Manuel Veth –
The Russian Football Premier League has seen their first major surprise on matchday 4 as Zenit triumph hammering champions Spartak Moscow 5-1. It was a blowout for Spartak, who alongside Zenit were considered the favourites for winning the Russian Football Premier League title this season.
Spartak’s title defence, however, has to be put on hold for now. The Muscovites have won just one out of their first four games. Zenit, on the other hand, have now won four out of four and Roberto Mancini and his squad of Argentines have proven the doubters wrong—many, this author included, believed that his new signings needed to adjust to the new surroundings.
Instead, Zenit have now made a significant statement at the Krestovsky Arena in Saint Petersburg. The World Cup stadium in Saint Petersburg was indeed was a cauldron for Russia’s biggest game in recent years.
Of all the Moscow clubs Spartak are the most prominent and the Myaso can indeed claim the largest amount of supporters in the entire country. The claim to being Russia’s biggest supported club is, however, challenged by Zenit, which was deemed to be the most supported club in a study conducted in 2012.
Zenit Triumph in What is the Biggest Matchup in Russia
Hence, while it is not certain, which club has more supporters at the moment, there is no doubt that Zenit vs Spartak currently overshadows the other duels between Zenit and Moscow based clubs. With this in mind, this was a statement game and the Russian based sports homepage sports.ru later claimed that Zenit have crowned themselves Russian champions on Sunday night.
They might not be all wrong. The gap between Zenit and Spartak is now seven points, and the other clubs at the top of the table are unlikely to challenge Zenit throughout the season—especially with CSKA also struggling early on. Spartak’s city rival Lokomotiv Moscow currently joins Zenit at the top of the table. But Lokomotiv does not have the squad strength to mount a proper title challenge this season.
With four matches played this season it might be of course still a bit early to crown Zenit champions just yet. But Mancini’s squad does indeed look impressive, and the sky-blues might not be done in the transfer market just yet either. By the time of writing this article, the Emiliano Rigoni transfer was still not completed, but it appears to be just a matter of days until Zenit will secure their latest Argentine import further strengthening a squad that is already the strongest in Russia.
Indeed early indications are that Gazprom, and the Russian state, have rediscovered the marketing strength of a powerful Zenit. Some of this might be due to the renewal of sanctions on Russia. Zenit might very well be used to demonstrate to Europe that despite the sanctions Russia’s largest gas company can afford to not only build a champion, who can dominate in Russia but also in Europe. With this in mind competitors might hope that Zenit might switch its focus somewhat to the Europa League in September.
With the squad that Zenit have assembled, however, it would be difficult to imagine that Zenit will struggle in the group stage of the Europa League come the fall. Furthermore, the schedule of the RFPL means that the Russian title could be more or less decided by the time Zenit are ready to challenge for international titles in the early spring.
Zenit Triumph – Is all Lost for Spartak?
Another aspect is that Spartak also have to play in Europe and unlike Zenit, they will be challenged in the Champions League from the get go. With this in mind, the seven point gap could become too big of an obstacle to overcome despite the fact that there are still 26 games to be played.
Does this mean everything is lost for Spartak? Not necessarily. The heavy defeat to Zenit could be a wake-up call to Spartak’s head coach Massimo Carrera. It is clear that his compatriot has outfoxed the Italian and Carrera will now be aware of the fact that opposition coaches may have figured out his game plan.
Carrera, however, still has 26 games to turn around the boat and he has shown in the past that he can bring out the best in his squad following a massive defeat. Another bonus is that reinforcements are about to arrive. The Futbolgrad Network has learned that Spartak are in advanced talks to sign Brazilian Luan from Grêmio and Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay from Valencia.
Both players would add necessary star power and squad depth to a team that very much seemed out of depth against Zenit on Sunday night. With this in mind, Spartak could perhaps make the impossible happen and challenge after all. Hence, while Zenit triumph, not all is lost for Spartak. But for now, it is Zenit, who are on the up as their fans are celebrating the 5-1 victory over their biggest rivals.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.