Oleksandr Zinchenko: An Analysis from Ural v Ufa

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At the precocious age of 19  Oleksandr Zinchenko is one of the most talented assets of the Russian Premier League, and it seems increasingly likely that his career at Ufa will not last beyond this summer. His departure would be a virtual certainty if the league’s youngest club end up relegated, and with only eight games left to lift themselves out of the drop zone time is not on their side. If he were to depart, there is a strong likelihood he would consider moving away from Russia after he was sent back from the Ukraine squad during the international break, not to mention the restrictions on foreigners making him even more of a luxury. Whoever is fortunate enough to have him on their books next season, they will enjoy a fabulous talent who could become one of Europe’s most exciting young players, and here I will analyse his impact in Saturday’s narrow defeat to Ural.

Ekaterinburg experienced heavy rain and sleet in the morning, leaving the conditions very uncomfortable for stop-start running. Understandably, there was a very slow tempo to the start of the match with neither side grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, although it was not only the conditions that held Zinchenko back. Vyacheslav Krotov and Sylvester Igboun interchanged as the striker and number 10, with Diego positioned so far forward on the left that Ufa were practically in a lopsided 4-3-3 in possession. The problem for the blonde-haired Ukrainian was that he had been predominantly instructed to play from the right flank, which resulted in him having to cut in onto his stronger foot. This drew him into condensed traffic and forced him to receive the ball with his back to goal more often than not; as a result he was rarely in a position to utilise his pace and trickery.

Being on the right had further complications other than his favoured foot – Alexander Dantsev was a menace pushing forward, often in combination with Gerson Acevedo, and with Zinchenko’s obvious inclination to stay forward Alexander Katsalapov was exposed three times in the opening quarter of an hour. The other side of the coin was that with Zinchenko drifting infield when faced with little joy out wide on the right, Krotov and Igboun were able to occasionally draw Pablo Fontanello out of position into the fullback area, which could have caused serious problems for the hosts.

When he eventually tracked back to help out his teammate Katsalapov after 20 minutes, Dantsev was still able to take two touches and probably should have created created a better opportunity. In the end the main danger was cleared, but a warning shot had been fired by Ural: they had quickly spotted the Achilles heel of the visiting defence and seemed intent on exploiting it. Twice before half time Dmitry Korobov outmuscled Zinchenko and robbed possession to add to his woe.

After half time, it was a different story. Haris Handzic was introduced in place of Diego, who has been sporadically dangerous but had created an imbalance to the Ufa midfield by straying even further forward than Zinchenko. This substitution also brought about a more conventional 4-4-2 formation, and a switch for Zinchenko to his more natural left flank. Within minutes of the restart, a masterful drop of the shoulder and lightning quick turn bought him a couple of years of space, from where he whipped in a stunning low cross across the face of the six yard box with Handzic prowling. The linesman had already flagged for offside, but the ease with which Zinchenko had carved Ural’s defence open from nothing was a severe warning.

Moments later his quick thinking released the quietly impressive Krotov from a free kick near the angle of the penalty area, and this time it was the former Spartak youth team star’s turn to deliver a threatening cross. This time there was no flag, and a desperate lunge from Fontanello ever so slightly glanced the ball behind, but in truth any touch from Handzic would have resulted in an equaliser. It was clear that Zinchenko revelled in his new position starting in possession from a slightly deeper area and with a more balanced midfield alongside him.

Even when he was shown infield onto his weaker side by the retreating Edgar Manucharyan with around 20 minutes remaining, instead of giving up he simply unleashed an awkward dipping shot with his right foot that Zabolotniy only just managed to tip behind. The momentum of the match was firmly behind Ufa, and Zinchenko was able to push further forward again as Ural dropped deeper and deeper, with at times up to five visiting players pushing right up against Ural’s last defensive line. Unafraid to drift across to the centre occasionally, he found himself in plenty of space without the ball and was intelligent in his positioning, not simply naively demanding the ball at all times.

In the end, his impact was unable to change the result in his team’s favour, but his maturity to adapt and not be intimidated by his defensive responsibilities was hugely promising for a player of his age. His performance highlighted some weaknesses that need to be improved, such as his physical strength on the ball, but the sharpness of mind that he evidently possesses means he will be much sought after in the summer – the only questions remains who will win the race to sign him.

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Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewMijFlint

Author: Andrew Flint

I moved out to Russia in 2010 to teach English because it sounded like fun, then I met and fell in love with FC Tyumen (and my wife!) and decided to stay. Surprisingly, I turned out to be the only English person remotely interested in a Siberian third-tier club, but then who wouldn’t fall for a grizzly Georgian midget, a flying Brazilian and Tyumen’s 93rd most influential figure…

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