The new Russian Premier league season starts this weekend, plenty of eyes will be placed firmly on CSKA Moscow after a very successful 2012/13 season which saw them complete the double. The first bit of action starts off with the Super Cup game between CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg on Saturday. Despite how tasty that tie is it’s not the focus of this piece, I will be looking at how well will teams did last season, transfers, key players and most importantly how I think each team will do this season.
Last season Amkar managed to avoid the drop, finishing in 11th place. This season they will be hoping for better under the guidance of newly appointed Stanislav Cherchesov as manager, after he spent 2 seasons at Terek Grozny. So far the club have released 9 players from their contracts, while bringing in 3 players, Peter Zanev from Volyn, Nikolai Fadeev and Dmitri Kayumov are both on loan from Spartak Moscow. Under the new leadership of Cherchesov, Amkar can finish higher than last season, however I won’t be expecting a huge improvement this season. Highest position I feel they can achieve this season is 10th, lowest position would be relegation.
Key Player: Georgi Peev – The aging Bulgarian midfielder finished as the clubs top scorer last season and despite his age, he should play a key part in any success Amkar have.
Anzhi were title challengers for most of the season but they fell off after the winter break winning only 4 games in the league, they were affected by the sale of Christopher Samba to QPR. Anzhi are certain to challenge for the title again this season and they have already made a few big signings which have strengthen them for the upcoming season. 3 players have gone out on loan, 2 players have finished their loans at the club and Kamil Agalarov has joined Rostov. Anzhi have signed Igor Denisov for 15 million from rivals Zenit St. Petersburg, Aleksandr Kokorin from Dynamo Moscow for 19 million and they have also spent almost 11.6 million on bringing back Christopher Samba. Other purchases include Aleksei Ionov for 5 million and Mikhail Kerzhakov for 500k, Anzhi will be looking to buy a couple more players before the end of the window, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more big names joining the Dagestan club. I’m predicting Anzhi to put up a serious title challenge and perhaps even win it, they have made a few great signings already and they will be boasted by Hiddink agreeing to stay on as manager.
Key Player: Willian – The Brazilian made the big money move from Shakhtar Donetsk in the January window, however he only made 7 appearances in the league due to injury. Fans of the Dagestan club will be hoping to see more of him this season and if he can play like he did in the Ukraine, he will thee key player in the side, unlocking the defences and chipping in with a few goals. Willian has a lot to do to live up to his 35 million price tag and I’m more than sure he will be able to do so this season.
It was an outstanding season for CSKA, winning the double. This season will be even more impressive if they manage to do that again, however it will be a very tough ask, others such as Zenit and Anzhi are strengthening and if they wish to do well in the Champions League they will have to focus less on one competition which will most likely be the league. So far the champions haven’t done a great deal in the window, however they will most likely try to bring in a replacement for Honda who will be leaving the club be it this window or when his contract expires in December, his destination will be AC Milan. They have brought in Georgi Milanov and Steven Zuber so far and they have loaned out Petr Ten, while selling Artur Nigmatullin and Uros Cosic. I fully expect CSKA to challenge for the title, winning it again? I personally think they can, they still have a strong squad and if they can replace Honda well there isn’t a reason why they can’t be crowned champions once again.
Key Player: Alan Dzagoev – He had the most assists last season, the only player to have more than Honda, both scoring 7 goals as well. Dzagoev will have a big roll to play this season especially if CSKA fail to bring in a replacement for the outgoing Honda.
It was a rather good season for Dinamo as they finished 7th, only 6 points separated them from 3rd place Anzhi. The Moscow club will be hoping for an improvement this season and they will be boosted by manager Dan Petrescu staying at the club. He was strongly linked with a move to UAE Pro league club Al Nasr. This summer Dinamo have allowed 5 players to become free agents, Jakob Jantscher and Sergei Davydov both returned to their clubs after their loans, Vladimir Rykov has left on loan and they have received 19 million from Anzhi for Aleksandr Kokorin. Boris Rotenberg, Andriy Voronin, Fedor Smolov and Igor Shitov have all returned to the club after being loaned out last season, Alan Kasaev has arrived on loan from Rubin Kazan and George Florescu has arrived as a free agent. With a few more additions this Dinamo side can improve on last season’s 7th place and I’m expecting them to 5th or 6th.
