Russian Premier League Picks, Week Five: Russia Hails Valiant CSKA
The dream is over. In front of 55,000 strong at the Luzhniki Stadium, CSKA Moscow fell to Italian powerhouse Internazionale 1-0 and 2-0 on aggregate. An early strike from Wesley Sneijder sent Jose Mourinho's men through in fairly comfortable fashion, as CSKA's prayers went from slim to non-existent after Nigerian defender Chidi Odiah was sent off in the second half.
Leonid Slutskiy's squad came on strong for a while but Inter's defense coupled with the fact that the Army Men needed to score three times to progress weighed down the atmosphere. But it surely wasn't enough to dampen goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's spirits about his team's overall performance.
"For us, it is a big achievement. Whatever they say, we did it and we are proud we made it this far," said Akinfeev. Slutskiy also mirrored Akinfeev's feelings.
"We came in looking for a win. But the early goal, along with Vasili's [Berezutskiy] injury, made our task a great deal tougher. The sending off of Chidi virtually eliminated our hopes. But I can't hold anything against my men today, they did all they could."
But alas, CSKA is gone and Inter moves on. So it's back to business as usual for CSKA in the Russian Premier League for now.
Also mid week, several Russian Cup matches were held. In the top half of the bracket, Zenit St. Petersburg clinically disposed of Second Division side Volga Tver at the Petrovsky Stadium while Amkar Perm received a free pass to the semifinal due to FC Moscow no longer having status as a professional club.
Alania smashed First Division Mordovia Saransk 3-0, while Sibir defeated former RPL side Luch-Energiya Vladivostok by the same score.
The semifinals are scheduled for April 21st, and it would seem apparent that whichever club prevails in Perm will become the newest Russian Cup champions. Luciano Spalletti should have plenty of desire to win his first trophy with Zenit while Amkar will not only want to put on a good show for the fans, but use the Cup as a pass into European competition this summer.
On the Premier League front though, Spartak Nalchik sits on top of the table with 10 points while Krylia Sovetov still searches for their first point of the season. Powerhouses Zenit and Lokomotiv Moscow are set to lock horns in St. Petersburg while defending champions Rubin prepare to face the newest table toppers.
Let's get to it. Home sides listed first. A "1" stands for home victory, "X" stands for a draw, and a "2" stands for an away victory.
1. Krylia Sovetov Samara (16th) - Saturn (13th): X
Saturday, 10 April 2010, Stadion Metallurg Samara
As the Russian transfer window shut on Thursday, Samara did have a chance to add Serbian veteran Nenad Djordjevic from Partizan to shore up their patchwork back line. The 30-year-old center back could be in the lineup against Saturn, but it should turn out to be a very nice signing for the rest of the season.
However, he still won't help out their non-existent offense, which hasn't scored a single goal the entire season. They have been the beneficiary of own goals twice, but haven't been able to create a single thing coming through the midfield. Krylia Sovetov have had some excellent crowds at home recently and need to feed off the support if they have any aspirations this weekend.
Saturn on the other hand have struggled mightily this season for long stretches of play, and could be just as offensively-challenged as their newest foes. They did manage to earn a point against Rubin last weekend after being eradicated 10-1 by the Russian champions a season ago, so the team confidence should be at a high.
Over the years, the two sides have been evenly matched. That trend should continue to start the weekend off.
2. Spartak Moscow (9th) - Terek Grozny (2nd): 1
Saturday, 10 April 2010, Luzhniki Stadium
Spartak's trip to Tomsk last weekend didn't exactly go as planned, as Valery Karpin saw his side give up two goals in the first half an hour of play. But honestly, Spartak have not looked right all season long and they have been particularly dominated through the midfield. The return of Montenegrin international Nikola Drincic can't come soon enough.
On a bright spot though, Brazilian hit man Welliton became the all-time leading foreign-born scorer in Spartak history with his 33rd goal for the Moscow club.
Terek has been a surprise so far this season, as not a whole lot of people projected them to be sitting in second place at this point. But they've played such excellent defense and also capitalized on the chances given to them. Argentine Hector Bracamonte bagged a first-half double against Samara, but his task becomes much more difficult as the team heads to Moscow.
Tension should be high in the capital because the Chechens won't be welcome visitors, but they've also never even been able to earn a point while visiting Spartak. It's been baby steps so far, but the offense has shown up for Spartak in the past several weeks, so Karpin has to hope the defense can come next in line.
3. Dinamo Moscow (11th) - Tom Tomsk (4th): 1
Saturday, 10 April 2010, Arena Khimki
Dinamo has been what you might call a bag of tricks at the moment. Which team are they? The one who put up clean sheets in consecutive weeks against Spartak and CSKA, or the defense that has been entirely shredded to pieces by Zenit and Lokomotiv?
They finally get a break from the big boys as Tomsk comes to town. However, they can't fall asleep here because the men of Trud have played some excellent football. Their only loss to date came with nine men against Rubin Kazan, and there's certainly no shame in that.
Dinamo sporting director Konstantin Sarsania has been constantly talking for the better part of a month about adding a top striker—namely Kevin Kuranyi—but no such move was made on Thursday and the Policemen must live with Ukrainian Andriy Voronin for now. That hasn't been so bad—the former Liverpool man started off the scoring against Lokomotiv and also notched his first goal with Dinamo over the weekend.
For Tomsk, no worries up front as Sergei Kornilenko has returned. The big center forward has appeared three times and scored three goals and looks to continue his mastery over the Dinamo defense. The only thing currently going against his run for more goals is the fact that the home team has prevailed nearly every time the two sides meet for battle.
