New managers and a new winter timetable
14 July ~ Football fans in Russia could be forgiven for allowing the imminent return of the Premier League to slip their minds. Domestic football has taken a back seat while the Russian football association continue their search for a new national team coach. After being linked with almost every big-name coach in Europe following Dick Advocaat's departure to PSV after Euro 2012, a list was produced on Tuesday containing the names of 13 coaches, including Pep Guardiola and Fabio Capello, who the association would like to "consult" before naming their new man. A "star name" is promised.
The only certainty seems that the new coach will be one of the 13 on the list. Amid the chaos of the national team, top-flight football returns next Friday in what is a landmark campaign. It will be the first season to run from July until May, after the association decided to align the domestic calendar with the rest of Europe, but the new schedule will mean some games being played in temperatures of minus 30C.
Naturally this has concerned players and supporters, yet the hope is that the new calendar will help Russian clubs perform better in Europe. Previously the season ran from March to December, meaning knockout games held in February gave opposition from western Europe a distinct advantage. All this means the battle to finish in the top places becomes even more important, which could make this season's league campaign the most exciting in years.
After winning the title by 13 points last season and six points in 2010, Zenit St Petersburg know they will not be so dominant this term, despite rumoured moves for Nani and Hulk. Anzhi will probably be their nearest challengers after bringing in giant Ivorian Lacina Traore from Kuban and entering talks to bring Wesley Sneijder to Makhachkala. These moves have tempted coach Guus Hiddink to stay for this season at least after rumours of his departure circulated in June.
In Moscow, Spartak appointed former Valencia coach Unai Emery, while across town Lokomotiv signed Slaven Bilic to be their new boss. These new coaches, combined with the spending of the other capital sides, CSKA and Dynamo, ensure a balance not seen in recent years. After bossing the league for two years, Zenit can expect a sustained challenge. Charles Ducksbury