MOSCOW: The Russian Premier League returns from its three-month winter hibernation this weekend with leaders Zenit St Peterburg resuming their push for a fifth title at Ural Yekaterinburg.
Zenit top the table with 34 points from 17 matches, just one point clear of Krasnodar, while CSKA Moscow sit third, three points further back.
Zenit have already shaken off some of the winter cobwebs as they overcame a one-goal deficit to beat Turkish giants Fenerbahce 3-2 on aggregate in the Europa League round of 32.
“It was a very difficult game,” manager Sergei Semak said. “It was really hard to play after a long winter pause.”
“We still have plenty of work to do to gain top form. We also need to keep ourselves fully concentrated to avoid any unnecessary points losses that may become costly at the end of the season.”
Krasnodar, who joined Zenit in the Europa League last 16 with a 1-1 draw at German high-flyers Bayer Leverkusen after a goalless first leg at home, will have their title aspirations tested at Spartak Moscow.
“We played very disciplined football at Leverkusen and it paid off,” Krasnodar head coach Murad Musayev said.
“We deserved that result as we worked really hard to achieve it.
“But we have no time to relax as we need to prepare for the match with Spartak. And we’re all set to show our best in Moscow.”
Spartak will be missing a sizeable chunk of supporters on Sunday after the Premier League’s disciplinary panel ordered them to close the B stand of Spartak’s Otkrytie arena – the nest for the club’s most passionate fans – for the match.
The closure is punishment for outbreaks of racism at the home match with reigning champions Lokomotiv.
Spartak fans’ association has called the league’s verdict a “discriminatory restriction” and are boycotting the game in protest.
Spartak manager Oleg Kononov, who succeeded Massimo Carrera after the Italian coach was sacked in October, said he was upset by the fans’ decision.
“It’s a pity, but we cannot change anything in this situation,” he said.
“But we will play with all our strength anyway. We’re still in the race for the title and we need to earn points in every match that we play.”