Stellar Serbian duo, Marco Ivovic (left) and Drazen Luburic, face the tough task of defending Lokomotiv Novosibirsk's Superliga title. (Photo: lokovolley.com)
Moscow, Russia, September 25, 2020 – A week after the women’s Superliga of Russia started, the men are ready to follow suit. Two games on Friday and five on Saturday are on the programme for the first leg.
Outcomes look difficult to predict, not so much because of all the Covid-19 implications, but because many star players have changed clubs and a number of teams from all levels of last season’s final standings have strengthened up in preparation for the new season.
Champs Lokomotiv maintain level
‘Strengthening up’ may be a bit of an overstatement when it comes to defending champions Lokomotiv Novosibirsk. They managed to retain the core of the squad around Serbia’s Marco Ivovic and Russia’s Sergey Savin. They lost a key player in the transfer market (Polish setter Fabian Drzyzga), but gained another Serbian international, opposite Drazen Luburic. The latter has already demonstrated his scoring prowess, picking up speed over the course of the first stage of the Russia Cup earlier this month, where Lokomotiv finished second in their pool and advanced to the second stage on a 6-2 win-loss record.
Stellar Zenit Kazan squad become a bit more stellar
Silver medallists and national cup winners Zenit Kazan may have been disappointed by their unsuccessful experiment to switch Maxim Mikhaylov’s position from an opposite to an outside hitter and the way the previous season generally turned out. But after the departure of Bulgarian opposite Tsvetan Sokolov, they secured the services of at least two more major international stars – Russia’s Alexander Volkov and Poland’s Bartosz Bednorz. With France’s Earvin Ngapeth and Russian national team members Alexander Butko and Artem Volvich staying on, Zenit Kazan are once again among the favourites to win the title. Like Lokomotiv, the team from Kazan comfortably cruised to the second stage of the Russia Cup after finishing pool runners-up in the first stage.
Kuzbass pull major trump card
Kuzbass Kemerovo, the bronze medallists of the 2020 Superliga, have shrugged off some major departures including talented opposite Victor Poletaev, his Russian national team colleague Yaroslav Podlesnykh and outstanding Finnish libero Lauri Kerminen. They have, however, reacted by attracting one major trump card, Italian star Ivan Zaytsev.
Zaytsev has already made his mark, leading the team to the top of their Russia Cup pool on a perfect record of eight wins in eight games, including two over champs Lokomotiv, with Zaytsev top-scoring on both occasions.
The other new foreign addition, Serbian national team middle Petar Krsmanovic, also proved he would be a valuable asset in coach Alexey Verbov’s squad, alongside current or distinguished former members of the Russian national team including captain and setter Igor Kobzar and latest incoming transfer Alexey Obmochaev, an Olympic gold medallist in London in 2012.
Dinamo Moscow - one’s loss is another one’s gain
Tsvetan Sokolov from Zenit and Lauri Kerminen and Yaroslav Podlesnykh from Kuzbass have all headed in the same direction – Dinamo Moscow. They joined the likes of Belgium’s Sam Deroo and Russia’s Pavel Pankov and Ilia Vlasov to form a true dream team. The squad from the Russian capital finished fourth in 2020, but can definitely aim higher in 2021. In the Russia Cup first stage, Dinamo topped their pool unbeaten losing only one set in four matches played.
Zenit Saint Petersburg ready to go full force
German opposite Gyorgy Grozer will certainly be missed among the Zenit Saint Petersburg players and by Finnish coach Tuomas Sammelvuo, who is also at the helm of the Russian national team. But he’s got Victor Poletaev in his team now, and also Russian standout, Egor Kliuka, and French international Antoine Brizard. Among those who finished fifth in the Superliga last season, the names of Cuban star Oreol Camejo and of Russian international Ivan Iakovlev also highlight the current Zenit squad. The team made a poor start to the official season in the Russia Cup, but the latest news from Saint Petersburg confirms that Zenit are now ready to go full force in their Superliga season opener on Friday at home against Kuzbass.
Looking up - Ural and Belogorie with solid reinforcements
Two of the teams that did not make the top five last season made some solid deals on the transfer market over the summer and look set to get in on the race for medals. Eighth-placed Belogorie Belgorod signed London 2012 Olympic champion Dmitry Ilinykh and Italian national team talent Gabriele Nelli, while Ural Ufa expressed serious intentions of doing better than a 12th place by attracting the best scorer of the 2019-2020 Superiga, Maciej Muzaj of Poland, and Canadian standout John Gordon Perrin. The upgrade was evident during the Russia Cup, when Ural won their pool on a 5-1 record including a victory over Zenit Kazan, while Belogorie finished runners-up, second only to Dinamo Moscow.
Seven more in the race that ends in April
Fakel Novy Urengoy, Yenisei Krasnoyarsk, Gazprom-Ugra Surgut, Dinamo-LO Leningrad Oblast, ASK Nizhny Novgorod, Ugra-Samotlor Nizhnevartovsk and newly-promoted Neftyanik Orenburg make up the rest of the 14-team line-up for the upcoming season, with all of the clubs more or less capable of upsetting the favourites.
The home-and-away regular season will take place from September 25, 2020 through March 14, 2021. The top two teams will advance directly to the Final Six tournament from April 5 through 10, while the remaining four spots will be contested in a playoff round by the teams placed from third to tenth.
Russian Superliga - Men – Leg 1 schedule (Moscow time):
Sep 25, 19:00: Zenit Saint Petersburg v Kuzbass Kemerovo
Sep 25, 19:00: Dinamo Moscow v Neftyanik Orenburg
Sep 26, 13:00: Yenisei Krasnoyarsk v Lokomotiv Novosibirsk
Sep 26, 16:00: Gazprom-Ugra Surgut v Ural Ufa
Sep 26, 17:00: Zenit Kazan v Fakel Novy Urengoy
Sep 26, 17:30: Belogorie Belgorod v Ugra-Samotlor Nizhnevartovsk
Sep 26, 18:00: Dinamo-LO Leningrad Oblast v ASK Nizhny Novgorod
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