Key Player: Balázs Dzsudzsák – The Hungarian will once again be an important player, last season he managed to bag himself 5 goals and he managed the most assists for the club, setting up 9 goals which was the second most in the league. Dzsudzsák will have a big role once again linking up with Kevin Kuranyi
Krasnodar were only formed in 2008 and are entering their third season of top flight Russian football. The club will be looking for a successful season after finishing in 10th place last season. The Bulls have brought in 8 players so far, Ricardo Laborde, Marcos Pizzelli, Vitali Kaleshin, Artur Jedrzejczyk, Artem Leonov, Yuri Gazinsky, Ruslan Bolov and Gerard Bi Goua Gohou. They have also departed with 6 players, Igor Lambarschi has gone out on loan, while Adolf Teiku has returned to Metalurg Zaporozhye after his loan spell. Krasnodar have a great set up, new youth facilities just completed and a new stadium also on the way. I’m expecting them to do well this season, I believe they are good enough to finish in the top 8 this season.
Key Player: Joãozinho – The Brazilian had a brilliant season last season and he is one of, if not thee best player at the club. The midfielder managed to score 5 goals last season but the key aspect of his game is the difference he makes to the Krasnodar attack, he creates. Wanderson had a great season also and will indeed be key if they are to keep him, however it will be Joãozinho to make the difference setting up goals and cutting open the opposition defence.
Last season Krylia Sovetov finished just above the automatic relegation places, although finishing above 15th by 8 points, they still had to fight it out over two legs against promotion chasing Spartak Nal’chik. Over the two legs Krylia Sovetov were two good for the FNL side and won 7-2 on aggregate and earning another season in the top flight, they have never been relegated from the Russian Premier League. Arrivals for Krylia Sovetov have both been from Volga, Ruslan Adzhindzhal and Gia Grigalava arrived as free agents. Rais M’Bohli and Pablo Zeballos have returned from loans, while Dmitri Golubev and Viktor Svezhov have gone out on loan. Other departures include Shamil Lakhiyalov, Roman Grigoryan and Steeve Joseph-Reinette who became free agents, Igor Portnyagin has also returned to Rubin after his loan spell at the club. How well can they do this season? I can’t see them improving much, they have a couple of decent players but they also have some very poor ones. I don’t think they will go down, but I won’t be expecting them to finish around mid table. I see them finishing more or less in the same place.
Key Player: Luis Caballero – In the few games I do see of Krylia Sovetov, the 23 year-old was the player that impressed the most. He finished the clubs top goalscorer with 8 goals and he also managed to one of the leading players when it came to setting up goals. The Paraguayan is certainly a player Krylia Sovetov will rely on if they are to move up the table.
Kuban have been very much a yo-yo club in recent years, up and down the RPL and the FNL, in 2010 they were promoted and in their first season back they managed to avoid relegation be some way as they finished 8th, last season was their second season since earning promotion and it turned out to be brilliant season for the Yellows and Greens. Kuban were the number 1 team when it came to backing from the stands, they were the most supported at home and that certainly helped them reach 5th place come the end of the season. Kuban have made 3 signings so far this summer, bringing in Vladislav Ignatiev from Krasnodar, Nikita Bezlikhotnov from Torpedo Moscow and Djibril Cisse from QPR. Only a handful of players have come in but going out there has been a bagful, a total of 10 players have left the club. Mikhail Komkov and Bauyrzhan Islamkhanov will be returning to the club as they have only gone out on loan, Igor Lolo, Dele Adeleye, Abdulwaheed Afolabi, Daniel Niculae and Nikolai Zhilyaev have all left after their contract expired. Vladislav Kulik has moved to Rubin, Marcos Pizzelli has gone to Krasnodar and Aleksei Ionov has completed a move to Anzhi for 5 million.
This season will be an exciting season for Kuban as they embark of European football, providing they get through the qualifying rounds. As exciting as the season will be for the club and it’s fans, it will also be a tough one having to compete in 3 competitions. I’m predicting them to still challenge for a European spot, however if they do well in the Europa League, their league position may suffer. They have enough quality to finish in the top 6.
