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2010 RPL Preview: CSKA Moscow Is Reloaded and Ready for Redemption

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2010 RPL Preview: CSKA Moscow Is Reloaded and Ready for Redemption
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2009 Record: 16-4-10, 52 points (Fifth place and UEFA Europa League third-round qualifying)

2009 was a season filled with turbulence for CSKA. During the season, hit man Vagner Love and talented winger Yuri Zhirkov departed the club, while two different managers were fired during the course of the season.

But in spite of all the changes, CSKA qualified for the Champions League knockout round for the first time in its illustrious history.

Brazilian Zico started out at the helm, but after a disappointing summer that saw the Army Men crash out of the Kubok Rossii—a competition they had won four of the past five years—the club decided to replace him with former Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos. But in more than a month's time, Ramos couldn't get the club turned around, either—and he lost his job after only 47 days.

Krylia Sovetov manager Leonid Slutskiy was brought in next—and he immediately proved that the third time actually is the charm. His only Russian Premier League defeat came at the hands of Rubin Kazan—but more importantly, he defeated Wolfsburg and Besiktas and earned a crucial point at Old Trafford that ensured a second-place finish.

While the Army Men are locked in a heavyweight tussle with Sevilla, Slutskiy knows that fifth place in Russia again will not be an acceptable result. His team has to return to the Champions League.

Facing the team are the potential subtractions of several superstar players in the summer—but can they survive?

 

Manager: Leonid Slutskiy, second season, 3-0-1

Captain: GK Igor Akinfeev

Stadium: Luzhniki Stadium (78,360)

RFU Top 33 Players Returning: 6. GK Igor Akinfeev, CB Sergei Ignashevich, CB Vasili Berezutskiy, LB Georgi Schennikov, RM Milos Krasic, AM Alan Dzagoev

Key 2009-10 Departures: AM Daniel Carvalho (to Al-Arabi), ST Ouwu Moussa Maazou (to Monaco), ST Ricardo Jesus (to Larissa), ST Ganiyu Osani (to Esperance Tunis)

Key 2009-10 Arrivals: GK Sergei Chepchugov (from Sibir Novosibirsk), AM Keisuke Honda (from VVV-Venlo), RB Kirill Nababkin (from FC Moscow), ST Seydou Doumbia (from BSC Young Boys Bern, to join in summer 2010)

 

Lineups and Roster

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Goalkeeping

This starts and ends with Igor Akinfeev, one of the best keepers in the world. He has been the choice goalkeeper for CSKA since his 17th birthday, and at only 23 years old, he still has a ton of room to improve. That's a scary thought for RPL squads.

Russia's top keeper played every match in 2009—but many of the most recognizable clubs in the world have asked about his services. Will he be with the Army Men at the end of the season—or might he be showcasing his talents elsewhere? Time will tell.

Akinfeev will be backed up by newcomer Sergei Chepchugov, who played a major role in having Sibir promoted to the Premier League for the 2010 season. He's a very capable reserve keeper, and even though his time should be very limited, he has the ability to come in whenever needed.

 

Defense

While the two Russian internationals, Ignashevich and Berezutskiy, grab most of the attention, 18-year-old left back Georgi Schennikov sent pulses around the league in 2009. One of more than a few teenage sensations to crash the party, Schennikov won the job handily—and he has not only thrived under pressure, but he also has welcomed every bit of it.

He would never say it, but you know he was loving every second of facing Jesus Navas from Sevilla in the Champions League. There's a reason why he was named to the RFU Top 33 list at such a young age. He's simply a defender who loves his job.

A duo of Kirill Nababkin and veteran rear guard Deividas Semberas should see time at right back. Aleksei Berezutskiy, twin brother of Vasili, could also play on the right as well as in the center.

Highly lauded center back Uros Cosic should also make his debut in 2010—and many fans will be eager to see the "new Nemanja Vidic." The 17-year-old Serbian will nicely round out what has to be the best group of central defenders in the league.

 

Midfield

Put it this way: The midfield was so deep and so talented in the winter that they had to essentially give players away and loan them to any team who would take them.

But even though the club had a first-come, first-served December yard sale, the midfield is exceptional. Led by the duo of teenager Alan Dzagoev and Serbian superstar Milos Krasic, the group got even better with the addition of Japan international Keisuke Honda and the return of Mark "Speedy" Gonzalez.

They can beat defenses with moves, speed, or precision passing, but they all have the ability to score from distance as well. The quartet should only improve even more as the season goes on and they establish chemistry.

Pavel Mamaev and Evgeni Aldonin should take care of the holding midfield, when Slutskiy choses to utilize the position. Many times, he has replaced them with a third central defender.

19-year-old Nigerian Sekou Oliseh should also get more than a handful of chances to impress, especially in matches against relegation contenders.

 

Strikers 

A two-headed monster will lead the CSKA attack: Guilherme and Tomas Necid. The 21-year-old Brazilian is on loan from Dynamo Kiev until the summer. Necid, a pure center forward, has improved by quantum leaps in the last half a year. The big Czech should get the brunt of the starts, as Slutskiy normally only utilizes one striker.

But the assault force should improve even more in the summer. Ivory Coast gunner Seydou Doumbia will join the club after the World Cup, and as it stands now, Love will be joining him in Moscow. Even if not, the progress of Necid and the addition of Doumbia may give Slutskiy no other choice but to open up the offensive playbook and put in two strikers.

 

Analysis

This could very well be a tale of two seasons for CSKA. Akinfeev and Krasic could potentially be on their way out in the summer, while Guilherme is already assured a return ticket to Kiev. The addition of Doumbia in July could prove to be the signing of the Russian year already—if he can bring his ridiculous Swiss form to Russia.

Either way, this will be one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in 2010—and preventing a catastrophe, they will not be finishing in fifth place again. There are very few, if any, glaring weaknesses on the roster. If not the favorites to win the league, they are certainly one of the primary contenders for the crown.

The only thing that could be standing between CSKA and a fourth title in eight years are injuries, as the team isn't the deepest in the league and doesn't have a tremendous youth squad.

 

Projected Finish: Second

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