Russian Football Premier League 2018/19 Season Preview – Part II

Russian Football Premier League 2018/19 Season Preview – Part II

Brian Idowu – Nigeria’s Gain Could be Russia’s Loss
Krasnodar – Can Murad Musaev bring them to the next level?
Oleg Shatov – Via Krasnodar to the World Cup?

Andrew Flint reporting from Tyumen –

The 2018/19 Russian Football Premier League season kicks off in less than a week. Following a dramatic World Cup, Russia is back to the day-to-day business of club football, and the Futbolgrad Network once again will be on the pulse of everything that is going on in what is one of the most open leagues in Europe.

Part I of our preview series introduced the three newly promoted sides and took a look ahead to Anzhi Makhachkala’s season. In our second part of the series, we preview Akhmat Grozny, Rubin Kazan, Rostov and Ural.

Russian Football Premier League – Team by team breakdown – Part II

Akhmat Grozny

Last Season

Akhmat Grozny were once again consistently inconsistent. Ramzan Kadyrov’s club finished comfortably out of the race for Europe while never being in real danger of relegation, thanks to unbeaten runs broken up by winless streaks never shorter than three matches. One major disappointment was Bernard Berisha’s lack of impact. The Kosovan international winger shone two seasons ago for Anzhi, but only scored his first goal of the season in April.

The raft of Brazilian youngsters signed had mixed fortunes; Leo Jaba and Phillipe Sampaio have both left, while Ravaneli only started twice all league season. Ismael Silva played every minute of all bar four league matches and chipped in with six assists.

Manager

Long-term assistant to Rashid Rakhimov and then Mikhail Galaktionov, Igor Lediakhov took over for a solid end to last season as caretaker manager and has now been handed the reins full-time. His real work begins now though, as he gears up to his first full season in sole charge. His major advantage will be his knowledge of the younger players coming through and the machinations of working under Kadyrov’s shadow, and thankfully he has inherited a largely unchanged squad of players to work with.

Key Player

Ablaye Mbengue has not always enjoyed a first-choice slot in the starting XI but offers something the other strikers don’t; raw pace. Bekim Balaj looked to be the solid target man Akhmat wanted two years ago, scoring eight goals before the winter break, but he has failed to score in his last 22 appearances. Despite his irregular selection, his goals per minutes played works out at better than one every two games. Finishing off matches has been a perennial issue for Akhmat – perhaps it is time they realised the answer is right under their noses.

Sergey Sukharev (L) and Alexandr Karnitsky (R) of FC Tosno vies for the ball with Ablaye Mbengue (C) of FC Akhmat during the during the Russian Premier League match between FC Tosno and FC Akhmat at Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Sergey Sukharev (L) and Alexandr Karnitsky (R) of FC Tosno vies for the ball with Ablaye Mbengue (C) of FC Akhmat during the during the Russian Football Premier League match between FC Tosno and FC Akhmat at Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Transfer Window

Returning loanee Gabriel Torje has a lot to prove if he remains after two short spells abroad, despite a mountain of international experience. He will have his work cut out to displace last season’s standout performer Magomed Mitrishev though. Leo Jaba leaves for Greece, while Facundo Piriz has permanently left for Montpellier. The major incoming signing so far has been Ivorian defensive midfielder Idrissa Doumbia from Anderlecht who will challenge Anton Shvets and Ismael Silva for a spot.

Prediction

With a reasonable, if unspectacular summer it is hard to see a great deal of change from Akhmat. Their squad is more than capable of making life difficult for visiting teams, but they desperately need a cutting edge up front. Without any major reinforcements to shake up their forwards, they are likely to spend another season of anonymity.

Mid-table.

Rubin Kazan

Last Season

After a restructuring of ownership on paper and the appointment of legendary club favourite Kurban Berdeyev as manager, great things were expected of Rubin. They never materialised, as the Tatarstan club struggled to make any impact at all. Serdar Azmoun returned to rejoin his mentor, but by April had still only managed one goal. Just three points separated them from relegation, while off the pitch the bloated salaries and presence of Maxim Lestienne, Alex Song, and Yann M’Vila hardly helped matters.

