about Russian football and more specifically the Russian Premier League? Well first of all, you have to understand that in both cases, it's dominated by the Moscow-based clubs - Dynamo, Spartak, Lokomotiv, CSKA and FC Moscow. Between them (well, three of them), they've carved up the Role of Honour and taken 14 of the previous 15 titles. Spartak have been the most successful, winning nine times in the ten seasons between 1992 and 2001, while Lokomotiv won in 2002 and 2004 and CSKA won in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Adding a touch of variation and interest to the proceedings, are Zenit Saint Petersburg, the team from the north-west of Russia who raised a few eyebrows by taking last season's Premier League title. A jolly close run thing it was too as they finished only two points ahead of Spartak, but it was good enough to earn them an automatic place in the Champions League this season where they were generously drawn in the same group as Juventus and Real Madrid. Lovely.

Back at home, Zenit, now led by Dick Advocaat, have struggled to maintain their amazing form of last season and are currently 8th in the sixteen-team league with only nine games left to play. Realistically, the best they can hope for is a UEFA Cup place for 2009/10 and their run-in begins tomorrow with an away tie against the team directly above them in the table, Lokomotiv Moscow.

Currently sitting on top of the pile are another surprise package a-la Zenit - Rubin Kazan. The team located south-east of Moscow have a very healthy nine-point lead ahead of nearest challengers, Dynamo, and have only lost two games out of 22 thus far. Ably assisted by the curious pairing of Sergei Rebrov and Savo Milosevic, they won seven straight games at the start of the season (thereby setting a new league record) and despite losing the plot temporarily, they're back, back, back in fine form once again. This weekend, they're up against FC Moscow, so we think that'll be another three points to add to their total.

As we said, Dynamo are desperately trying to close that rather noticeable gap between them and Rubin, and you can't say they haven't been trying. They're currently on an unbeaten run in the league that stretches back to July 20th (their season runs from March to November, by the way). This Saturday they're off to sixth-placed Krylya Sovetov where they may have to settle for a draw, we feel.

The Russians are particularly fond of an unknown quantity, and the team currently third in the RPL are another. Amkar Perm (insert a hairdressing joke of your own choice here) are situated east of Moscow and have battled their way to within a single point of Dynamo just above them.

And here's something for all you trivia fans out there: geographically-speaking, Amkar are the most Easterly-located team playing top flight football anywhere in Europe. You're impressed, we can tell...

This Saturday, Amkar are off to Saturn - Saturn Ramenskoe, that is. Occasionally known as 'FC Saturn Moscow Oblast' to their friends, their enemies call them by their full name - 'State-Owned Enterprise of the Moscow Region, Football Club Saturn Moscow Region.' Probably best to refer to them by their nickname: 'The Aliens'…

And what of the Moscow giants currently occupying fourth and fifth places in the table - CSKA and Spartak? Well, they finished third and second respectively last season and secured a passage through to this season's UEFA Cup (albeit as a second-best option, as far as Spartak were concerned).

Michael Laudrup's team were pitted up against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round but were beaten 4-1 at home and away, so they join CSKA in the competition they'll all be calling the Europa League one day. (Not until then, mind you.)

As for CSKA, they’re the Army club that actually won the UEFA Cup back in 2005 and with the likes of current top goalscorer Vagner Love and Russian international defender Yuri Zhirakov in their side, they may well do so again. They've already beaten Croatian side Slaven Belupo 2-1in the First Round first leg earlier this month and should make it through to the group stage when they meet again on October 2nd.

Elsewhere, Spartak aim to build on their 1-0 first leg victory over Banik Ostrava while FC Moscow (fourth last year) will have to come from 2-1 down against Copenhagen if they're to progress with them.

FC Moscow are one of a number of middling clubs that may have to settle for just staying in the top flight this season. Among them are Terek Grozny, runners-up from the Russian First Division last year, currently twelfth in the table and doing somewhat better than the team that came up with them, First Division champions Shinnik Yaroslavl. Shinnik are two points adrift at the bottom of the current RPL table and occupy one of the two relegation places along with FC Khimki in 15th. This Sunday sees Terek playing Khimki while Shinnik play host to Spartak.

And that pretty much covers everything you need to know about the Premier League. We're heading Stateside next week to check out what's happening as the MLS season comes to an end, but for now don't forget that if you have any suggestions for a future League of the Week, leave us a comment or get in touch at our usual email address: info [at] spaotp [dot] com. Until next time, "do svidaniya"...


Anonymous said...

You could do the Israeli Ligat Al. Not many people know too much about it, but the information is easily available.

Chris O said...

Well thank you very much for that kind suggestion. We shall certainly keep that in mind for our League of the Week in a fortnight's time... :)

Scaryduck said...

I love the translation of Kyryla Sovetov Samara = "Wings of the Soviets"

Chris O said...

How marvellous! Slightly sinister too, if I'm right in reading 'Russian Air Force' into that translation...

chris c paul said...

goodski articlev

Argentine league would be good- Dominated as it is by traditional River-Boca rivalries but with other teams vying for the top spots to.

Uruguyan league- sex and drugs and penyarol....

And do chad have a football league?

Chris O said...

Hi Chris C Paul... thanks for the suggestion and your complement. I think we can definitely take in Argentina and Uruguay on our LoTW route.

Chad? Hmmm... we'll get back to you on that one... :)


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