Myaso (Meat), and Koni (Horses) are two historic, vitriolic aphorisms cast by both sides of the East Moscow divide. Spartak fans refer to themselves as myaso in a satirical throwback to their origins as food industry workers, while koni refers to the location of CSKA’s original ground built upon a hippodrome. Arguably the most voracious and competitive of the Moscow derbies is finally upon us, six months after their last meeting at the Arena Khimki in March, where CSKA ran out 1-0 winners thanks to an Ahmed Musa strike. The Army Men finished as champions of the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) following a good run of results after the derby, as Spartak finished a disappointing fifth under Dimitri Alenichev. This season, however, the tables have turned as Spartak under the tutelage of Massimo Carrera lead the way in the RFPL and will be looking to defeat their closest rivals for the first time in three attempts.
Although not the oldest derby in Moscow, Spartak-CSKA is by far the fiercest and biggest with the most successful clubs of the Soviet and Post-Soviet era vying for dominance. The first “Derby of East Moscow” took place on 1 June 1922 in the Final of the Absolute Moscow Championship. Although the teams were very different to what they are now (OLLS and MKS) they are nevertheless the successor teams to what they are today. CSKA won that game 4-2 but do not hold historic dominance. Spartak has won 67 of the 167 matches played between the two, compared to 64 won by CSKA and 36 draws. The Red-Whites also hold the highest score in one match between the two sides, winning 8-0 in the now defunct Moscow Championship.
This match is still the most important fixture on the calendar for fans from either club and as the two most popular teams this fixture encompasses millions across Russia. Battles off the pitch are just as anticipated and spectacular as the ones on it, with numerous tifos and displays erected mocking the other sides ultras. In 2013, CSKA fans set fire to a flag bearing the Spartak logo, and later unfurled a large poster of Andrei Tikhonov – the Spartak legend – only to tear it down. Four years earlier, another propaganda battle emerged between the sides ultras’, as Spartak readied a massive flag depicting Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, at the centre a Spartak logo. This flag, however, was found by CSKA fans the night before the match and was destroyed. The Spartak ultras responded in-kind, as a whole army of volunteers stayed up through the night to restore the banner, and created a new one alongside reading “masterpieces don’t burn”.
The intense rivalry was not always the case and has only risen to prominence since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Until 1991, CSKA’s main rivals were Dynamo Moscow, the oldest derby in Moscow as Spartak focussed their attentions on catching up with Dynamo Kyiv at the top of the records charts. Andrei Malosolov, a capo in the CSKA supporters’ group, claims relations between the fans are becoming more vitriolic. “The supporters of the two clubs no longer have anything in common…CSKA now has the second-biggest following in Moscow…The Spartak derby has gradually started filling stadiums, and that has led to burning banners as part of the game – and it comes from both sides.
At each match now either army of supporters is joined by a third force; a massive army of police to regulate the games. For most fans, however, this merely adds to the excitement of the derby day as the myaso meet the koni on and off the pitch.
Spartak’s current roster of players is arguably the strongest the Red-Whites have been since their last RFPL championship win in 2001 under the great Oleg Romantsev, with a mix of seasoned professionals, world-class stars and young prospects eager to prove their worth such as Denis Glushakov, Quincy Promes and Roman Zobnin. In Promes, Jano Ananidze and Ze Luis, they field one of the most dangerous attacking trio’s in the country ahead of a strong defence – whether or not deployed as a four or five – led by Ilya Kutepov and Salvatore Bocchetti. Spartak are currently in a promising run of form, winning their last two games after Massimo Carrera returned to his tried and tested five-man defence which led them to a seven-game unbeaten run earlier in the season. However, sandwiched between this was a three-game losing streak including surprising losses to Ufa in the league and SKA Khabarovsk in the Russian Cup, with Ze Luis and Quincy Promes rested for the latter. Carrera swore after the game a repeat result would not happen, and blamed them playing “without motivation” for the loss.
On the other hand, CSKA still have their strong core which has won the league in three of the last four seasons, built upon the spine of Igor Akinfeev, Alan Dzagoev and Roman Eremenko. These players are amongst some of the most talented in the division and can unlock any defence, as proven by the 3-0 win over a stubborn Terek side in September, in which Dzagoev and Eremenko created all three goals for Lacina Traore and Carlos Strandberg. The Red-Blues however have an ageing defence with an average age of 36 in central areas and have lost Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia in recent years. Furthermore, the Arena CSKA faithful are angry with Leonid Slutsky over their team’s recent performances, and the Volgograd-born Head Coach is under immense pressure after a run of merely one win in seven.
