CSKA weakened as Russian league battle resumes
The Russian Premier League resumes on Friday after its winter break with leaders CSKA Moscow out to defy injury worries and see off a challenge from Zenit and Anzhi in what appears to be a three-way race for the title.
After the initial games on Friday, the real business gets underway on Saturday when CSKA meet Samara and then on Sunday when Zenit clash with Rubin Kazan and Anzhi with lowly Saransk.
Premier League leaders CSKA Moscow will have to do without their Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda in their encounter away to Samara.
"Honda is currently suffering of complications following an infectious disease, which prevents him from practicing," CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky said.
"He's currently undergoing treatment in Barcelona and will unlikely play against Samara."
On Saturday CSKA will also likely be without their forward Soydou Doumbia, who suffered a pulled hip muscle in a recent friendly with Belarus champions BATE Borisov, and will need up to 14 days for complete recovery.
Czech forward Tomas Necid, who has overcame injuries and has recently returned to training, is also an unlikely starter in the clash at Samara as he still failed to regain his top form.
However, CSKA, who bolstered their line-up with Brazilian marksman Vagner Love last month, will be also able to spearhead their attack with Nigerian Ahmed Musa, who recently won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and scored a hat-trick in the friendly with BATE.
Contenders push CSKA
Meanwhile, second-placed big-spenders Anzhi Makhachkala, who are just two points behind CSKA, will be confident in going up against bottom side Saransk, who have just nine points from 19 matches.
Anzhi, who pulled off the league's biggest transfer deal in the winter break when they lured Brazilian midfielder Willian from Ukraine's champions Shakhtar Donetsk for €35 million, will likely be able to field a full-strength squad on Sunday.
Reigning champions Zenit St Petersburg, who are in third position, three points behind Anzhi, will face a tough challenge from twice champions Rubin Kazan in the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan on Sunday.
Zenit, who strengthened their defence by signing Portuguese international defender Luis Neto, will be without Italian defender Domenico Criscito, who has been sidelined with a cruciate knee ligaments rupture for several months.
"In general my team is ready for the season restart," Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti said in a recent interview with his club's site.
"We will have to battle for wins in three different tournaments (Russian league, Russian Cup and UEFA Europa League) and we will need every single player, who is currently in our roster."
The result of the match at Kazan is hard to predict as defending champions Zenit, will take on Rubin just two days after an away Europa League match with Swiss side Basel.
The hosts have who also strengthened their line-up by signing French international midfielder Yann M'Vila.
In Sunday's other match, nine-time champions Spartak Moscow take on visitors Terek Grozny. The two sides share fourth place together with Kuban Krasnodar, all on 32 points.
Russian League fixtures
Volga Nizhny Novgorod v Kuban Krasnodar
FC Krasnodar v Amkar Perm
Dynamo Moscow v Lokomotiv Moscow
Samara v CSKA Moscow
Alania Vladikavkaz v Rostov
Spartak Moscow v Terek Grozny
Rubin Kazan v Zenit St Petersburg
Saransk v Anzhi Makhachkala