MOSCOW - Russian Premier League leaders Zenit St Petersburg face a tough test of their title ambitions when they take on arch rivals Spartak Moscow on Saturday.
Last season's runners-up Zenit, the only team in the league to have so far bagged maximum points after eight matches with 26 goals in the process, are hoping to continue their winning run in the clash with Russia's most successful club.
"We're all proud to have set the league's new record," Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas said of the eight consecutive victories.
The former Porto, Chelsea and Tottenham manager added: "By doing that we've underlined our team's strong desire to win the Russian title this season.
"But it's very important to understand that this record will lose its value completely in case we fail to beat Spartak in the next match."
Zenit boosted their morale ahead of the clash with Spartak with a 2-1 win over Anzhi Makhachkala in a midweek Russian Cup match, their goals coming from defender Oleg Shatov and Venezuelan forward Jose Salomon Rondon.
Spartak also advanced into the national cup last 16 round with a 1-0 win over third division side Smena from Russia's Far Eastern city Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
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Spartak's Swiss manager Murat Yakin said he was satisfied with his team's performances.
"In general I'm happy with my team's performances so far," Yakin said.
"Taking into consideration the very short time we've spent working together, I'm pleasantly surprised."
The former Swiss international added: "I set myself a task for this season - to lead Spartak into European football.
"And I always want to win our next match. The clash with Zenit is another milestone on our way to European football and I want to win it very much."
Reigning champions CSKA Moscow, who are currently third, will be favourites to extend their three-match winning streak against minnows Ural Yekaterinburg, who are third from the bottom with just four points from eight matches.
"I hope that with the derby win over Lokomotiv we have recovered from the rout in Rome," CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky said in reference to the 5-1 thrashing they suffered at the hands of AS Roma in their opening Champions League group match.
Another Moscow side Dynamo, who are second on goal difference from the champions CSKA, take on Kuban Krasnodar on Sunday.
Dynamo, who crashed out of the Russian cup with a 2-0 defeat at Yaroslavl this week, will likely go into the clash with the fourth-placed Kuban without their French playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, who has just been released from the hospital after undergoing an appendectomy last week.
"Together with our team doctor we will decide how long Valbuena needs to make a full recovery," Dynamo manager Stanislav Cherchesov said.
"I'm not going to send an unfit player onto the pitch especially against the serious rivals like Kuban. We need him perfectly ready."
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Ural Yekaterinburg v CSKA Moscow (0930), Mordovia Saransk v Ufa (1200), Zenit St Petersburg v Spartak Moscow (1430)
Dynamo Moscow v Kuban Krasnodar (0930), Lokomotiv Moscow v Amkar Perm (1200), FC Krasnodar v Arsenal Tula (1430), Terek Grozny v Rostov (1700)
Rubin Kazan v Torpedo Moscow (1600).
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