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CSKA, Anzhi and Zenit to battle for Russian crown after winter break (VIDEO)

Published time: December 19, 2012 07:25
Edited time: December 19, 2012 11:25

CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda, left, against Anzhi Makhachkala's Arseny Logashov in the Russian Football Premier League's 4th round match. (RIA Novosti / Anton Denisov)

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With the Russian Premier League entering a three-month break, RT recaps the action in the first half of the season, in which the headlines were made by CSKA Moscow, Anzhi Makhachkala and defending champions, Zenit Saint Petersburg.

­The 2012/13 season is the first in the Russian Premier League history to take a winter break in December.

And, while some of the Moscow big guns like Spartak, Lokomotiv and Dynamo are struggling in mid-table, surprise packages like Kuban and Terek are riding high in fourth and fifth.

Yet its emerged as a three-horse race for the title, with just five points separating CSKA, Anzhi and Zenit in the battle for the championship – and the two Champions League places.

After bowing out of the Europa League in August, CSKA can now concentrate on domestic competitions.

And what a run they've been on, with midfielder Keisuke Honda and forward Ahmed Musa particularly influential, winning twelve matches out of thirteen in the league.

However, the Moscow side slightly slipped up in their final two matches, drawing at champions Zenit and losing at Anzhi.

But the Armymen go into the winter break three points clear at the top,  and with players such as striker Seydou Doumbia set to return from injury, they look a good bet to end their seven-year wait for Russian football's biggest prize.

Because of their involvement in the Europa League and their ongoing run in the Russian Cup, Anzhi have played more matches than any other top-flight team – 33 overall.

Yet Guus Hiddink's men have been consistent throughout, and are just two points adrift, having suffered only two away defeats – to CSKA and to twice former champions Rubin.

While the clinical striking pair of Samuel Eto'o and Lacina Traore have netted 16 of their team's 34 goals.

The Dagestan side spent three weeks at the top of the standings this season and have much in their favor: an in-form team and experienced manager as well as the bottomless budget of billionaire owner, Suleyman Kerimov to fulfill their much-publicized aims of a first Premier League title – and Champions League football.

Twice-defending champions Zenit started the season where they left off, winning their first four games – including a 5-0 thrashing of last year's runners-up, Spartak.

Expectations were further raised, following the $100-million joint signing of Hulk and Axel Witsel.

But then it turned out all wrong for Luciano Spalletti's side. Igor Denisov went on strike over pay – and they crashed out of the Champions League.

Things seemed to be returning to normal following a six-game winning run, but that came crashing to an end following the scandal at Dynamo where a flare was thrown, injuring the home side's goalkeeper.

Zenit were handed a 3-0 technical defeat and had to play three home matches behind closed doors, with two of them so far played – resulting in draws against CSKA and Anzhi as the top sides cancelled each other out.

So, with half the season gone in Russia, the battle for the Europa League spots remains very tight, with just four points separating fourth-placed Kuban and neighbors Krasnodar, who are back in tenth.

Yet the fate of the crown will most likely go down to a thrilling finale, with little to choose between CSKA, Anzhi and Zenit.