Both teams have already played one Moscow derby each this season, both coming up against Yuri Semin’s Lokomotiv Moscow. Spartak hosted Lokomotiv at a full-to-capacity Otkrytie Arena in early September. A first-half goal from Ivelin Popov was enough to secure all three points for Carrera’s men in front of 43,000 fans including over 10,000 Zheleznodorozniki in the away end. The match was a good dress rehearsal for Spartak, as they willingly gave up possession in a competitive derby game and countered with aplomb. In direct contrast, Lokomotiv hosted CSKA at the Lokomotiv Stadium just last Sunday for Gameweek Eleven. The first-half was a very fast and competitive affair, as Vasili Berezutskiy came closest to opening the scoring as his headed effort from a corner grazed the post just before half-time. The second slowed down to a level uncharacteristic of derby games, but the introduction of returning Maicon changed the game. The Brazilian replaced Alan Kasaev just after the hour mark, and latched onto an Aleksei Miranchuk through ball, then using pace and skill he elegantly glided past Mario Fernandes, Sergei Ignashevich and Berezutskiy before calmly placing the ball into the far corner of the net and out the reach of the on-rushing Igor Akinfeev. On evidence of these two matches, the Spartak side may be better used to the intense and fast-paced atmosphere of a derby game, with the aged CSKA defence proving fragile against a less impressive Lokomotiv attacking unit.
Massimo Carrera has almost a fully-fit squad, with striker Ze Luis the only injury worry. The Cape Verdean striker missed the Ural match due to a sideband muscle tear picked up in the victory over Rostov, as Lorenzo Melgarejo deputised, and is doubtful for the derby. Top scorer Quincy Promes also missed the Ural game, as well as the 1-0 win over Rostov, but the Dutch forward has announced on his social media that he will be ready for the CSKA match, posting a workout video captioned “Moscow is Red-White”. Carrera returned to a four-man defence for the win over Ural, and will likely keep the same formation even with the returning Promes. The main question marks are whether or not Lorenzo Melgarejo can overcome his doubters and efficaciously replace Ze Luis as the attacking pivot for Spartak’s talented attacking midfielders to run beyond. Ze Luis this season has been involved in ten of Spartak’s 18 goals this season and has won an impressive 45% of aerial duels (111 from 247). Melgarejo is a different type of player to Ze Luis, with strengths in his speed and technical ability, therefore Promes himself may lead the line, but nevertheless Ze Luis’ absence will be a sore one.
Predicted line-up: Rebrov – Kombarov, Bocchetti, Kutepov, Eschenko – Glushakov, Zobnin – Promes, Popov, Jano – Melgarejo
On the other hand, Leonid Slutsky has practically no injury worries after a difficult month in which first choice players including Akinfeev, Traore, Eremenko and Dzagoev were all missing. Eremenko is still banned after a 30-day suspension was mysteriously imposed on him by UEFA and will be a huge blow to Slutsky. The Finnish midfielder is CSKA’s leading goal scorer thus far this season and is the team’s creative fulcrum since Dzagoev has settled into a deeper role alongside Pontus Wernbloom. The emergence of Aleksandr Golovin and signing of Aleksei Ionov will ease his burden, but as their disastrous run of form shows, usually when Eremenko, the leader of the Army Men, does not show-up, neither do the cavalry. Traore and Dzagoev are also doubtful after only just overcoming injuries, as both missed the derby last weekend, and the latter is expected to miss out completely, with Bibras Natcho likely deputising.
Predicted line-up: Akinfeev – Shchennikov, Berezutskiy, Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes – Wernbloom, Natcho – Tosic, Golovin, Ionov – Traore
Statistically, Spartak should win the game even without Promes, with the return of the prolific Dutch forward a massive boost for the People’s Team. Promes has directly contributed to 28% of Spartak’s goals this season and has been actively involved in over 70% (5 from 18 and 13 from 18). Furthermore, he has a goal on average every 3.7 games and sits third in the league for shots on goal with 34. But he is not Spartak’s only strength, their resolute defence has been one of Carrera’s proudest achievements so far this season. Conceding only 7 goals this season, the combination of Bocchetti, Kutepov, Kombarov and Eschenko has been a revelation with Spartak holding a league high in Tackles and Interceptions per game at 19.3 and 22.9 respectively.
Slutsky has been under immense pressure from both the right and the left of CSKA’s fans uniting over criticisms against recent poor results. The pressure has been so substantial that even in his press conference after the Lokomotiv game, the Head Coach was grilled by journalists to whether or not he “felt the increasing negativity from the fans”, to which he resolutely replied “No”. Whether or not Slutsky and the player feel the pressure is negligent, but it is still there and growing with more disdain every week. A win at their fiercest rivals’ ground will go some way to quelling the discontent, but a loss could be fatal for the ex-Sbornaya coach. Nevertheless, CSKA are the most experienced team in the RFPL, with some of the best players in their league in its ranks, especially Pontus Wernbloom. But with the return of Promes and CSKA’s high pressure situation, I predict a close encounter, ultimately settled by one of Spartak’s attacking trio taking advantage of the away teams ageing defence. Home win.
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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.