After the 0-0 in Moscow against CSKA last weekend, Zenit St. Petersburg travel to Perm near the Ural Mountains on Sunday, where they take on Amkar. The club from Russia’s thirteenth largest city. Amkar lost their spring opener 1-0 to arch rivals Ural Yekaterinburg, which meant the red-blacks have lost important steps in the battle for the European spots at the end of the season.
The defeat was very symptomatic for Amkar’s season, as they have been awful away from home, picking up just seven points from a possible 30. Zenit fans experienced this first hand when Amkar lost 3-0 in St. Petersburg earlier this season after a brace by Giuliano and a late goal from Domenico Criscito.
At home, however, they are a completely different team. Amkar are yet to lose there this season and have already defeated FC Rostov at the Zvezda Stadium. When that is said, it is worth noticing that Zenit is the first team from this season’s top three to travel to Perm.Amkar’s poor away statistics isn't the only reason why the defeat to Ural was more or less expected. The Perm outfit lost two of their absolute key players this winter with both goalkeeper Aleksandr Selikhov and central defender Georgy Dzhikiya moving to Spartak Moscow. Selikhov, who was among the best goalkeepers in the autumn and has been replaced by FNL-side Baltika Kaliningrad’s Denis Vambolt, while no one was signed to replace Dzhikiya, explaining why the standards of the team dropped over the winter.
The sales of Selikhov and Dzhikiya, who are two of the most exciting young Russian talents, prove Amkar’s place in the food chain, as a club who sell their best players on to the bigger teams instead of trying to keep them at the club and compete for European football. Instead of splashing the €5 million they reportedly earned on the two players, Amkar instead opted to invest the money in the club and facilities, which could prove to be a good solution long-term, but is also frustrating for the fans who began to dream of finishing in the top half for the first time since 2008, when Amkar finished 4th and lost the cup final.
With Selikhov and Dzhikiya gone, it is now a bit more difficult to point at the profiles in the squad, but there are nevertheless players who stand out.
31-year-old midfielder Janusz Gol is in the middle of arguably his best season for Amkar, since joining them in the summer of 2013. Gol, who has six international caps to his name, is one of the leading figures on Amkar’s team from his spot on the central midfield, which he proved away against Terek Grozny in September last year, where he scored once and made an assist as the red-blacks recorded their only away victory so far this season.
Fans of Zenit will also recognize both Aleksey Gasilin and Brian Idowu, who both used to play for the blue-white-sky blues. 24-year-old Idowu has developed a lot in the previous two years, where he has gone from a promising talent to a regular in Amkar’s starting line-up. The great performances of Idowu, whose father is Nigerian and mother is half Russian-half Nigerian, hasn’t gone unnoticed in Nigeria either, and despite being born and raised in St. Petersburg, in November he was called up to the Super Eagles. However, Idowu doesn’t hold a Nigerian passport, and while he is eligible to get it, there wasn’t enough time to get the documents sorted before the friendly against Algeria.
Striker Aleksey Gasilin moved from Zenit to Amkar this winter after he scored eight goals for Zenit-2 in the FNL before Christmas. In Perm, Gasilin’s chances of playing time looks much better than in St. Petersburg, and with a bit of luck, he could be in for a big break through soon, which would once again put him on the radars of the big clubs. Because now and then, you have to take a step down to take two up afterwards, which Selikhov, who also joined Amkar from Zenit, is the perfect example of.
The game in Perm won’t be easy for Zenit, but the blue-white-sky blues are nevertheless firm favourites to win.
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