RFN Top 50 2016: 20-11


20: Aleksandr Samedov, Midfielder, Lokomotiv (NEW ENTRY)

On a personal note, 2016 has been a good year for the now 32-year-old winger, Aleksandr Samedov. Despite Lokomotiv Moscow only finishing 6th last season, and struggling this season too, Samedov has been one of few highlights for the Red-Greens.

So far this season, he has contributed with four goals, making him the joint top scorer of the team, as well as two assists, a number that would most likely have been higher, had Lokomotiv had better strikers and a more consistent tactical plan.

Samedov has an excellent right foot, making him one of the finest set piece takers in Russia, and he poses a constant threat to his opponents. On top of that, Samedov has proven himself to be a true leader, and he has often captained the Railroaders.

Despite being a fan favourite, Samedov looks set to depart Lokomotiv this winter and move to city rivals Spartak. The winger isn’t joining the Red-Greens on their winter training camp, and by joining Spartak, he gets the chance to finish his career at the club where he began his professional career 15 years ago.

19: Yohan Mollo, Midfielder, