International Preview: Russia – Spain

The match against Argentina was a promising performance, undone by some genuine quality and a glaringly obvious missed offside decision. Post-match, not quite the promising and more of the horrendous, with reports of overcrowding and over 1.5-hour queues and to get out of the Luzhniki and onto the Moscow Metro. Let’s hope the game against Spain on Tuesday goes off without a hitch and proves the authorities are ready to organise the logistics of the World Cup next year.

The team landed in St Petersburg on Sunday night, set to play Spain at the Stadium St. Petersburg on Tuesday evening. The Spanish could be cast somewhat as an old enemy, with the last two appearances between the two in Euro 2008, when the Spanish defeated Sbornaya 4-1 in Group D and then 3-0 in the Semi-Final. The other two meetings in 2004 and 2006 respectively were both closely contested affairs, but Russia has not yet beat Spain in international competition.

Stanislav Cherchesov had this to say about the Spanish in his pre-match press conference;

They are different to Argentina, the Spaniards also hold the ball, play faster and faster deliver the ball in front. Argentines long prepared attacks and then exploded, and the Spaniards are faster. We watched closely, but we are again waiting for a match with the team that will control the ball. To this, you need to prepare and play more qualitatively. When [against Argentina] it came out right in the attack (which was not so often), we immediately appeared sharp.


Tactical Approach

Last time out, Cherschesov lined the team up in a somewhat surprising 3-4-3, designed to both pack the midfield when defending and break with a pacey front three in attacking situations, in theory. In reality, the midfield two were vastly outnumbered by the onrushing Argentinians and both Poloz and Kokorin struggled to link-up with the isolated yet impressive Smolov.

In the second half, Cherchseov changed it to their customary 3-5-2 formation, the most utilised tactic in the RFPL this season. As a result, this tactical shift along with the introduction of Alan Dzagoev allowed the side much more balance and ease. A similar gameplan here of willing to surrender possession, play on the counter and use their physicality to their advantage at set pieces will be implemented. Russia does not necessarily have one particular “style”, but simply play to their strengths, with both a settled approach and lineup, with much of their attacks centre around Alan Dzagoev in midfield. Mário Fernandes and Konstantin Rausch performed well against Argentina, and are the clear first choice wing-backs art this early stage, with their natural ability in that position and decent pace effective.

Despite the loss, an optimistic aura surrounds the side for the first time in a long while, thanks to a fresher, younger squad, players playing in peak condition, ever-improving results and a healthy domestic league. This, coinciding with the countdown to 2018 has rejuvenated spirits surrounding the national side. He has experimented recently, but month-on-month his squad is slowly coming together and has just three players over the age of 30 – including two goalkeepers. It contains genuine quality throughout the spine and has formed an identity in how to perform.

Julen Lopetegui’s side is currently unbeaten thus far in his tenure and are just off the back of walloping Costa Rica 5-0. The Central Americans are widely accepted to be on Russia’s level within the nation, and across the rest of the world considered superior. By no means is this any easier than Saturday despite the lack of Lionel Messi. Notwithstanding the obsession with him in the Russian media, Spain are performing to a level much, much higher than either Messi or his compatriots at an international level. La Roja lineup in a 4-3-3 or a diamond formation, with the front three designated to implement an intensive high press. Russia may struggle under this, with only Dzhikiya really comfortable on the ball in defence. Although no longer “tika-taka”, Spain do like to keep the ball, and thus this is clearly another chance to test Russia’s high-press and countering style themselves – which clearly failed for much of the game against Argentina.


Team News

Aleksandr Golovin withdrew from the squad on the eve of the Argentina game with a mysterious injury, and as expected Roman Zobnin will not take part either. Mário Fernandes, Aleksandr Kokorin and Igor Akinfeev likewise did not take part in team training at the Petrovsky on Monday, all carrying out individual programs. As such, all three are doubts for the game. Doctors and fitness staff will make a late decision on their ability to play after a fitness test each. Cherchesov also added in his press conference that Denis Glushakov has ‘bruised his achilles’ and is a doubt.

Andrei Lunev, who celebrated his 26th birthday today may replace Akinfeev, with Igor Smolnikov and Aleksei Miranchuk or Anton Zabolotny expected to replace Kokorin if they do not make the team.


Key Players

Fedor Smolov – The man of the moment in Russia, as is usually the case. He is on fire in both the league and national team, with five in his last eleven for Russia and sits alongside Aleksandr Kokorin at the top of the RFPL scoring charts with eight goals in just eleven games this season, including four in his last two. His overall scoring record of nine in 27 appearances for Sbornaya is great, but will only get better such is the trajectory of his form over the last two years. He should be paired alongside Aleksei Miranchuk here, with his creativity vital in releasing Smolov in behind. Though Cherchesov may want to persist with attempting to allow his partnership with Kokorin to bear fruit if he is fit.

Viktor Vasin – Always seemingly on the edge of a vital mistake, Vasin was one of the most impressive Russian performers on the pitch against Argentina, having been tasked with the daunting duty of man-marking Lionel Messi for much of the game. He was excellent in this role, keeping the Argentinian completely out of the game in the most dangerous areas of the pitch. He’ll be key here too, with his concentration levels prone to collapse, he needs to stay focused in order to grab a much needed clean sheet.

Alan Dzagoev – Dzagoev’s introduction at half-time changed the whole shape of the game for Russia. The team were allowed to return to their more practised and natural 3-5-2 formation, and Dzagoev’s influence was clear to see on his teammates. He is a calming player in possession and a feisty competitor. Without a doubt, he is one of the star men of the Russian side and should be tasked to start against the Spanish.


Predicted Lineup

3-5-2: Andrei Lunev – Roman Neustädter, Viktor Vasin, Georgi Dzhikiya – Mário Fernandes, Denis Glushakov, Aleksandr Erokhin, Alan Dzagoev, Konstantin Rausch – Aleksei Miranchuk, Fedor Smolov.



Much will depend upon injury, but this will nevertheless be difficult. Spain are currently undergoing their longest undefeated run since their star-studded side dominated football from 2008-2012. Russia must also address their inability to impose themselves in attacking areas nor transition well into the attack. This will be helped by the introduction of Dzagoev and Miranchuk, with the team returning to a customary 3-5-2.

I doubt a victory is achievable here, but a draw is well within reason, and Spain likewise play a system in which Russia should be able to continue to show their improving defence, fighting qualities and ability to soak up pressure.

Russia 1-1 Spain

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.

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