Zenit pile on pressure as Russian Premier League title race goes to the wire

Zenit's Hulk, left, and Oleg Shatov celebrate a goal during the Russian Football Premier League's Round 22 match between Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow.  © Alexei Danichev
The Russian Premier League looks set for a thrilling finish as just four points separates the top five teams with six games remaining.

FK Rostov currently lead the table with 48 points, just a point ahead of second-placed CSKA Moscow.

Zenit St Petersburg lie third with 46 points, with Lokomotiv Moscow and FK Krasnodar a further three points behind.

Rostov's 1-0 victory at Kuban Krasnodar last Sunday was their sixth clean sheet in a row in the league, and with recent wins against CSKA and Spartak Moscow to their name they are genuine title contenders.

Head Coach Kurban Berdyev previously won two Russian titles with Rubin Kazan and his current team boasts five ex-Rubin players, including rugged striker Alexander Bukharov.

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After narrowly missing relegation last season, Rostov's success this time around has come despite off-field financial troubles.

The club is owned by the regional government, whose funds have been hit by Russia's recession and the influx of refugees from the conflict in Ukraine.

Rostov chairman, businessman Ivan Savvidis, has propped the club up financially but qualification for the Champions League would be a massive boost ahead of their move to a new stadium.

Zenit and Lokomotiv are still to visit Rostov, while trips to Dinamo Moscow and Terek Grozny could prove troublesome, but Rostov's destiny is very much in their own hands.

CSKA have bounced back from their 2-0 defeat at Zenit at the start of the month, with a win and a draw in their last two league games.

Their run-in looks favorable, with home games against Terek and FK Krasnodar perhaps their trickiest looking fixtures.

CSKA are bidding for their third title in four years and with 12 championships already under their belt the club knows what it takes to finish top of the pile.

Zenit have bounced back into the title race after reeling off five wins in a row.

The run included stylish home victories against CSKA and Spartak, leaving manager Andre Villas Boas well-placed to end his time with the club with another title to his name.

After their trip to Rostov, four of Zenit's five remaining games are against teams at the foot of the table, with their only other hurdle looking to be their home game against Lokomotiv on the penultimate weekend.

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Despite being five points off top spot, Lokomotiv could yet force themselves into the reckoning with Rostov and Zenit still to play.

If Lokomotiv could take a minimum of four points from those two games, their remaining fixtures all look winnable but they cannot really afford to lose between now and the end of the season.

FK Krasnodar's four-game winning run has kept them in the title picture. With five of their last six games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table they are still in with a shout.

Their most daunting challenge is the trip to CSKA during May and even fifteen points from their five other games might not be enough to secure an unlikely title win.

CSKA's easier looking run-in just about makes them favorites to win the league, but if Zenit can win in Rostov they will fancy their chances of successfully defending their crown.

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