MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian Premier League leaders Zenit St Petersburg return from the international break looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the campaign against Arsenal Tula on Sunday.
Roberto Mancini’s men unexpectedly dropped points in a 2-2 draw at bottom club Anzhi Makhachlala in their previous league match, but are two points clear of second-placed Lokomotiv Moscow, who visit Ufa.
Krasnodar, who take on CSKA Moscow Saturday, sit third, five points further back.
Zenit have won all four of their previous meetings with Arsenal without conceding.
“The title race in the Russian league is tight and every mistake may turn out to be costly at season’s end,” Italian Mancini told Zenit’s website.
“We need to switch our focus back on the domestic league at once as we have no right to drop points again. Zenit need to win on Sunday.”
Reigning champions Spartak, who ended a four-match winless streak with a 2-0 victory over Ural last time out, travel to Akhmat Grozny on Friday.
Spartak coach Massimo Carrera said that the international break gave his injured players time to recover, as they look to breathe new life into their title defence after a poor start to the season which has left them languishing in sixth place.
“This pause definitely served for our team’s good,” he told Spartak’s press service. “We’ve got an opportunity to have some rest, while our injured players had time to recover.
“We have nobody to blame except ourselves for making our life more complicated this season.
“We’ve conceded too many goals and wasted our winning chances too often. But though Zenit are 11 points ahead, I believe we’re still in the title race.
“We need to be aggressive and focused to achieve a success at Grozny. Akhmat have lost their last league match and I expect they will play at their best in front of their home crowd.”
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Akhmat Grozny v Spartak Moscow (1630)
Dynamo Moscow v SKA Khabarovsk (1100), Ural Yekaterinburg v Anzhi Makhachkala (1330), Krasnodar v CSKA Moscow (1600)
Ufa v Lokomotiv Moscow (1100), Rostov v Rubin Kazan (1330), Zenit St Petersburg v Arsenal Tula (1600)
Amkar Perm v Tosno (1430)