No clear leader in Russian Premier League before the winter break

First place of Lokomotiv is the main sensation of 2013. Source: Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti

First place of Lokomotiv is the main sensation of 2013. Source: Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti

The Russian football season still lacks a leading team at the halfway mark in the season, with St. Petersburg Zenit and Moscow Lokomotiv sharing the top spot.

Over the weekend, the first half of the Russian Premier League season ended with 19 out of 30 tours played. But unlike in previous years, this season a clear favorite has not emerged.

Zenit from St. Petersburg and Moscow Lokomotiv lead the standings with the same number of points. Moscow Spartak, which won six times in eight final rounds, is just one point behind the leaders. Meanwhile, Makhachkala Anzhi looks like a hopeless outsider after losing all its football stars.

First place Zenit and the successful games of Spartak in recent years seem to be being taken for granted, while St. Petersburg’s club has a powerful lineup and strong coach - Italian Luciano Spalletti. Spartak each season spends a lot of money on selection and gradually it seems it is beginning to pay off.

Lokomotiv is the main sensation of 2013. Last season, the team took ninth place in the championship, and head coach Slaven Bilic, a Croatian specialist, was dismissed. With the new coach, Leonid Kuchuk, who proved a successful coach in the previous season with Krasnodar Kuban, the team improved in each component of the game: Defense has become more organized, high-speed selection and attack has improved. However, the ability of Kuchuk to show his vision to players is not the most important factor for Lokomotiv.

First, the failure of last season prevented Lokomotiv from participating in the European Cup. Unlike its competitors, the plays just one match a week instead of two, and can safely distribute power to the entire tournament. Secondly, the club successfully participated in the sale of players from Anzhi, when it bought two midfielders - French Lacina Diarra and Moroccan Bussufa Mubarak. They define the game of modern Lokomotiv, and their former club is located in the bottom of the standings.

The beginning of the season did not present problems for Anzhi, however, a hitch at the start led to a total sale of players and changed the vector of the club’s development. Makhachkala changed course so sharply and clearly that in a few weeks time, contenders for the gold place turned to miserable outsiders. An entire series without a win in 19 rounds surpassed all previous records in the Russian Championship. According to bookmakers, the club from Makhachkala, which last year terrified the giants of world football, now is the main favorite for leaving the Russian Premier League.

Other members of the Russian Championship are experiencing financial difficulties as well. The current football champion of Russia, Moscow CSKA, seemingly has found a strong sponsor (company Rosset) before the season’s beginning, but it still could not patch up their financial hole. The club could not keep its main striker, Vagner Love. The Brazilian player has gone to China, and CSKA performed poorly in the Champions League, falling behind the leading trio. During the winter transfer Japanese Keisuke Honda will leave the team, and persistent leaders of the team Igor Akinfeyev, Sergei Ignashevich and Kirill Nababkin cannot agree on the conditions of the new contract.

In the race of finishers two players are leading, both of them belong to the Moscow Spartak. The striker for the Armenian team Yuri Movsisyan has scored 12 goals with the help of renowned partners. His colleague Artem Dzyuba, who was sent for on loan to Rostov, pulled the southern club alone to the top of the standings. Until the eighth round, the Rostov team was in the lead, but now occupies a modest eighth place.

Perhaps the most important discovery of the first half of the season was the goalkeeper of Zenit, Yuri Lodygin, who transferred from a small Greek club Xanthi, and in four months has grown to a goalkeeper of the Russian team and best player of Zenit.

The league will resume in early March. While players are waiting for vacation and gatherings, fans are waiting for the winter transfer.

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