Anzhi Makhachkala 2-1 Volga Nizhny Novgorod

A general depiction of how the sides were set up during the first half.

Samuel Eto’o scored on his home début for new club Anzhi Makhachkala, as the big-spending Dagestani side moved up to fourth place in the Russian Premier League. The home side never looked convincing against a defensively dogged and sprint-pressing Volga outfit, who themselves offered nothing in attack. There were occasional flashes of invention from some of the players you’d expect to see them from, but generally, Anzhi’s play was sluggish, their passes sideways, and their spirit conspicuous only by its absence. Nevertheless, the three points are ultimately all that matters, and Anzhi need to make up four of them to overtake CSKA Moscow in the third and final Champions League spot. Volga, on the other hand, are now just one point above the drop zone.

Match preview here.

Volga instantly sat off their illustrious opponents, letting the home side dictate the tempo and monopolize possession. Anzhi attempted to work their way towards goal with floor-based football from the word ‘go’, and some of their initial play – started via Roberto Carlos and brought into the opposition half mostly by Benoit Angbwa – was slick. But, Volga looked potent and quick on the break, especially Sanzhar Tursunov on the left. However, in the third minute, it was Andrey Eshchenko who zoomed down the right, before the ball was switched for the tricky Tursunov to make a one-two with Mate Vatsadze. The Georgian forward had other ideas, though, and instead of returning the pass, teed up Romanian midfielder Mihăiţă Pleşan. Pleşan’s first-time blast deflected off centre-back Rasim Tagirbekov, and went into the net for a 1-0 Volga lead!  Continue reading

Anzhi Makhachkala-Volga Nizhny Novgorod preview

Big-spending Anzhi take on relegation-battling Volga in the 23rd round of the Russian Premier League season later on this evening (8.30pm local time). The clash will see Anzhi’s marquee buy Samuel Eto’o handed his home début at the 20,000-seater Dinamo Stadium, with the Cameroonian striker likely to make a first start for his new employers (despite travelling to Africa during the past fortnight for a Cup of Nations qualifier). During that time, those of his teammates not on international duty met Kazakhstani outfit Aktobe in a friendly scheduled as part of the preparation for the clash with Volga – playing in the top-flight for the first time since being reformed in 1998. Continue reading

FC Krasnodar 2-2 Anzhi Makhachkala

The first half formations.

Big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala have fallen seven points behind table-toppers CSKA Moscow after the Dagestani side could only draw 2-2 with fellow 2011 surprise package FC Krasnodar.

Round 16 of the Russian Premier League’s 2011 season concluded with two of this year’s surprise packages coming together. Like city rivals Kuban, whom Krasnodar faced in the top-flight’s first ever non-Moscow derby last weekend, the home side were flying high in the table, and knew a win here could see them go sixth in a league of 16 teams. Putting that in perspective, Krasnodar were in the Russian third division just three years ago. But Slavoljub Muslin’s squad is definitely first division standard these days, with plenty of experience at the back, flair players like Andrei Gorbanets, and goalscorers like former Real Salt Lake and Kansas City Wizards striker Yura Movsisyan. Continue reading

Sibir Novosibirsk 2-2 Rubin Kazan

The formations that began the game. When Sibir took the lead, Noboa began playing in a more advanced position. Ansaldi didn't offer much of an overlapping threat because Eduardo and Kasaev were doubling-up down that flank.

Russian Premier League strugglers Sibir Novosibirsk injected life into their survival battle by winning at Rostov last weekend. But with relegation rivals Krylya Sovetov Samara winning yesterday, Sibir knew they had to take three points against last season’s champions here to maintain any hopes they had of surviving.

Rubin came into the game in second place, wearied from playing Barcelona in the Champions League in the week, and knowing they also needed three points for their own domestic cause – keeping on the trail of runaway leaders, Zenit.

The sides’ league positions showed immediately – Rubin were superior to Sibir from the off. Without possession, they pressed high and in numbers, while with it, they were decisive and clever, and kept Aleksei Medvedev – back at his old club for the first time – well fed.

Sibir neglected to press, and found congesting the centre wasn’t preventing Rubin’s one-two moves that were easily keeping the ball in the final-third.