Key Player: Aras Özbiliz – The former Ajax man had a decent first season in Russian football, finishing joint top goalscorer for the club with 9 goals. The midfielder also managed to set up 2 goals, His goals from midfield will be important for Kuban. However Özbiliz may need to result to being the creator following the departure of Aleksei Ionov to Anzhi. His assists will be a big loss to Kuban and if the club can’t replace him, then I can see Özbiliz being the player to step up.
Lokomotiv had a very disappointing season under the management of Slaven Bilić, the club finished in 9th, it was their lowest ever finish in the Russian Premier League. They have now parted with Slaven Bilić and also 3 million. The new man at the helm is Leonid Kuchuk, the club will be hoping he can turn fortunes around this season. Lokomotiv have brought in Taras Mykhalyk from Dynamo Kiev and Sergei Tkachyov from Metalist Kharkiv. While Senijad Ibricic, Maxim Belyaev and Manuel da Costa have all returned from their loans. As for outgoings Anton Amelchenko has joined Rostov, Artur Sarkisov has moved to Ural, Dmitri Loskov and Dmitri Sychev have both left and finally Denis Glushakov has moved to Spartak Moscow. It’s going to be an interesting season for Loko, new manager who has the ability to turn things around and move the club back to where they belong, challenging for European football. Loko are capable of doing that this season but it may be too much to ask, I certainly think and expect they will do a lot better than last season, at least a top 8 finish.
Key Player: Dame N’Doye and Alexandr Samedov – Loko counted on N’Doye’s goals last season and much will be the same this season, N’Doye was one of the 10 players in the league that managed to reach double figures with 10 goals. As well as the Senegalese striker, Alexandr Samedov will be a key player. The 28 year-old topped the clubs assists chart and N’Doye and those around him will be hoping he can continue to create chances and cut open defences.
There wasn’t any improvement on league position for Rostov last season, they finished 13th like they did in the 2011/12. They faced SKA-Energiya in the play-offs and managed to see the FNL club by winning 3-0 on aggregate and securing their Premier League status. Rostov have show they are looking to improve on the last two seasons by bringing in 10 players so far, Igor Lolo, Anton Amelchenko, Azim Fatullaev, Kamil Agalarov, Yoo Byung-Soo, Hrvoje Milic and Bastos have moved to the club on permanent deals, while Igor Khudobyak, Jano Ananidze and Artem Dzyuba have arrived on loan. Leaving the club this summer, Maxim Belyaev, Nikolai Zabolotny and Danko Lazovic have all finished their loan spells, Inal Getigezhev has moved to Rubin, Isaac Okoronkwo has become a free agent and Andrei Vasiliev has moved to Dynamo St. Petersburg on loan. Rostov have improved the squad and they have brought in some good players, I can see them doing well this season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them fighting for a mid-table finish.
Key Player: Artem Dzyuba – Rostov have done a great job in bringing in Dzyuba, the Spartak man had a decent season and he will make a difference to the Rostov team and attack. Rostov were one of the league lowest scorers with only 30 goals, they will be looking to Dzyuba to get on the scoresheet as much as possible. Not only that he also has the ability to assist his teammates, something we all saw last season as he finished the season top of Spartak’s assist chart by setting up 7 goals.
Rubin finished 6th last season, grabbing the last of the European places. Rubin will be very happy with managing to secure a Europa League place, a competition they do really well in, they managed a famous win against Atletico Madrid in their own back yard. Rubin were eventually knocked out at the quarter final stage by eventual champions Chelsea. Rubin will be looking at having similar success in Europe, but also they will be looking to finish in the European places once again this season, and who knows maybe a Champions League spot. They have brought in Vladislav Kulik from Kuban, Inal Getigezhev from Rostov, Aleksandr Prudnikov from Alania and Igor Portnyagin has returned from his loan at Krylia Sovetov. Igor Portnyagin didn’t return long as he has been shipped out on loan once again, this time to newly promoted Tom Tomsk. 5 other players have also joined Portnyagin in being loaned out, Gokhan Tore, Sergei Davydov, Ivan Temnikov, Alan Kasaev and Maksim Zhestokov. Vitali Kaleshin and Pablo Orbaiz both became free agents, Kaleshin already finding a club in Krasnodar and finally Aleksei Eremenko has left for 200k. This season will be the same for Rubin, they will be challenging for Europe and I believe they have enough quality to finish in the European places.
