Third-placed Dinamo Moscow attempt to reel in Russian Premier League leaders Zenit St. Petersburg on Saturday when the two clash in the northern capital.
Just three points separate the top three teams, with Zenit on 53, CSKA Moscow on 51 and Dinamo on 50.
Any of them could be top by the end of the weekend, promising an enthralling three-game dash to the line that is the winter break on November 6.
Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti is sweating on the fitness of key trio Roman Shirokov, Viktor Fayzulin and Tomas Hubocan for the match at Petrovsky Stadium, and is still without the league’s top striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who hurt his ankle in the 2-2 draw with Spartak earlier this month.
Spalletti knows he can’t afford fresh injuries with Wednesday’s trip to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League in mind.
Dinamo’s Ukrainian forward Andriy Voronin, meanwhile, may not recover from a bout of pneumonia in time to make the trip.
Dinamo are anxiously trying to persuade star players Igor Semshov and Aleksandr Samedov, both involved in Russia’s 6-0 routing of Andorra on Tuesday that assured qualification for Euro 2012, to agree to new contracts. The current deals of both players expire in December 2012.
Despite CSKA’s poor recent form with one win in their last five, three points against Terek Grozny should be a formality. Terek’s new coach Stanislav Cherchesov is desperately trying to halt a slide of six defeats in their last eight that has left them in 12th, just four points off the bottom.
CSKA still have goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda out with knee problems. Honda returned to Russia this week after spending a month in rehabilitation following surgery in Barcelona.
Elsewhere, fourth-placed Spartak take their impressive away record of one defeat in their eight to Rubin Kazan, who lie in seventh on 42 points.
Spartak are tied in seventh with Lokomotiv Moscow on 46 points.
Lokomotiv are in impervious form and look a sure bet to extend their streak without defeat to 11 games when they host bottom club Tom Tomsk on Sunday. Lokomotiv continue their Europa League campaign against AEK Athens on Thursday.
A Caucasus derby awaits in Nalchik, where Spartak host Anzhi Makhachkala. The newly rich Dagestan club has recently refuted reports that stellar forward Samuel Eto’o may be loaned back to Inter Milan for the duration of the Russian winter break.
Player-manager Roberto Carlos is looking to turn around form that has seen them lose two of their previous three games; the last a 1-0 home defeat to Lokomotiv.
Anzhi lie in eighth position on 41 points and should fend off a challenge from ninth-placed Krasnodar, on 32 points, for the coveted playoffs, which begin in March for the top eight teams. They will play each other twice for the title and European places, while the last eight fight to avoid relegation.
In other games, minnows Amkar Perm play sixth-place FC Kuban; Krylya Sovietov Samara host Volga Nizhny Novgorod; and Krasnodar play Rostov in a battle of ninth against tenth.