Europa League Preview: FK Crvena Zvezda – CSKA Moscow

The Grigory Fedotov VEB-Arena in Khodynka Field, Moscow | Source: Moscovery.

Crvena Zvezda v CSKA Moscow – Tuesday, 15 February, 17:00 GMT – Marakana, Belgrade

The Army Men are up against it in this first leg somewhat, facing their old enemy, Spartak Moscow’s comrades, Red Star Belgrade. It is well-known that the Delije and Fratria are well-connected and interconnected with each other, as fans of each side are often found in each respective other team’s away ends.

Furthermore, the atmosphere at the Marakana is famously hostile and difficult for an away side, and CSKA will be facing a raucous stadium after UEFA recently lifted the stadium ban against Red Star, replacing it with what is essentially a two-year “suspended sentence”.

However, CSKA has strengthened in some key areas and did manage some key away victories in the Champions League group stages, alongside simply having a much superior quality to the Serbs, and therefore I’d expect CSKA to win over two legs.

Tactical Analysis

CSKA has looked to counter with pace through Vitinho, Fernandes and one of Timur Zhamaletdinov, Aleksandr Golovin et al thus far in Europe – however, now they have dropped down from the UCL, expect a slight change in tactics from Viktor Goncharenko. CSKA have added Ahmed Musa to the attack, returning to Moscow on loan until the end of the season, significantly strengthening their weak-forward line. Despite this addition, however, CSKA boast an even stronger midfield, with wonderkid Aleksandr Golovin paired alongside experience veteran and most important player Alan Dzagoev, and Bibras Natkho, and Pontus Wernbloom also involved. The Swede has been lined up as a striker in the last few games before the break but may return to his more natural role with Musa’s addition. Goncharenko will likely look to dominate the ball, but still expect to see some lightning-quick counter-attacks led by the exciting duo of Musa and Vitinho up top, supported by their wonderful midfield.

No matter who plays up top, the whole side will be organised to protect the vulnerability to pace of 108-year-old combined trio of Ignashevich and the Berezutskiy twins – if they all start. I’d heavily cast doubts over whether or not CSKA can do this, but with former Ufa Head Coach Vitor Goncharenko on the sidelines a master of the 1-0, scrappy win and Igor Akinfeev’s clean sheet money off his back, fans of the Red-Blues’ may rest easy with former-RFPL player Guelor Kanga having left for Sparta Prague and striker Richard Boakye is under pressure after being heavily linked to a move away.

Team News

Last time out against Manchester United, CSKA were without the suspended duo of Pontus Wernbloom and Bibras Natkho as well as three injury problems. Just 17 players travelled to Old Trafford, and eight of these were under 21. However, the Winter Break has allowed for some vital recuperation and rest to a small squad.

Wernbloom and Natkho both return, and Georgi Milanov, Aleksei Berezutskiy and Georgi Shchennikov have all brushed off minor injuries as CSKA have a fully-fit squad.

The two main selection issues are revolving around Ahmed Musa, and whether or not the newly re-signed striker will start up front, and as a result, if Pontus Wernbloom returns to his natural position at the base of CSKA’s midfield.

Key Players

Mário Fernandes – The Brazilian is arguably the best defender in the nation, and was certainly the highest ranked on the recent RFN Top 50 2017. He is CSKA’s biggest threat going forward and is often left unmarked by opposing players, who focus on CSKA’s forward-line. In all competitions this season, he registers 1.4 key passes and draws 1.2 fouls per-game, while grabbing four assists. Impressive for a wing-back.

Pontus Wernbloom – Some may be surprised to realise that Wernbloom was actually the highest-rated CSKA player in the RFN Top 50, two and three positions ahead of his midfield comrades Dzagoev and Golovin respectively. At times undisciplined and edging on dangerous, Wernbloom is a player that every side needs to do their dirty work, but he has also plundered five goals in his last five games, and even if playing defensive midfield, may find himself much more involved in attacking positions during the second-half of the season.

Ahmed Musa – Musa was CSKA’s talisman when he was here last under Leonid Slutsky, scoring 54 goals in 164 games in all competitions and his ability to dominate the RFPL is unquestioned. However, he has played just 700 minutes of football in the last two seasons for Leicester and hasn’t featured at all for the first-team this season. Musa scored on his second debut against FC Nordsjaellandd last week, so is up and running, but he will inevitably be rusty.

Predicted Lineup

Igor Akinfeev – Vasili Berezutskiy, Viktor Vasin, Sergei Ignashevich – Mário Fernandes, Aleksandr Golovin, Pontus Wernbloom, Alan Dzagoev, Georgi Shchennikov – Ahmed Musa, Vitinho.


Crvena Zvezda was once a historic club, winning the 1992 European Cup to great effect, but the current state of the club is paltry in comparison. Their squad includes five former-RFPL players; Damien Le Tallec, Guelor Kanga, Milan Rodić, Branko Jovičić and Mitchell Donald – who are not good enough to play for CSKA, didn’t trouble them much a few years ago and shouldn’t now.

CSKA Moscow may not have played until December and will face the same problems as all Russian sides in Europe but they arguably have a perfect draw; Crvena Zvezda has not played since December either, so both teams will be sorely short of match fitness.

Crvena Zvezda has not conceded more than one goal in any of their last eight European home games, but have only scored three at home – the lowest of all teams left in the competition. But CSKA won four of their five away games in Europe this season – including against FC Basel and SL Benfica, so I’d expect them to see this out in a close encounter.

FK Crvena Zvezda 0 – 1 CSKA Moscow

Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.


  1. According to Sport Express Schennikov is injured.

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