Anzhi, are you OK?

Anzhi Arena in Makhachkala. Photo: Andy Shenk/RFN

Down in Dagestan, Anzhi Makachkala have been subjected to somewhat of a rough ride. It’s been hard to gauge what the problems have been, and why on the whole, their largely decent performances see them sitting rock bottom of the table by the October international break with nine points from a possible 36.

On their second manager of the season already, the campaign thus far can be split quite comfortably into the Aleksandr Grigoryan and Vadim Skripchenko sessions. The former lasted just six matches of the 2017/18 season before resigning live on air in his post match interview, following Anzhi’s 3-1 loss at home to Dinamo Moscow. Skripchenko has improved things at the club, with two-thirds of their points coming since he took over.

From an outside perspective, Grigoryan looked like the right man to take them forward. Having been appointed at the turn of the year, he picked up ten points in thirteen matches, enough to save Anzhi from relegation, even keeping them out of the playoff spots. In among those matches were key points against Lokomotiv Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Krasnodar, which without would have seen them automatically relegated.

Over the summer, Grigoryan lost a number of key players, particularly loanees Pylyp Budkivskyi, Aleksandr Zhirov and Saeid Ezatolahi. On

Aleksandr Grigoryan. Photo: Салов Глеб/Soccer.ru

the whole, Grigoryan oversaw the departure of eighteen players in the summer, as well as signing seventeen. This was after a similar turnover in the winter transfer when he initially joined – twenty signings and eighteen departures, a total of 38 signings and 35 departures overseen in his eight months at the club. Most top tier managers would take a number of years to even get close to these figures.

Grigoryan’s plan was clear, and that was to take the best of the Football National League, the Russian second tier, primarily to reunite with a number of players he had faith in from his former side SKA Khabarovsk. In came Pavel Karasev, Igor Udaliy and Juan Lescano from recently promoted SKA, as well as Khasan Mamtov, a renowned goalscorer with FC Tyumen. However, upon Grigoryan’s departure towards the end of August, new boss Skripchenko quite quickly parted ways with Karasev, Udaliy and Mamtov, sending Karasev back on loan to SKA, while the others joined FC Orenburg on free transfers.

Happy with his squad, Anzhi took on CSKA Moscow on the opening day. After going 1-0 down half way through the first half, Anzhi rallied, and had a number of big chances to score in the remainder of the first half, and were only thwarted by some good goalkeeping and poor finishing. Failure to convert cost them early in the second half as they quickly went 2-0 down, only to rally for the rest of the half, eventually scoring through Ivan Markelov, before once again meeting Igor Akinfeev in goal to deny Anzhi equalisers. CSKA then won a late penalty on the break to win the game 3-1.

On paper, a result which wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, but Anzhi were hugely disappointed, and showed that they looked as if they could be in for a solid season. This was bolstered the following week when they held a comfortable 1-0 win against Amkar Perm at home, a result which once more could have been higher if not for poor finishing. The next match was away at Lokomotiv Moscow. Anzhi put in a fantastic defensive display, and were once more made to rue poor finishing, particularly from Konstantin Bazelyuk, former RFPL Young Player of the Year, after they conceded a late goal to go down 1-0. Bazelyuk’s performance as a substitute drew criticism from Grigoryan after the match, labelling him a coward for his lack of effort.

This was not the last time Grigoryan would publicly criticise Bazelyuk, and just one week later, Grigoryan revealed that he had threatened Bazelyuk with being substituted off in the 24th minute against SKA Khabarovsk  if his performances did not improve. Bazelyuk did last until the 57th minute, but it didn’t stop Anzhi from losing 2-0 in a dire performance, though in arguably tough conditions, having flown through four time zones to play the match.

These public meltdowns were the beginning of the end for Grigoryan, and four days later, after that fateful loss to Dinamo Moscow, he resigned live on air in his post match interview.

I’m not the manager anymore. Speaking about the game – it was another game where gross individual blunders led to bad result. Our play was good, but we lost. When there’s a string of games that you play well but still lose, a coach should muster his courage and resign. Which I do now.

Just two days later, Skripchenko was appointed as the new head coach. Having been playing 4-2-3-1 under Grigoryan, many wondered if Skripchenko would be making the squad change to one of his favoured 5-3-2 or 5-4-1 formations. That was indeed what he did, but with disastrous consequences, as he lost his debut match 6-0 away to Rubin Kazan.

However since then, he has largely gone back to 4-2-3-1, and the results have improved on the whole, losing only one of their last five before the October break, a 5-1 demolition against Krasnodar, winning against Ufa, before picking up shock draws against Spartak Moscow and Zenit, only missing out on wins due to goals conceded in the 92nd and 84th minute respectively.

Identifying what went wrong against Krasnodar and what was right against Spartak and Zenit is difficult, however looking at the xG plots created by the professional football analyst consultant @11tegen11 does offer a slight insight. xG, or Expected Goals, is a value between 0-1 defining how likely a shot was to be a goal, with the higher numbers more likely. In the plots below, each line graph moves up a notch for every shot taken, with the bigger jumps relating to the chances which are most likely to result in a goal. The plot for the Krasnodar match shows just how dominant they were in Dagestan, particularly in the second half, when Anzhi pushed forward and allowed them the chance to counter.

Krasnodar were clearly more incisive and created far more chances than Spartak or Zenit – a number of them much clearer –  giving them and xG for the match of over three. On Anzhi’s side, they improved with every game in terms of xG and in actual chance conversion, scoring twice in each game, narrowing the gap between themselves and their opponents, with Spartak and Zenit unable to create the chances to get to two xG. The fact that Anzhi are indeed scoring in their matches now, even against the bigger sides, is a huge boost after their poor finishing early in the season.

These last two results in particular were huge boosts before the international break, and Anzhi fans will be hoping to start their season again afterwards. Just one win could be enough to take them out of the automatic relegation spots, and with confidence high in the squad after their scalps against Spartak and Zenit, the expectation that they could pick up decent results against their potential relegation rivals Ural and Arsenal Tula in their first matches after the international break is relatively high. Against Ural, Anzhi peppered the goal for the first half and a large portion of the second, hitting the post twice and also the crossbar before succumbing to a free kick from Erik Bicfavli. After conceding again, Anzhi did grab a goal back, making those efforts off the woodwork even more painful.

This period between the international break and the three month winter break could be a defining point in their season. Another huge transfer market overhaul in winter is unlikely to help things, and so if Skripchenko can get his team together now, and use the winter break to help the squad’s cohesiveness then they would have to hope they can save themselves from relegation.

Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.

Comments

  1. Loved this piece, great analysis David.

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  1. […] bis hin zu Problemen bei der Chancenverwertung. Die ganze Analyse, mit allerlei bunten Diagrammen, gibt es hier. Und wer sich beim Blick auf die Überschrift „Anzhi, are you OK?“ fragt, woran die […]

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