Russian Premier League leaders CSKA Moscow will bid to extend their lead in the latest round of the championship this weekend as they face bottom-placed Alania Vladikavkaz while third-placed Zenit St. Petersburg face a tricky clash with Terek Grozny.
CSKA, who lead second-placed Anzhi Makhachkala by seven points and reigning champions Zenit by eight, will be without Keisuke Honda for Monday's game, the Japanese playmaker still on his way to a complete recovery. Meanwhile, the Red Army side's Côte d'Ivoire striker Seydou Doumbia has finally overcome his back injury and will likely fly with CSKA to Vladikavkaz.
"All the team players except Honda and (Chilean international) Mark Gonzalez are training in the main group," CSKA team doctor Shagabutdin Kerimov said. "We expect Gonzalez to join the main group training in the beginning of April after a rehabilitation course."
CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky meanwhile said that it was too difficult to predict the date of Honda's return. "[Honda] is still suffering complications after the 'flu. He is undergoing all possible treatment but it's impossible to forecast his return date. Not only for me but for the medics also."
The chasing Anzhi face a trip to tenth-placed FC Krasnodar on Sunday, and the home side's goalkeeper, Alexander Filtsov, was in no doubt over their abilities. "Anzhi is a club with a set of world-class players in its line-up," Filtsov said. "The match against them in front of our home crowd is a good stimulus for us and a chance to afford pleasure to our supporters. And we are all set to do our best to beat them."
Anzhi will likely field a full-strength line at Krasnodar as all of their international players have returned to training, with the club also free of injuries.
No room for error
Defending champions Zenit will battle with the eighth-placed Terek Grozny on neutral territory in Makhachkala, the capital of the neighbouring republic of Dagestan and the home city of Anzhi. Terek were ordered to play one of their home matches at the neutral venue after the club's owner Ramzan Kadyrov was reprimanded for verbal .
The clash with Terek will show whether Zenit, who have endured a rocky campaign this season as they were eliminated early from the UEFA Champions League and then UEFA Europa League, have embarked on the road of recovery. A points loss at Makhachkala could cost Zenit their title as the Saint Petersburg outfit now need not only to win all of their remaining matches but also hope for slip ups of their main rivals CSKA and Anzhi.
Meanwhile, nine-time champions Spartak Moscow, who are currently fourth, five points behind Zenit, are also dreaming of a top-three finish. Russia's most decorated club take on another side from Krasnodar, Kuban, on the synthetic pitch of the Luzhniki stadium.