Frozen In Time: The Russian Premier League

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 27: FC Zenit St Petersburg head coach Luciano Spalletti (L) looks on besdie FC Lokomotiv Moscow head coach Jose Couceiro during the Russian Premier League match between FC Zenit St Petersburg and FC Lokomotiv Moscow at the Petrovsky Stadium on November 27, 2011 in St Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Mike Kireev/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Our Russian expert Eliot Rothwell runs through the long winter pause in the Russian Premier League, the current standings and what a football fan can do to speed up the wait until March 3rd.

As Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and even the uber-excitable teens over at Glee have said of the years: ‘baby, its cold outside'. And whereas snowstorms in the climes of Northern America may seem to warrant the roasting of chestnuts on an open fire and re-watching the Home Alone movies, in Russia - with temperatures plummeting below zero - the locals stock up on borscht and bathe their feet in the Motherland's finest vodka before battling with the big freeze outside.

With temperatures in areas of central Russia sliding down to the region of minus eighteen degrees and the country's much maligned football pitches being met with a formidable layer of ice, it is probably a wise idea that the Russian Premier League should discontinue until March 3rd. But from a soccer supporter's (and writer's) point of view, it's an unhealthy amount of time to be without the flowing locks of ‘Gentleman of the Year' Andrei Voronin and the rest of the league.

As it stands, with the advances of winter suspending the Premier League in a constant state over the winter, the familiar appearance of Luciano Spalletti's Zenit sitting comfortably at the peak of the table greets observers. That sight, however, doesn't detail the full tale of the season so far as Leonid Slutskiy once leading the way with his CSKA side now finds himself six points off the St Petersburg club with crisis eschewing in the capital. Injuries to key players in Keisuke Honda, a want-away talisman in Vagner Love and a lack of defensive cohesion have only been masked over recent weeks by goals of Seydou Doumbia, now starting to look as certain as death and taxes.

Sliding down to the chilly depths of the table, the increasingly doomed Tom Tomsk look set to compete for survival with Spartak Nalchik, Volga NN, Krylya Sovetov and Amkar Perm. Relegation would cripple any of the aforementioned clubs, however, the plight of Tom in recent weeks, owed to a startling inadequacy in financial management of the side, means that banishment to the second division could, and most probably would, see them go the way of Saturn Ramenskoye and crumble out of existence.

The most curious viewing over the winter break, from the safe havens of a heated and comfortable home, may be the wealth of Anzhi Makhachkala and their owner Suleiman Kerimov. Thiers is the most prominent reminder that during this winter break the Russian clubs and the rest of the world will enter into the January transfer window, able to shape squads with the acquisition of new players and the spending of millions. With rumours surrounding managers in the mould of Guus Hiddink and well-known players such as Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba being carelessly linked to the side, the winter is going to be an interesting affair in Dagestan. Whether Kerimov manages to fashion a gift wrapped Christmas present in the form of a sufficient strike partner for Samuel Eto'o is another thing, though. Anzhi's transfer targets seem to be dictated by the Russian press rather than the club, in an example of the media's self-deception.

So, as the winter draws in Zenit march on, CSKA slumber, Tom cry out for help and Anzhi stare appreciatively at their bank balance, fans, writers and pundits have to find something to fill up their time. There's Christmas shopping in the rich boulevards of Moscow and that keenly contested Presidential race to engage the Russian football fans....

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