Manager

Kurban Berdeyev is rightly lauded as a legend in Kazan after his decade-long spell in charge that included a Champions League victory over Barcelona in the Camp Nou as well as two league titles. His cautiously pragmatic approach has earned great success, and with his return he brought with him some trusted lieutenants in the form of Cesar Navas, Fedor Kudryashev, Vladimir Granat and Azmoun. The elements are there for a more fruitful campaign. Berdeyev is also undoubtedly the best man to oversee the return for the automatic respect he commands.

Key Player

Serdar Azmoun has a huge responsibility to lead the line this season in the absence of any reasonable backup. Aleksandr Bukharov has been added, although he is not expected to revitalise the attack at the age of 33. Azmoun has undoubted quality – his aerial ability, in particular, is phenomenal – and his international record of 23 goals in 36 matches is fantastic, but he is yet to truly knuckle down and have a complete season unleashing his potential. When he does, the effect could be powerful – and how Rubin could use it now.

World Cup star Sardar Azmoun was a star at the 2018 FIFA World Cup playing some fantastic football for Iran at the tournament (Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images)

World Cup star Sardar Azmoun was a star at the 2018 FIFA World Cup playing some fantastic football for Iran at the tournament (Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images)

Transfer Window

A huge flow of players has left the club, lightening the wage bill considerably, which overall will probably work out for the best. Ruben Rochina, Sergio Sanchez, Emil Bergstrom and Oleg Kuzmin have all been either released or sold, while young talents Ilzat Akhmetov and Rifat Zhemaletdinov have also left. The former had refused to sign a new contract while the latter has lived off a large salary without ever delivering, so the superficial blow of losing two highly talented youngsters is softened by the reality of cutting two troublesome elements of the squad. Centre-backs Chico and Filip Uremovic arrive to bolster the defence, while Vyacheslav Podberezkin will hopefully provide a creative spark.

Prediction

Rubin cannot endure yet another season of disappointment, or at least they can’t afford to. The transfer window has been reasonably healthy so far in removing the ineffectual deadwood while lightening the salary level, but there is still work to be done to return to European challengers. That seems a little way off at the moment, but securing a solidly mid-table berth should be the realistic and probably target.

Mid-table.

Rostov

Last Season

The fairytale couldn’t continue after such manic highs in the title challenge two years ago followed by Champions League glamour fixtures against Bayern Munich, and so it proved. The departure of Berdeyev, most of the first-choice team and a significant amount of financial security decimated Rostov’s potential, and unsurprisingly they dropped right back down the table. A winless run from mid-August to late November threatened to send dep into the relegation fight, but a late resurgence in form kept them up.

Manager

Valeriy Karpin carved out his managerial career in the most poisoned chalice in Russian football – the Spartak Moscow manager’s position. Moderate success in guiding Spartak to second place twice in three seasons didn’t harm his early reputation, but a failure to make it through to the Champions League group stages counterbalanced the positives. After taking over at Rostov from Berdeyev in the winter, he had a thankless task to knit together what was left. Although it was a dour start – no wins in his first five matches – he did the basic job of surviving.

Key Player

After a solid World Cup campaign, Saeid Ezatolahi’s stock is gradually rising again to the stage where he needs to be a leader to progress. A tall, powerfully-built midfielder, he has enough passing ability to become an influencer, not just a destroyer, and with Rostov’s dwindling resources his input will be critical to their success this season. Timofey Kalachev’s influence is waning given his advancing age, so for chances to be created Ezatolahi must step up. A season of battling at Amkar Perm will have done him a world of good.

