CSKA Moscow vs Manchester United – Wednesday, September 27, 19:45 BST/20:45 CET – VEB Arena, Moscow.
Viktor Goncharenko’s Armymen have battled their way gamely to fourth in the Russian Football Premier League after a distinctly underwhelming transfer window, but now face by far their greatest challenge of the season. Underwhelming is perhaps a generous description of their dealing in the transfer market in recent years; over the last six windows, they have spent a total of £900k – and that was all on a loan fee for former Newcastle United striker Seydou Doumbia who had left the club six months earlier.
This lethargy has meant two things. Firstly, that the squad has stagnated and shrunk – ex-Manchester United winger Zoran Tošić was released over the summer while Roman Eremenko is in the middle of a two-year ban for using cocaine, with neither being replaced. Even promising young centre-back Nikita Chernov, who won his first full international cap under Fabio Capello before he’d made his CSKA first-team debut, has been let out on loan. United will recognise the familiar old faces of the Berezutskiy twins, Sergey Ignashevich, Georgiy Schennikov and Igor Akinfeev – all played two years ago when United last faced CSKA as Futbolgrad made its Champions League live reporting debut.
Secondly, it has seen some of the highly-vaunted youth products emerge from the shadows. Fedor Chalov made his tentative breakthrough last season, scoring four goals in the closing weeks of the season, but his place in the pecking order has been overtaken by Benfica matchwinner Timur Zhamaletdinov. Konstantin Kuchaev has had brief opportunities to shine in midfield too. The cynics will argue they have only been granted the time due to the reluctance (or inability, depending on your viewpoint) of club owner Evgeniy Giner to splash the cash; they may well be right – he has after all committed the club to residing in the magnificent VEB Arena, leaving the club with what is technically one of the largest debts in world football.
Manchester United could not represent a more contrasting proposition. Having broken the world record transfer fee last summer by bringing Paul Pogba back home for what now seems a paltry £89 million, they have splurged around £150 million this summer to complete what many are calling the most powerful squad in English football alongside cross-town rivals Manchester City. Their form has been mightily impressive on paper, with just one draw spoiling a perfect record since their Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid.
Romelu Lukaku has delivered on his immense expectation by scoring a goal a game and will pose a huge threat to the ageing backline of CSKA. Anthony Martial has had a direct hand in six goals in just 280 minutes’ playing time, while Nemanja Matić has been in such imperious form that last season’s Player of the Year Ander Herrera can’t make the starting lineup. The embarrassment of riches at José Mourinho’s disposal must make Goncharenko turn green with envy.
The big question is which Manchester United will turn up on the night. The pace and intelligent movement of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard would be ideal to terrorise a three-man defence that’s combined age is almost 100, but Mourinho has shown his tendency to play more patient, cerebral players in such matches like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata. It would surely be a huge shock though if CSKA emerge from this game with anything at all.
CSKA Moscow vs Manchester United – Players to Watch Out For
Aleksandr Golovin #17 – CSKA Moscow
Amidst the constant drain of resources at CSKA, the 21-year-old Russian schemer has taken over the mantle of the creator in chief from Roman Eremenko. Alan Dzagoev is perhaps a more obvious threat further up the pitch, but Golovin is the vital link between defence and attack, without whom counter attacking becomes at best a chore and at worst non-existent. His precision and positive intentions will be the major hope for the Russians if they wish to create any inroads into United’s defence.
Marcus Rashford #19 – Manchester United
A lot of attention is likely afforded to Lukaku for obvious reasons, but if the Belgian is played up front as the lone target man as expected, he will need fast and willing runners to support him. Rashford has been sensational since bursting onto the scene less than two years ago, and his strength on the ball combined with galloping pace will be a major danger for CSKA to cope with. He may not play the whole 90 minutes or even necessarily start depending on Mourinho’s mood, but whatever minutes he is given will be a lethal asset to united.
CSKA Moscow vs Manchester United – Match Stats
- CSKA’s legendary ‘keeper Igor Akinfeev has not kept a clean sheet in 44 matches in the group stages of the Champions League
- Manchester United haven’t won in their last five Champions League away matches
- CSKA have not won the last four meetings between these two sides, drawing twice and losing twice
- CSKA have failed to win any of their last five home group stage matches
Futbolgrad Prediction: CSKA Moscow vs Manchester United 0-2
CSKA Moscow vs Manchester United – Possible Lineups
Akinfeev – Fernandes, V Berezutskiy, Vasin, Ignashevich, Schennikov – Wernbloom, Golovin, Natkho – Dzagoev – Vitinho
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
De Gea – Valencia, Jones, Bailly, Blind – Matić, Herrera, Mata – Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Lukaku
Manager: José Mourinho
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.