Manuel Veth –
Stanislav Cherchesov has now been in charge of the Russian national team for seven matches. The results, however, have been somewhat lacklustre, With Cherchesov in charge, Russia won two games (against Ghana, and Romania), tied twice (with Turkey, and Belgium), and lost three games (to Costa Rica, Qatar, and Ivory Coast).
The 2-1 defeat to Qatar was, perhaps, the most embarrassing of the results. Played as part of the cooperation agreement between Russia and Qatar, the Sbornaya never seemed to take the match to seriously. What was more disappointing, however, were the negative results against Costa Rica and Ivory Coast.
Both countries are believed to be on a level similar to Russia. It is true that Ivory Coast at the moment is undergoing a rebuild, as players like Yaya Touré, Didier Drogba, and Salomon Kalou no longer feature for the Elephants. But at the same time, the performance against Russia highlighted that, with the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Jonathan Kodija, and Eric Bailly, the Ivory Coast has, once again, a generation that can dazzle.
Furthermore, with head coach, Marc Wilmost, the Ivory Coast team displayed a physical pressing game that seemed to hurt Russia at their weakest point, which is in the back. In fact, the Ivory Coast very much emulated what Costa Rica had done in the fall.
Stanislav Cherchesov – His results do not tell the full story
The Central Americans defeated Russia 4-3 on October 9 in Krasnodar. The Central Americans ran up the score early, and were up 3-1 at halftime. The Russians rallied in the second half, and equalized the score in the 61st minute with a strike by Artem Dzyuba.
What followed was a wide-open game in which both sides had chances and, in the end, it was Costa Rica that walked away with the victory after Joel Campbell scored with a late penalty. Russia showed that they could play with Costa Rica (who, after all, reached the quarterfinal at the 2014 World Cup where they were narrowly defeated by the Netherlands on penalties) but, at the same time, individual errors in the back made the difference.
The same was true last week against the Ivory Coast. Again the game was, at least on paper, relatively even. The problem was that Russia did not finish their chances, and the Ivory Coast did. Some of this was due to individual errors made by Russia, but some if it was also due to the superior athleticism of the Ivory Coast players—in particular Wilfrid Zaha, who was identified by the Futbolgrad Network as the Ivory Coast’s team player.
The results against the aforementioned teams, therefore, gave rise to an aura of gloom before Russia faced Belgium on Tuesday night. This, after all, was the most competitive team that Russia faced since Cherchesov took over.
Stanislav Cherchesov seems to be set on 3-5-2
The Belgians had managed a last-minute 1-1 draw against Greece on Saturday. In the heated affair in Brussels Belgium managed the last minute equalizer, but appeared tired at the end of the game. As a result, head coach, Roberto Martínez, made significant changes to his squad and also experimented with a 3-5-2 formation. Up front, Martínez started Christian Benteke, and Kevin Mirallas. The midfield included the talented Nacer Chadli, Youri Tielemans, and Thomas Foket. Meanwhile, Simon Mignolet got a rare start in goal.
Stanislav Cherchesov, in the meantime, once again opted for an attacking 3-5-2. Dmitry Poloz got the start alongside Maksim Kanunnikov up front. The midfield included veterans Aleksandr Samedov and the returning Alan Dzagoev. Roman Neustädter, in the meantime, returned to Russia’s starting eleven as one of the three centre-backs.
Perhaps the surprise inclusion was Viktor Vasin. Vasin had returned to CSKA Moscow during the winter break, and has become an important member of CSKA Moscow’s defensive line after Viktor Goncharenko made the switch from a back four, as it was practiced under former head coach Leonid Slutsky, to a back three.
Substitution game made all the difference against Belgium
That switch now also seems to have enticed Stanislav Cherchesov, who seems set on a back three, to include Vasin in Russia’s squad. The gamble seemed to pay off instantly, as it was Vasin, who opened the scoring for Russia in the third minute of the game.
But the lead was only short lived. Kevin Miralles equalized for Belgium and then, within 45 minutes, Christian Benteke added another two to make it 3-1. At that point Belgium seemed like the sure-fire winner of the match.
Both coaches made significant changes in the second half. Most importantly, Cherchesov took off Kanunnikov, for Aleksandr Bukharov in the 45th minute, and also substituted Magomed Ozdoev for Aleksey Miranchuk in the 72nd minute. The second substitution in particular seemed to create a spark for Russia.
Within minutes of being on the field, Miranchuk had one pulled back for Russia after he received a wonderful assist from Aleksandr Bukharov. What followed was a wild interchange of chances for both teams. Neither side, at this point, seemed to care much for defensive stability. In the end, it was Russia that had the better result when Aleksandr Bukharov stabbed home the equalizer past a hapless Mignolet to make it 3-3.
The result will do much to calm the sentiments of Russian national team followers. Calls that have already asked for Cherchesov’s head will also subside. In truth, little change could be expected from replacing the head coach three months before the Confederations Cup.
Stanislav Cherchesov cannot be free of criticism
At the same time, that does not mean that Cherchesov should not be criticized. Under his tutelage, Russia has shown that they have plenty of weapons going forward. They have now scored six goals against teams that reached the top eight of the World Cup in 2014. Furthermore, Russia also seemed dangerous at times against the likes of the Ivory Coast.
The strong attack, however, has been offset by Cherchesov’s insistence on switch to three in the back. His players still seem to struggle with that formation and, while his forward line has scored six against Costa Rica and Belgium, he also conceded seven goals in those two games. Overall, in seven games Russia has scored nine and conceded 11 and, if there had been points awarded for the friendly games, his point total would be eight points out of seven games—a points per average of 1.14.
The biggest deficit in his squad, however, is that his players show reluctance, at times, to play full on for 90 minutes. This was evident against Costa Rica, Ivory Coast and Belgium where the team could have achieved better results with more concentration over the full 90 minutes. This could be blamed on the friendly game nature of the preparations that Russia is undergoing at the moment.
The core of Russia’s squad, after all, is in the middle of the final stages of the club season and, with trophies on the line for the clubs that pay the monthly salary, players can be forgiven when they struggle to motivate themselves for friendly games. At the same time, Stanislav Cherchesov needs to install a winning mentality now if he wants to have any hope for success at the Confederations Cup or the World Cup next summer.
This could be Cherchesov’s main task going forward to hosting the tournament— motivating his players to take the friendlies seriously. Otherwise, the noise of experts, who are already asking for his resignation, might reach the sort of level at which the decision makers in the Russian Football Union could seriously contemplate change.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.