Moscow (AFP) – Three top Russian clubs blamed the protracted winter break on defeats in the Europa League on Thursday.
CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow all said the three-month recess had hampered their preparations for the last 16 first leg ties.
“We’ve played only four matches after the winter break,” Zenit’s former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic said after a 2-1 loss in Leipzig.
“It was hard to prepare for this match properly because it’s very difficult to find a quality pitch to train on in Saint Petersburg at this time of the year.
“Now we need to forget this match and to focus on our match on Sunday at Rostov, which, I believe, will also be very difficult,” he said.
CSKA Moscow, beaten 1-0 at home by French side Lyon, also reproached the wintry weather and the poor condition of the pitch at their home venue for their lacklustre performance.
“It’s not a good result for a home match,” CSKA playmaker Alan Dzagoev told Russian TV after the match.
“Our venue’s service staff did everythng they could to prepare the pitch for the match but it wasn’t enough at such a (bad) weather.
“We’ve all failed to show our best today as it was very hard to perform creative and skilled football at the pitch of such (a low) quality.”
Dzagoev also expressed hope that the pitch at Grozny, where CSKA will face Terek on Sunday, will be in much better condition.
– Foreign stars missing –
Russian league table-toppers Lokomotiv Moscow also blamed lack of match practice after the winter break and the absence of their Peruvian midfielder Jefferson Farfan and Brazilian forward Ari, who were both sidelined with injuries, for their 3-0 drubbing at Atletico Madrid.
“We’ve played against a very strong team that always perform at their top and never reserve their strength,” managers Yury Semin told the club’s website.
“We’ve made too many mistakes and paid the price for it. But we’ve played just a couple of games since the winter break. Besides, we played without two of our team’s first-choice players.”
Semin also said that Lokomotiv will need to focus on their match at Ural Yekaterinburg which he considered to be very important for his team, seeking their third domestic title ever and first since 2004.
The railway-backed outfit have a seven-point lead at the top over second-placed Krasnodar, who tackle strugglers Dynamo Moscow on Saturday. Reigning champions Spartak, CSKA and Zenit St Petersburg are all one point further back.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Amkar Perm v Arsenal Tula (1430)
Ufa v Anzhi Makhachkala (1100), Dynamo Moscow v Krasnodar (1330), Tosno v Rubin Kazan (1600)
Rostov v Zenit St Petersburg (1100), Akhmat Grozny v CSKA Moscow (1330), Spartak Moscow v SKA Khabarovsk (1600)
Ural Yekaterinburg v Lokomotiv Moscow (1400)
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