The visitors had a range of options in attack: Carlos Eduardo and Alan Kasaev dovetailed superbly – the Brazilian taking the back seat by making diagonal dummy runs that let the energetic Russian cut inside.

With the equally classy Christian Noboa nearby, the trio worked several sumptuous triangles to great effect.

Over on the right, Oleg Kuzmin and Andrei Gorbanets performed complementarily. Unfortunately, Gorbanets’ weak delivery too often wasted Rubin’s breakaways. Continue reading

Anzhi Makhachkala 0-1 Rubin Kazan

The formations that started the game. 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2 = barely a shot at goal, a bitty match with players fouling persistently due to being on top of one another, and an inevitable first half stalemate.

Matchday 21 of the Russian Premier League’s 2010 season saw ninth-placed Anzhi Makhachkala meet a Rubin Kazan side on the warpath after a midweek loss in the Champions League to Copenhagen.

Russia’s 2008 and 2009 champions made four alterations to the team that lost in Denmark, with Salvatore Bocchetti, Carlos Eduardo, Lasha Salukvadze and Vitali Kaleshin either rested, injured or dropped.

Anzhi made a few changes to the side that lost at Rostov last week, though most crucially, their passionate Dagestani fans were deprived of Jan Holenda, Andrei Streltsov and Igor Strelkov.

The match started in a frenetic fashion as both sides kept the ball in the air. This theme characterised the entire game as both sides opted to send goal-kicks towards and often into the opposition’s box.

While Rubin stood their defence on the halfway line during birthday boy Sergei Rhyzhikov’s long kicks of the ball, Anzhi kept banks of ‘4’ and ‘3’ deep in narrow, eyebrow shapes. Continue reading

Spartak Moscow

Here's how Spartak lined up in the final game of the 2009 season away at Zenit (29/11, with the game ending 2-1 in Zenit's favour).

Later on this evening, Spartak Moscow do battle with Marseille at France’s largest football stadium, the Stade Vélodrome.

After finishing in 2nd place in the 2009 edition of the Russian Premier League, this season – which concludes in a matter of weeks – has been a resounding disappointment for Krasno-belye.

Coach Valeri Karpin has too regularly changed tactics and personnel, and defensive errors have been inexcusably frequent and damaging to the nation’s best supported club.

The squad has a bloated look (a recurring theme as there were 80 players on the books in 2003), although the midfield possesses balance – numerous game-changing magicians, a plethora of wingers and several hardened holding midfielder.

It’s in defence though where Spartak lack real quality and depth, as the centre backs, for starters, are far too gung-ho; easily lured into leaving gaps, and shorn of that canny aggression required to fight at the highest level of club football. Continue reading

Zenit 2-0 Tom Tomsk

The starting systems. Yuri Zhevnov in the Zenit goal had absolutely nothing to do, though was called upon during three occasions in the second half.

Two red cards, a goal disallowed just as play was about to be restarted, tons of show-boating, and a delay caused by excessive flare-smoke: all this, yet Zenit’s round 20 victory was still boringly routine.

In fairness to the visitors, Sergei Kornilenko’s recent departure and Artem Dzyuba’s absence was bound to prove blunting, and despite dropping points and positions by the week, Tom are probably content to write this match off.

Zenit didn’t exactly ooze class, but showed and used it at the right moments. Their two goals owed more to defensive mishaps, but as both came in the first half, they were able to play the second period in lesser gears.

Luciano Spalletti’s side boast an enviable quality of appearing to park the bus, only to dupe us all and illustrate their stranglehold on the game by launching unstoppable counter-attacks.

Both sides started with what were effectively 4-4-1-1 formations. However, Zenit’s was more potent in attack, fluid, and sharper on the break. Continue reading

Spartak Moscow 4-2 Tom Tomsk

Spartak Moscow 4-2 Tom Tomsk, Round 18 (21/08/2010). Tom sought to congest the centre, and by ensuring their banks were kept close together, Alex had to drop away from Welliton in order to get a look-in. Thanks to Spartak's never-say-die momentum, the flanks became a lethal outlet.

This was an enthralling game that promised goals from the off, before literally slapping viewers around the face with them via Welliton’s six-minute hat-trick!

