2010 RPL Preview: Can Rubin Kazan Make It Three in a Row?

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2010 RPL Preview: Can Rubin Kazan Make It Three in a Row?
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2009 Record: 19-6-5, 63 points (first place, Russian Champions, and UEFA Champions League Group stage)

Rubin defied all odds in 2008, winning their first Russian Premier League title when the club had never even been a part of the Soviet top division. Under superb management, Kurban Berdiyev continued to take whatever he got and transform them into winners by playing some of the finest counter-attacking football ever seen by a Russian outfit.

It was nearly asking the impossible to win the championship again in 2009, but Berdiyev did that and so much more. The name Rubin Kazan echoed around the world after an incredible 2-1 victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Although his side ultimately could not climb the mountain out of the Group of Death, Rubin locked up a date in the Europa League and a return ticket to the UCL in 2010.

Led by an all-RPL back line and two 16-goal scorers in Alejandro Dominguez and Aleksandr Bukharov, they held off all threats to their crown after stumbling slightly out of the gate. After assuming first place in mid-July, the Tatars held off the annual powerhouses before lifting the trophy again in Kazan following a 0-0 draw with Zenit St. Petersburg

But new challenges await in 2010. Dominguez has departed for Valencia and the club must adapt to life without him. Does Berdiyev have enough magic tricks up his sleeves to win the title three times in a row?

 

Manager: Kurban Berdiyev, 9th season, 96-53-61 (only RPL matches are included, he managed one season in the First Division as well).

Captain: CM Sergei Semak

Stadium: Central Stadium Kazan (30,133)

RFU Top 33 Players Returning: 7 . GK Sergei Ryzhikov, CB Roman Sharonov, CB Cesar Navas, LB Cristian Ansaldi, CM Sergei Semak, RM Aleksandr Ryazantsev, ST Aleksandr Bukharov.

Key 2009-10 Departures: ST Alejandro Dominguez (to Valencia), CB Aleksei Popov (to Amkar Perm), DF Stjepan Tomas (to Gaziantepspor).

Key 2009-10 Arrivals:  CB Jordi (from Celta Vigo), ST Fatih Tekke (from Zenit St. Petersburg), GK Ilie Cebanu (from Wisla Krakow), CM Bebars Nathko (from Hapoel Tel-Aviv), ST Bahodir Nasimov (from Samarqand-Dinamo).

 

Lineup and Roster

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Goalkeeping

Sergei Ryzhikov will take most of the starts. He received his first Russia call-up during World Cup qualifying against Wales, but he had honestly deserved one much sooner than that. The 29-year-old started 29 of 30 RPL matches for Rubin in 2009 and there's no reason to believe that will change any time in 2010. Berdiyev has complete faith in him.

Moldovan newcomer Ilie Cebanu will be the backup, but the 23-year-old isn't likely to see much time on the field outside of practice.

 

Defense

In 2009, Rubin lived by the words "defense wins championships". With three of the starting four defenders featuring on the annual RFU Top 33 list, this unit is not only highly skilled, but brutally efficient as well. Cristian Ansaldi has established himself as far and away the finest left back in the league and the tough tackler should only improve even more in 2010.

Towering center back Cesar Navas came over at the beginning of 2009 from Spanish side Racing Santander and fit in like he had been with the club for 12 years. His huge presence on the back line along with partner Roman Sharonov formed the most powerful duo in Russia.

Georgian veteran Lasha Salukvadze looks to round out the unit in admirable fashion.

Jordi, the 22-year-old Spaniard, should find a quick home as the first central defender off the bench. Dato Kvirkvelia should also see significant playing time as a reserve, and his ability to play any defensive position is a great asset to Berdiyev.

 

Midfield

The midfield was not Rubin's area of supreme strength in 2009 and if they are vulnerable in any place, this would be it. But the unit still is no laughing matter as they have quite a mix of skill, speed and toughness.

With the departure of Dominguez, creative attack-minded players like Christian Noboa of Ecuador and veteran Turkish international Gokdeniz Karadeniz will be even more important to the success of the team. At 33-years old, Sergei Semak is still playing some of the best football of his life and should continue to play a vital role as the holding midfielder.

But arguably the biggest upside comes in the form of Aleksandr Ryazantsev, a 23-year-old who can score from anywhere but also play a bruising brand of defense. The sky is the limit for him and if any manager in Russia can help him get there, it's Kurban Berdiyev.

Bebars Nathko, Petr Bystrov, Macbeth Sibaya, and Rafal Murawski should form a very potent bench, as all four players have the potential to start on a full-time basis. Once again, Berdiyev has put together a combination of many different skills and a perfect blend of veterans to young players.

 

Strikers

Aleksandr Bukharov is the head man. It's incredible that this man has not received more Russian caps in his career. He is a prototype center-forward with immense size at 1.92m (6'3"), but for as dominant as he is in the box, he can be very dangerous in the open field as well. Extraordinarily difficult to bring down, he's faster than he looks and twice as powerful.

Two Turkish strikers should occupy the first bench roles, in veterans Fatih Tekke and Hasan Kabze. Tekke can still score even though used as a substitute for Zenit, as seen by his eight goals.

Young Uzbek striker Bahodir Nasimov is more of a project at this point and will probably only see the field in blowouts, meaningless games or Cup matches.

 

Analysis

Rubin's schedule did them a lot of favors, as they only play two of the fellow five Russian goliaths before the World Cup break. It's set up perfectly for the club to accumulate quite a number of points before June.

On paper, this is not the most talented of clubs in the league but there is absolutely no question that it's the best coached.

As long as they have a tremendous defense and a striker who can dominate the play, this team has a chance to win an awful lot of games. The worst thing that could possibly happen is if the RFU snatches Berdiyev away and makes him the Russian national manager.

 

Projected Finish: Third

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