Saeid Ezatolahi of Iran celebrates after the match during FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier match between Iran and Uzbekistan at Azadi Stadium on June 12, 2017 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images)

Saeid Ezatolahi of Iran celebrates after the match during FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier match between Iran and Uzbekistan at Azadi Stadium on June 12, 2017 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images)

Transfer Window

Valeriu Ciuperca, Moussa Doumbia, and Vladimir Dyadyun have all gone on free transfers, while Khoren Bayramyan has joined Rubin Kazan on loan. This has left some back up in midfield and up front lacking, with Ayaz Guliev and Anton Saletros coming in to cover the midfield. Somehow Rostov have managed to find €1.5 million to spend despite their well-documented financial shortcomings, most of which was spent on bringing in 20-year-old Swedish centre-back Denis Hadzikadunic from Malmo. Former Spartak youth product Aleksandr Zuev has joined permanently after a loan spell last term.

Prediction

Survival will be the name of the game for Rostov. With the regular weakness of most promoted teams, they should be able to target this without being overly ambitious, but much more than that is hard to see. Bjorn Sigurdarsson is the only senior striker left in the squad alongside Eldor Shomurodov, and neither had impressive strike rates last season – one goal in over 500 minutes, and two in nearly 700 minutes respectively.

Survival – just.

Ural

Last Season

After the glorious failure of a Russian Cup final defeat just over a year ago, Europe was for some time within tantalising reach. The fact that Ural Ekaterinburg ended up just one place above the relegation playoff zone and at serious risk of relegation is a sign of how cut-throat the traffic is on the RFPL highway. Erik Bicfalvi was once again the catalyst for the side going forward as he top-scored with eight goals, but even he was sluggish at times. A huge win over Spartak Moscow at the end of the season for the official re-opening of the refurbished Centralniy Stadium was one of the highlights.

Manager

Dymtro Parfenov won the Russian Cup under testing circumstances last season with Tosno so comes to Ekaterinburg on a high. After three years in charge, bringing the first major silverware within five years of the club forming is remarkable, regardless of the previous financial backing he received. The young club should have claimed a Europa League group-stage berth, but failed to submit registration documents in time and have since folded. Parfenov now has a balanced but thin squad to mold in his image, and a grand stage to do it on.

Key Player

While Bicfalvi is the obvious star player, the platform laid for him and his fellow creative talents is formed by Petrus Boumal. The Cameroonian holding midfielder is a powerful presence in front of the defence, but his skill set allows him to dictate play on a basic level from deep. Roman Emelyanov has been moved into central defence at times, leaving Boumal to command the middle of the pitch, which he does with efficiency. When the pace of the game is sluggish, and a more technically proficient opponent is dominating play, Boumal is the figure Ural look to for a calm reassurance. Keeping hold of him this summer will be a major achievement, and with another similar season, he will be even hotter property.

leksandr Erokhin (R) of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg and Petrus Boumal of FC Ural Ekaterinburg vie for the ball during the Russian Football League match between FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Ural Ekaterinburg on December 2, 2017 at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Aleksandr Erokhin (R) of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg and Petrus Boumal of FC Ural Ekaterinburg vie for the ball during the Russian Football Premier League match between FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Ural Ekaterinburg on December 2, 2017 at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Transfer Window

A fair portion of fringe players have been shipped out this summer already. Edgar Manucharyan may be one of Ural’s longest-serving players and all-time top goalscorers, but he has become a bit-part player at best. He has been released, while Denis Fomin, Dmitri Korobov, Aleksandr Stavpets and Radovan Pankov have all moved on to other clubs. Sergey Bryzgalov is the only arrival, but his age and reasonable talent makes him a decent if unspectacular signing. The lack of a forward to support Vladimir Ilyin and youngster Artem Yusupov is a concern though and must be addressed if Ural have genuine ambitions of breaking into Europe.

Prediction

Rumoured interest in Ilyin over the summer was a worry as the 26-year-old represents the entire senior striker department. With his attentions elsewhere, it would be a fallow season in the offing. If he stays, as expected at the time of writing, then Ural can expect to improve on last season’s close shave with the lower reaches and push on to solid ground.

Mid-table.

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.

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