Overall, Spartak deserved the three points, though it’s a shame the away side’s club-captaining goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko was at fault for 75 percent of their strikes.

His side were 4-1 down until Sergei Pasyakov’s harsh injury-time red card allowed another Sergei, Kornilenko, to reduce the deficit from the spot: a task rendered unproblematic as Martin Stranzl was forced to don the gloves.

Referee Eduard Maliy perhaps felt he needed to make amends by awarding the Siberians a penalty – at 0-0, he awarded then subtracted a dot-shot to the visitors, bemusing all by replacing it with a drop-ball!

Spartak started in a manner suggesting they were still buoyed by last week’s 3-2 *away* win over Loko at the Luznikhi stadium – the same venue used to contest this game.

They made one change from that successful XI, incorporating newbie Dmitri Kombarov after his signing from Dynamo. Aidan McGeady, on the other hand, wasn’t even deemed fit enough for the bench. Continue reading

Peter Odemwingie

Chelsea 6-0 West Bromwich Albion, 14/08/2010

West Brom today completed the signing of Lokomotiv Moscow attacker, Peter Odemwingie. The fiery Nigerian follows in the footsteps of compatriots Nwankwo Kanu, Sam Sodje and Ifeanyi Udeze in representing the Baggies.

As a fan of the Russian Premier League, I’ve grown accustomed to watching the 29-year-old in action. His versatility and volatility always make for entertaining viewing, and he’ll offer Roberto Di Matteo fresh attacking impetus.

Recently, Odemwingie has found no luck at club or international level. At World Cup 2010, Nigeria floundered, while Loko’s recent form domestically has been laughable.

In Russia, the Uzbekistan-born forward has spent 2010 positioned in various points of Yuri Semin’s 4-2-3-1. However, he’s at his best on the right flank as this favours his right foot. Continue reading

Sibir Novosibirsk-PSV

Sibir vs PSV could be a tactically intriguing contest. Akin to Diego Forlán at the recent World Cup, Ola Toivonen has been pivotal in the oppositions's corridor between midfield and defence so far this season. In the space of four days, both De Graafschap and Scotland have fallen foul of his charms, and his impeccably timed ghosts to the edge of box resulted in a hat-trick on the weekend. Yet with Balázs Dzsudzsák's absence denying PSV the crucial left-footed wideman option, two right-footers on the channels could play into the home side's hands. Cramping the centre would nullify the left winger's cuts inside, and land-mine Toivonen's hunting ground.

PSV Eindhoven sit atop the Eredivisie table after two rounds of the 2010/11 season, but continental competition-wise, must contend UEFAs second-class competition after a disappointing campaign last season.

Fans of the Philips-owned giants are accustomed to Champions League football, and resultantly, the prospect of a tie 5,000 miles away on a Thursday evening must be difficult to muster up enthusiasm for.

Therefore, fans of the Lowland outfit, so recently semi-finalists in UEFAs primary tournament, don’t really know how to respond to their side’s participation.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Dutch club’s latest opponents, Sibir Novosibirsk. Rock bottom in Russia during a season 15 rounds older than its Dutch counterpart, the Europa League offers welcome respite. Continue reading

Five lesser known Hungarians

The formations and line-ups for the famous 1953 meeting at Wembley

Following May’s 3-0 defeat to Germany, Hungary terminated the contract of coach Erwin Koeman. The new man, Sándor Egervári, begans his tenure next week with an not particularly highly anticipated fixture against England at Wembley.

For next Wednesday’s fixture, the Dutchman’s successor has picked a squad containing stellar names, newbies and trusted veterans.

Akin to the lack of enthusiasm England’s media, public and managers are giving this tie in the build-up, Egervári has named a suitably unspectacular squad.

Fabio Capello’s players have one eye lingering on the imminent Premier League campaign, while Egervári picked his squad knowing that his nation’s U21 game against Bosnia is of greater importance.

Nevertheless, Football League fans will recognise the likes of Zoltán Gera, Ákos Buzsáky, Gábor Király, Márton Fülöp and Tamás Priskin, all of whom will feature at Wembley.

