Zenit St Petersburg are aiming to strengthen their grip on the Russian Premier League title as the leaders prepare for Saturday’s trip to fellow championship chasers Krasnodar.
Sergei Semak’s Zenit, who are seeking their first domestic title in four years, remain unbeaten in the league in 2019 and are six points clear of reigning champions Lokomotiv Moscow and third-placed Krasnodar with seven matches remaining.
Last week table-toppers Zenit extended their lead after thrashing Anzhi Makhachkala 5-0 but Semak warned his side to not rest on their laurels ahead of Saturday’s clash.
“Of course it increases fighting spirit and strength when you win so confidently,” Semak said.
“But the six-point lead is not the guarantee of the ultimate success, there are still seven matches ahead.
“No doubts that the clash at Krasnodar will be tough as both teams are in the hunt for the title.
Krasnodar, who missed a chance to regain second place following last-week’s 1-1 draw with strugglers Dynamo Moscow, are keen to peg back the league leaders.
“Last week the lads showed strong willpower … I’d like to see the same degree of motivation on Saturday,” said Krasnodar head coach Murad Musaev.
“They currently have the most solid and consistent game in the Premier League.
“We have no other choice but to fight our hardest if we want to stay in the title race.”
– Assault scandal –
Both sides will be without Pavel Mamaev and Alexander Kokorin, who are on trial for “hooliganism” and have been in Moscow’s Butyrka prison since October after attacking a TV presenter’s driver and two Russian trade ministry officials.
Krasnodar midfielder Mamaev and Zenit forward Kokorin risk being imprisoned for five years after attacking the officials in an upscale cafe, hitting one, an ethnic Korean, with a chair while referring to his Asian appearance.
Earlier this month a court extended until September 25 detention for the controversial pair — who were also suspended by the Russian Football Union in 2016 after being caught spending a six-figure sum on a champagne-fuelled party at a Monte Carlo casino following Russia’s dire performance at that year’s European Championship.
Champions Lokomotiv Moscow meanwhile have a stern test of their own, a local derby with CSKA that could catapult their city rivals into the title race.
CSKA are currently fourth but are only two points behind Lokomotiv, and a win on Saturday could close the eight-point gap between them and Zenit.
Peruvian international Jefferson Farfan, who recovered from an injury to score and seal Lokomotiv’s 3-1 win at Akhmat Grozny last week, said he and his teammates were all set to win at the weekend.
“We’re all seriously motivated and everybody in the team understands clearly that the championship is coming into the home straight and we can’t afford to lose points anymore. We need to win all our remaining games.”
The derby with CSKA comes after last week’s unexpected 3-2 home defeat at the hands of minnows Orenburg, which infuriated Farfan and his teammates.
“Against Orenburg we started well but failed to react after they seized the initiative,” CSKA boss Viktor Gancharenko said after the defeat.
“We have a lot of young footballers in our line-up and they’re still making schoolboy errors. Hopefully they will learn from their mistakes quickly.”
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Anzhi Makhachkala v Akhmat Grozny (1630)
Ufa v Arsenal Tula (0830), Orenburg v Rostov (1100), Dynamo Moscow v Samara (1330), Lokomotiv Moscow v CSKA Moscow (1600), Krasnodar v Zenit St Petersburg (1800)
Ural Yekaterinburg v Rubin Kazan (1330), Spartak Moscow v Yenisei Krasnoyarsk (1600)