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Football: Zenit St Petersburg Lead Title Race
September 21, 2014 10:22

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Zenit St Petersburg have set a new record winning streak of the Russian Premier League after a stunning victory over Rostov in Gameweek 8 thanks to a hat trick by Rondon and two own goals by players from Rostov-on-Don.
The vice-champion of the previous season has sent a clear message to its rivals – keep up or bite the dust. So far, only three Moscow-based clubs – CSKA, Spartak and Dynamo – are trailing the blue side. But even they could be losing hope – Spartak drew against Terek 1-1 at home while CSKA are taking on Lokomotiv in what is expected to be a thrilling derby, especially after CSKA’s 5-1 defeat by Roma and the firing of Lokomotiv’s coach after a bleak start of the season.
Zenit boss Andre Villas-Boas has a plethora of wonderful players to choose from – Venezuelan forward Jose Rondon, Brazilian forward Hulk, Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay and many others. Benfica star Ezequiel Garay was signed in the summer on a five-year contract to the envy of Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham who all vied to get him on their lineup.
This year’s version of Zenit is completely different from what the fans and pundits saw last season. Collected and united, it fiercely defies any attempts by its opponents to challenge its leadership. This is in stark contrast to last year when internal squabbles and instability on the pitch constantly made headlines in the news and angered Zenit’s main sponsor – Russia’s gas giant Gazprom.
The former manager, Luciano Spalletti, was blamed for the failures in the trophy race and was replaced with Andre Villas-Boas. Actually, It all started after Gazprom splurged 100 million euro on two foreign players, Hulk and Axel Witsel. Hulk’s salary was reported to be higher than those of Zenit’s old-timers like Shirokov, Denisov and Kerzhakov. After Denisov demanded a pay rise, he was grounded. Shirokov was loaned out to Krasnodar. Among other players who had a rough time are midfielder Vladimir Bystrov who plays in Anzhi Makhachkala on loan, defender Alexander Anyukov, replaced by Igor Smolnikov, and goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev, replaced by Yury Lodygin.

FC Zenit St. Petersburg is the only Eastern European team to be included in the annual list of the world's most valuable football brands. Zenit is also the first Russian club ever included in the list published by the Brand Finance agency. Its brand value is estimated at $56 million, which gives Zenit St. Petersburg the 41st place in the rankings. 

Author: Mikhail Vesely

Tags: Zenit St. Petersburg     

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