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The new season was thrown into confusion before a ball had even been kicked when FC Moscow folded in February after their owners, metal giants Norilsk Nickel, stopped funding them.

Despite 11 fans going on hunger strike, the club were expelled from the Premier League and their place in the top flight will now be taken by Alania Vladikavkaz, who were champions in 1995. However, there are some who believe a conspiracy is at work as former Norilsk Nickel chairman Alexander Khloponin has recently been appointed government envoy to the troubled region in which Alania Vladikavkaz are based, and the football club’s promotion to the Premier League will have helped bolster his position.

Meanwhile, Rubin Kazan – the first non-Moscow club to successfully defend the league title – go looking for the hat-trick this season. Kurban Berdyev’s squad has been reinforced by the signing of Zenit’s Fatih Tekke and the Turkey international will team up in attack with Russia front man Aleksandr Bukharov, who was Rubin’s top scorer last year. Tekke replaces Alejandro Dominguez, the Argentinian who was voted the league’s best player last year but who has joined Valencia in Spain.

Nine-times champions Spartak Moscow, who have finished one place short of a 10th title fourth times in the last five years, will be pinning their hopes on the Brazilian duo of Welliton, who was the league’s top scorer last term, and Alex, who set up most of them.

Spartak manager Valeri Karpin combines his coaching post with that of director general and he is doing his best to promote local talent. Last season he gave a number of youngsters their chance after the team made a poor start to the season and they are expected to challenge again this time around.

Zenit St Petersburg started 2010 with a new foreign coach in Luciano Spalletti. Formerly with Roma, the Italian signed a three-year deal with Russia’s richest club and replaced interim coach Anatoli Davydov, who led Zenit to third place.

Backed by the powerful Gazprom company, Zenit’s new signings this season include Russia striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who returned to his native city after spells with Sevilla and Dynamo Moscow, and Yuri Zhevnov, the Belarus goalkeeper formerly with FC Moscow.

Four more FC Moscow players, including Russia midfielder Aleksei Rebko, have joined Dynamo Moscow, whose new owners, VTB Foreign Trade Bank, have made no secret of their ambition to win the title. It is 35 years since the once mighty white-and-blues were champions.

Another Russia international, Igor Semshov, returned to the club after a year with Zenit, and Dynamo’s young manager Andrey Kobelev will use him as a playmaker alongside veteran Dmitri Khokhlov. The team’s attack will be spearheaded by Ukraine’s Andriy Voronin, who joined Dynamo on a three-year contract from Liverpool.

Although Lokomotiv Moscow failed in a bid to sign their former attacking midfielder Marat Izmailov from Sporting Lisbon and Tottenham Hotspur striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, many view the railway team as major contestants for the title. The club’s long-time coach Yuri Semin, who returned last season from Dynamo Kyiv, has a number of aces up his sleeve, including talented Kyiv midfielder Oleksandr Aliyev and ex-FC Moscow playmaker Dmitri Tarasov.

Three-times champions CSKA Moscow are another likely contender under their talented young manager Leonid Slutsky. Once dubbed “the Russian Mourinho” he joined the army team from Krylia Sovetov late last season and took CSKA to the Champions League play-offs.

Twenty-four-year-old goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who is entering his eighth season with the club, remains the team’s captain and their defensive linchpin. Meanwhile, new signing Keisuke Honda has already shown during pre-season matches that he can rule the midfield.

In the meantime, Slutsky’s former club Krylia Sovetov found themselves in dire straits and they almost followed in the footsteps of FC Moscow before being rescued by a group of Samara-based businesses, who stepped in and acted on the “strong advice” of government officials.

After finishing seventh last year under the clever guidance of promising local coach Andrei Gordeyev, Saturn were not overly busy during the transfer market, though the inspired signing of charismatic veteran winger Denis Boyarintsev from Spartak Moscow may add to the team’s spirit and attacking potential.

Survival will be the name of the game for Rostov – who are now led by former USSR and Ukraine striker Oleh Protasov – along with Amkar Perm, Spartak Nalchik, Terek Grozny and Tom Tomsk, plus the three clubs promoted from the First Division: Alania Vladikavkaz, Anzhi Makhachkala, who are returning to the Premier League after an eight-year absence, and newcomers Sibir Novosibirsk, who have signed Poland keeper Wojciech Kowalewski, formerly of Spartak Moscow.

New season starts
March 12, 2010.

Mid-season break
May 15, 2010 to July 6, 2010.

Season ends
November 27, 2010.

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