European football expert Jonathan Wilson takes a look at the current situation in the Russian Premier Division, and explains why Zenit might be able to catch CSKA at the top of the table...
"They’re [3.3] to be champions which is tempting – and if you are going to back them, it’s probably worth doing so now."
A fortnight ago, as they approached the Moscow derby against Spartak, CSKA seemed to be on a march to the Russian title. They'd taken 13 points from their first five games after the winter break and hadn't conceded a goal, and as rivals faltered, the club seemed on the verge of being rewarded for the patience they've shown in Leonid Slutsky.
After taking just two points from their last three games, though, the lead at the top is down to three.
With four matches remaining and a relatively simple run-in, CSKA remain favourites for the title at [1.42], and there probably isn't any reason for panic - and yet the doubt is now there.
After a 0-0 draw against Dinamo, CSKA went 2-0 down at home to Spartak, but came back to draw 2-2. The inclination was still to regard that as a positive: four points dropped in two awkward games, but it could have been worse, and they'd at least had the spirit to battle back for the draw.
But last week, CSKA went down 2-0 at Rubin. Again, in isolation, it wouldn't be too much to worry about, but the fact is that they have now gone three games without a win and if they fail to beat Terek Grozny on Saturday, nerves really would be jangling. They're fortunate that Zenit could only draw 2-2 at Kuban last weekend (Kuban's sixth straight draw in the league, plus one in the Cup: they're [3.3] to make it eight in a row at Rostov this weekend), or the gap would be down to just one.
Terek are a difficult side to read. The Chechens were briefly top of the table in September before suffering a run of seven games without a win either side of the winter break. They have, though, won their last two matches, and were particularly impressive in winning 3-0 away at Rostov. If they're back to the form of the autumn, then they could challenge CSKA. When the sides met in Grozny in October, Terek took the lead and in the end were beaten only by an 88th-minute strike from Pontus Wernbloom.
CSKA have dropped just eight points from 13 home games, so everything points to them grinding out a win, and they are [1.4] to do so.
Terek have not been great defensively away from home, conceding 1.62 goals per game but they do tend to score (1.23 goals per game away), which, given the likely tightness of the game and the fact that CSKA average 1.69 goals per game at home might make it worth looking at a correct score of 2-1 to CSKA (which is [9.0] and seemingly better value than either 1-0 [6.2] or 2-0 [6.4]). But then there is the factor of nerves to consider.
Leonid Slutsky is an anxious man, or at least appears so. He often rocks back and forth on the bench; he often, frankly, looks a little ill. Perhaps he is perfectly calm and he just gives the impression of nerves, but even if that is the case, it's hardly the thing to soothe players if they are beginning to feel the strain of the title run-in - and there is strain; CSKA haven't won the title since 2006.
Zenit, meanwhile, after all their problems of the autumn, have lost just once since November. They too have a reasonably straightforward run in, beginning on Saturday at home to Alania Vladikavkaz, who have won only three times all season and are all but certain to be relegated.
Zenit are [1.21] to win and even that seems a little long. They're [3.3] to be champions which is tempting - and if you are going to back them, it's probably worth doing so now. If CSKA do slip up, it's far more likely to be this weekend against an unpredictable Terek than next weekend against a Lokomotiv side in abject form - albeit that is another Moscow derby.
None of which leaves a very clear picture. CSKA may be wobbling, or it may simply be they've had three tough games in a row. Zenit seemed to have found form, but then drew at Kuban. Either way, this weekend feels like the crunch.
Back Zenit to win Russian Premier Division @ [3.3]