4. Sibir Novosibirsk (15th) - Anzhi (10th): 2
Sunday, 11 April 2010, Stadion Spartak Novosibirsk
The Siberians have lost every RPL match except one by multiple goals, but the even less encouraging thought is knowing that they still haven't even faced one of the Big Six clubs. They also face a new challenge this week—they were 3-0 victors in the Russian Cup this past Wednesday, but now must come back and take the field again just a few days later.
For some clubs, it's not a problem, but for a club like Sibir who fields a lot of players over age 30 and don't have much depth, it should be interesting to see how they can respond.
On the other hand, Anzhi earned their first victory of the season last weekend over Alania, winning 2-0 on goals by Czech striker Jan Holenda and another finish from Andrey Streltsov. Of the three newly promoted clubs, Anzhi has seemed to be the most comfortable with the higher level of play so far.
In the first division, both of the matches were decided by 2-1 wins for the home team, but that trend won't continue as Anzhi has made many improvements in the first four weeks and the same can not be said of Sibir.
5. Zenit St. Petersburg (5th) - Lokomotiv Moscow (8th): 1
Sunday, 11 April 2010, Petrovsky Stadium
Luciano Spalletti and Zenit had a bye week of sorts, as the high-profile clash with CSKA was rescheduled for later in the month due to lack of security forces at the Luzhniki Stadium. So instead, the club put on a mid-week show for the supporters in a 2-0 win over Volga Tver that sent them comfortably into the semifinals of the Russian Cup.
Lokomotiv were in action however, as they defeated Dinamo in a wild 3-2 contest that saw Ukrainian Oleksandr Aliev score twice more to bring his league-leading mark to five goals on the season. Now we've seen this before...
Manager Yuri Semin has also been shifting to more three striker sets, with Sychev and Odemwingie flanking Dramane Traore. The results still haven't come though, as the only goal scored by the trio has been a penalty by Sychev.
Last year, the clubs played both matches to 1-1 draws, but Lokomotiv's road woes have continued into the new season. In 2009, they finished with a sum of zero wins against European bound clubs away from the Lokomotiv Stadium and will have their hands full against a Zenit club that is just beginning to hit it's offensive stride.
Zenit will also have starting central back Fernando Meira back in the lineup, a big boost to the the team as he formed a tremendous duo with Nicolas Lombaerts in the later part of last season.
6. Alania (14th) - CSKA Moscow (7th): 2
Sunday, 11 April 2010, Republikanskiy Stadion Vladikavkaz
Alania are still searching for their first victory in the Premier League this season. While they have had absolutely no luck on the road, they have earned a pair of draws in Vladikavkaz already, but there have to be more than a few concerns about the offense. No striker has stepped up and performed.
CSKA haven't played a RPL match since March 26, but they sure haven't been sitting around doing nothing. Although the squad fell to Internazionale at the Luzhniki Stadium, they will take many newly learned lessons to domestic competition.
This is a very friendly match up for the Army Men, as they match up very well across the board with Alania. The Snow Leopards just don't have the size on the back line or any attacking options that can really threaten CSKA and while the crowd should be raucous, this is a fixture that they would be thrilled to get a point out of. It just won't happen.
7. Rostov (12th) - Amkar Perm (6th): X
Sunday, 11 April 2010, Olympic Stadium Rostov
Rostov were slaughtered in Nalchik last weekend, allowing five goals in the most lopsided contest of the season. But it's not all gloom and doom for the Selmashi. Twenty five year old Bosnian striker Mersudin Ahmetovic has had a great season so far, scoring in two of the last three matches.
Since losing the first match of the season in stoppage time to CSKA, Amkar hasn't failed to earn points, picking up seven of a possible nine points against newly promoted clubs. They have also been able to replace rugged defender Ivan Cherenchikov rather seamlessly, but as the season progresses the krasno-chernye are going to have to find someone aside from Bulgarian Georgi Peev that can create from a midfield role.
Away from the Zvezda Stadium, Amkar tends to play very defensively and that philosophy shouldn't randomly change just because Rostov was shelled in their last outing. The men from Perm will play for a point and should get the result.
8. Rubin Kazan (3rd) - Spartak Nalchik (1st): 1
Monday, 12 April 2010, Central Stadium Kazan
The reigning Russian champions have run across a dry spell recently. It's 200 minutes and counting since the Tatars have last scored a goal, and even that one was almost a given as it came two men up against Tomsk. The club has been in a funk since losing it's Europa League tussle with Wolfsburg in the 119th minute of extra time, but are also visibly missing Alejandro Dominguez's presence up front.
Kurban Berdiyev has realized that he's going to have to come out of the defensive shell at some point and actually attempt to score goals. It's not that he doesn't have the personnel like other clubs, Aleksandr Bukharov is one of the finest, but they have indeed become too happy with their defensive abilities.
On the other hand, Nalchik's amazing season continues, as they blasted hapless Rostov 5-2 in front of a delirious home crowd. How is a prime relegation candidate playing so well out of nowhere? Give a ton of credit to 21-year-old midfielder Vladimir Dyadyun, who has been at the front and center of nearly everything for Nalchik. Literally.
His five points lead the league alongside Aliev of Lokomotiv, and he's been a huge factor in the success of the team as well. The club leads the RPL in goals scored and they have been getting production from all positions on the field. Oddly enough though, Dyadyun is on loan from Rubin Kazan.
This will be Nalchik's first true test of credibility on the season and surely welcome the challenge of trying to become the first team to score on Rubin this season.
Season Record: 14-17 (.452)
Current Champions: Rubin Kazan (5)
Once again, Rubin defended their title as the best club in Russia, but for the second straight week in a row, they delivered an uninspired performance which lead to a scoreless draw. This time, they were held by Saturn in Ramenskoe despite fielding essentially a full roster. The Tatars have still not allowed a goal through 360 minutes of football however, but the deadly counter-attack from a season ago just has not been there.
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