Key Player: Salomón Rondón – Going into his second season for the club, Rondón will be once again the main focus of the attack. He managed to get 7 goals last season and often plays upfront on his own, his pace is something he and Rubin use to great effect.
Spartak had a good season after finishing in 4th place and qualifying for the Europa League. It’s exciting times for the club as their new stadium, which will be their first ever owned stadium is set to be completed by the end of the year. Spartak have already spent 17.3 million this summer bringing in Tino Costa from Valencia, Denis Glushakov from Lokomotiv and Jose Manuel Jurado from Schalke after a successful loan spell at the club. All should prove to be good signings and they should be able to push the team on and continue to challenge for the Champions League spots. Vladimir Obukhov, Soslan Dzhanaev, Aleksandr Zotov and Nikolai Zabolotny have all come back from their loans, while Artem Dzyuba, Jano Ananidze, Nicolas Pareja, Nikolai Fadeev and Dmitri Kayumov have all been shipped out on loan for this season. Igor Gorbatenko has become a free agent, Ognjen Vukojevic has returned to Dynamo Kiev after his loan and Demy de Zeeuw has moved to Belgian side Anderlecht. Spartak have made good additions to the side and with some more perhaps on the way, they should be able to finish in the top 4 once again.
Key Player: Dmitri Kombarov – had an impressive season and will once again be key this season, he managed to set up 6 goals last season and also topped the Spartak scoring chart. Spartak have quality up front and Kombarov will be key in providing them with the quality they need in order to score goals. Tino Costa could also become a key player if he settles quickly.
Terek managed to finish in 8th last season which is their highest ever finish in the Russian Premier League. It will be tough for Terek to repeat last seasons success. The Chechen club have so far brought in two keepers Evgeny Kobozev and Evgeny Gorodov and defender Ivan Temnikov on loan from Rubin, Zaur Sadaev has returned from Beitar. Ezechiel N’Douassel and Adlan Katsaev have been loaned out, while Anton Amelchenko has returned to Lokomotiv after his loan. Piotr Polczak has moved to Volga and Musawengosi Mguni has moved to Ukrainian side Metalurg Zaporozhye. If Terek are to repeat their success they will need to improve their defence if they are to stay above the likes of Lokomotiv and Krasnodar. I can see Terek staying roughly in the same place as last season and finishing around mid-table.
Key Player: Aílton Almeida – The Brazilian scored 7 goals last season and lead the clubs scoring chart. Terek will be counting on him to score the goals as well as assist, towards the end of the season that was something Aílton added to the team, he provided as well as scored. Terek may need to bring in a creative player to help unlock the opposition.
The newly promoted side finished 2nd in the FNL last season gaining an instant return to the top flight and there one target this season is plain and simple and that’s to stay up. Premier League clubs will be faced with more travel this season as both Tom Tomsk and Ural are further away than last season furthest away match which was Amkar Perm. Tom Tomsk isthe furthest away trip for teams, but clubs only have to make that journey once a season, this will be a regular distance for Tom Tomsk, this may be an important factor in their fight for survival. So far they have been busy in the window, bringing in a total of 11 players and one of those being Evgeny Chernov who has returned from a loan. Mikhail Komkov, Vladimir Rykov, Igor Portnyagin and Pavel Ignatovich have all been brought in on loan for this season. Andrei Ivanov, Evgeny Sidorenko, Gabriel Muresan, Zhivko Milanov, Mladen Bozovic and Kirill Panchenko have all joined permanently. Going out, Aleksandr Kasyan, Sergei Bendz and Aleksandr Zotov have all returned to their clubs following loan spells, while Andrei Gorbanets, Vitali Astakhov, Anton Khazov, Aleksandr Dimidko and Viktor Stroev were all sold. I can’t see Tom Tomsk having a wonder season and finish in the top 8 but I do think they can avioded relegation via staying up after the two play-off games. I think they can achieve a 13th or 14th place finish.