In order to bolster the casual fan’s knowledge of what other players lie in store for England,  allow me to introduce five players likely to cause problems to the 1966 world champions on Wembley’s woeful turf. Continue reading

Zenit 2-0 Rubin Kazan

Two-goal hero, Aleksandr Kerzhakov. Can he again do the job for his side in this week's crucial Champions League qualifying round?

Luciano Spalletti’s Zenit go 10 points clear at the top of the Russian Premier League after overcoming stern resilience from the defending champions. As is customary when top teams go head-to-head, this was a scrappy, scruffy and foul-littered affair.

The tone was set early on, when Lasha Salukvadze’s ambitious carry was met by Tomáš Hubočan’s poised bicep. The Georgian failed to recover from the incident, and Yevgeni Balyaikin was subbed on mere seconds after the referee’s first peep.

This proved handy for Zenit, who tormented the Russian U21 international throughout the remainder of the game. His penchant for trying to cut infield or take the ball upfield as soon as possible wasn’t working, allowing Danny and Aleksandr Kerzhakov to seize control.

The other stretch of the pitch was a graveyard: Cristian Ansaldi, subdued but steely, bolted the lacklustre Vladimir Bystrov, and Alan Kasaev did all his work infield for Rubin. Continue reading

Rostov 1-3 Zenit St Petersburg

Rostov's starting XI. This Christmas tree style played into the hands of Zenit, who exploited the large amount of space between the two sets of three in front of the defence. With Adamov dropping, Lebedenko veering inside & Anđelković surging forward, Rostov descended into a - defensive-minded - Marcelo Bielsa-esque 3-3-4!

Yesterday evening, Zenit St. Petersburg continued their unstoppable march towards the Russian title, beating Rostov on the road.

Luciano Spalletti’s side overcame a stern test in the form of the flourishing Rostov, tasting another success on the ground where they secured the Russian Cup two months back.

After vanquishing both Spartak and CSKA Moscow at their Olimp-2 stadium, I had hoped to see some study resistance from the hosts.

Perhaps this confidence was misplaced – a 3-2 loss at Dinamo Moscow acted as precursor to this true acid-test, a defeat characterised by daft defensive lapses, and two moments of individual genius from Roman Adamov and Igor Lebendenko.

The latter has thoroughly impressed this season, teaming superbly with Dušan Anđelković down the left. But another to have caught the eye, Bosnia’s Mersudin Ahmetović, settled for a spot on the bench here.

Unsurprisingly, the home side sought to attack down that aforementioned potent flank.

The tactic involved Lebedenko cutting inside on his right foot, carrying it fastly but aimlessly towards the right-channel, thus disguising the return ball to the Serb’s overlap. Continue reading

League action in USA and Russia

On Friday, ESPN UK provided subscribers with live coverage of Alania Vladikavkaz against Zenit St Petersburg in the Russian top flight, before airing the Chicago Fire-Real Salt Lake MLS match.

Alania Vladikavkaz vs Zenit St Petersburg, 09/07/10

Both ties were similar – Luciano Spalletti’s Zenit top the Russian Premier League, while Real are Major League Soccer’s team to beat. In comparison, Alania and Chicago both linger in the lower echelons of their respective divisions.

Unsurprisingly, that aforementioned duo showed their lofty positions to be no coincidence, brushing aside their opponents by scorelines of 3-1 and 1-0 respectively.

Neither Vladikavkaz or the Fire appeared overwhelmingly blunt up top, yet defensive lapses proved the undoing of two teams in 4-4-1-1 systems.

Both sides accepted their underdogs roles pre-match, so therefore picked XIs capable of sitting and stifling in disciplined banks. Continue reading

Moscow sides and Rubin trail Zenit

Followers of thermal-clad football rejoice – Russia’s Premier League resumes in full after its break this Thursday!

In spite of bidding to host its 2018 edition, Eastern Europe’s stellar division is ignoring the ongoing World Cup.

The RFUs calendar runs from March to December, and deprivation of fatigued South Africa-starring personnel could therefore impact on the eventual standings.

Overtaking leaders Zenit St. Petersburg side is a primary mission for at least five clubs during the second half of the season, with the recent UEFA Cup champions by far and away the league’s best side.

Defending champions Rubin Kazan began the campaign intent on escaping their (2010/11) Champions League group, and scooping a third successive title. Continue reading