After doing the double in the Russian league and cup and sailing comfortably through to the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League, Zenit St. Petersburg have enjoyed nothing but success in 2010.
"This victory is all down to the players, they did their job well. Secondly, I would like to thank Aleksei Miller and Aleksandr Dyukov, the men who created this team. Thirdly there is the city of St. Petersburg and our fans; I have felt at home here right from the moment when I arrived," said coach Luciano Spalletti, at the helm of the club since last December and who has steered Zenit to their second ever Russian Premier League title.
Remarkably, the team in blue and white were top of the league for 29 of 30 matchdays, being headed only by defending champions Rubin Kazan for a brief interlude after the second round of matches. From thereon in, the 2008 UEFA Cup champions made first place their own, in the process securing the most wins, scoring the most goals and recording the best goal difference in the country’s top flight.
Struggles against closest rivals
Despite their overall dominance, Zenit found life comparatively tough against their closest pursuers. They took just a point from record league-title winners Spartak Moskva, who finished fourth, four points from holders Rubin and three from eventual runners-up CSKA Moskva.
And though Zenit finished some six points clear of CSKA in the final analysis, their fans had to endure some unexpected nerves after 10 November’s 3-1 home reverse to the same side. However, Zenit’s first home defeat since August 2009 proved simply a case of putting the champagne on ice, with the club’s second ever league title safely in the bag a few days later.
Zenit and CSKA will therefore be Russia's representatives in next season's UEFA Champions League, while Rubin Kazan will enter at the qualifying phase of the same competition. Moscow heavyweights Spartak and Lokomotiv will take part in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League.
Relegation battle goes down to the wire
In the scorers’ charts, soaring clear was Spartak’s 19-goal Brazilian Welliton, who finished five ahead of both Lokomotiv’s Aleksandr Aliev and Sergey Kornilenko of Rubin. The newly-minted league champions, for their part, relied on grabbing goals from a number of sources, including 13 from Russia striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov and ten from Portugal schemer Danny.
Goals were much harder to come by for Alania Vladikavkaz and Sibir Novosibirsk, and after just one season in the top flight they find themselves back in the second division. The writing was on the wall for Novosibirsk right from the early stages of the season and they ended up with the fewest wins, the most defeats, the most goals conceded and the worst goal difference of any of the division’s 16 teams.
Vladikavkaz, in contrast, battled to the last in the hope of avoiding the drop. Indeed, they would have secured another season in the Premier League had they done better than a 1-1 draw in their final match away to Saturn Moscow Region or had Amkar Perm lost rather than drawn 0-0 with CSKA.
All change for Premier League
The two relegated teams will thus miss out on the big changes that are being introduced in the Russian top tier. The aim is to eventually have the season start in autumn and finish in spring, in order to bring the country in line with the rest of Europe's major leagues. The first steps towards this change are being taken in 2011, when the 16 teams in the top flight will all face each other home and away before the league splits into two groups of eight.
In spring 2012, the top eight will then fight it out for the title while the bottom eight will battle to avoid relegation. The two teams finishing at the foot of the table will be relegated, while those that are third and fourth from bottom will play off against the teams finishing third and fourth in the second division. From the 2012/13 season, Russia's second division is to be reduced from 20 to 18 teams, while the Premier League will remain at 16 clubs.
The battle for Russian footballing supremacy will therefore recommence in a few short months, with Zenit hoping to become only the second team from outside Moscow to successfully defend their title. Should they do so they will emulate the feats of Rubin, who achieved just that in 2008 and 2009.