Key Player: Valeri Sorokin – providing he can convert his form in the FNL to the RPL, it will help Tom Tomsk fight against the drop. Sorokin managed 9 goals in the FNL last season and also managed to create 10 goals as well, both his goals and assists will be a key part of this Tom Tomsk side.
The FNL champions last season and like Tom Tomsk, they will be scrapping it out down the bottom of the table in order to survive the drop. Just like Tom Tomsk there has been plenty of changes at the club, Serder Serderov and Evgeny Pomazan have arrived on loan from Anzhi, Andrei Gorbanets, Gudzha Rukhaia, Aleksei Solosin, Artur Sarkisov, Aleksandr Belozerov and Yuri Kirillov have all signed for the club as well. 15 players have left the club of them being made free agents, those players are Konstantin Skrylnikov, Maksim Volkov, Aleksandr Kotlyarov, Artem Solovyei, Mikhail Biryuko, Dmitri Ryzhov, Aleksei Revyakin and Aleksandr Marenich. Anton Kobyalko has left for Gazovik, Dmitri Yashin has gone to Shinnik, Ivan Drannikov to Neftekhimik and Ivan Melnik has moved on loan to Dynamo St. Petersburg. As said earlier I believe they will be fighting the drop.
Key Player: Spartak Gogniyev – The 32 year-old striker had a brilliant first season in the Ural jersey as he scored a brilliant 17 goals and finished both the clubs top scorer and the league top scorer. Gogniyev will be a huge part of the success of Ural this season, providing he can still get the goals they will have a great chance.
Volga finished just above the play-off spots last season, although they had the same points as Rostov they stayed up due to goal difference. Volga improved on their 14th place finish which they achieved in the first season back in the RPL. Volga have signed 12 players and Nikita Malyarov has returned from a loan spell at Ufa. The 12 players are: Jorge Luis Luna, Artur Nigmatullin, Roman Kontsedalov, Piotr Polczak, Mukendi Mulumba, Leandro, Marcin Kowalczyk, Luton Shelton, Denis Kolodin, Mikhail Komarov, Artem Danilenko and Dmitri Sychev. Volga have also been busy getting rid of players, a total of 10 players have left. Artur Sarkisov has finished his loan, Mikhail Kerzhakov has moved to Anzhi, while Aleksandr Belozerov, Dmitri Aydov, Ruslan Adzhindzhal, Romeo Castelen, Aleksandr Kharitonov, Dmitri Kudryashov, Aleksandr Salugin and Alexey Sapogov have all left. Like last season I think Volga will be fighting in and around the play-off spots.
Key Player: Leandro – The new signing from Arsenal Kiev will have a big role to play at the club this season, the Brazilian has a lot of experiance in the Russian League playing for Luch-Energiya in 2008, Spartak Nalchik from 2009 to 2011 and a loan spell at Kuban last season. The Brazilian will add goals from the midfield and help with a few goals.
Zenit St. Petersburg
Zenit missed out on the title by 2 points last season finishing in second behind CSKA Moscow. Zenit will be keen to win back the title and they have the chance to get some sort of payback on Saturday in the Super Cup final against CSKA. Zenit a re also keen to add to the already quality squad and they have already added some new and old faces. Anatoly Tymoshchuk has returned to the club after his contract expired at Bayern Munich, likewise with Andrei Arshavin who has signed after leaving Arsenal. Danko Lazovic has arrived back from his loan at Rostov, Ramil Sheidaev has been promoted from the Zenit Academy, Yuri Lodygin and Ivan Solovyov have joined from Skoda Xanthi and Dynamo. As for departures Sergei Semak has retired, Igor Cheminava has become a free agent, Igor Denisov has joined Anzhi for 15 million and Bruno Alves has left for Turkey and joined Fenerbahce for 5.5 million. Zenit should and will be fighting for the title once again and they will at least get 3rd.
Key Player: Domenico Criscito and Nicolas Lombaerts- There is plenty of big names in the Zenit side and plenty that can score goals, however I believe the key players for them this season will be Criscito and Lombaerts, both are vital players in the Zenit defence. Zenit although having one of the best defensive records in the league season do need to add to the back line especially Bruno Alves has left.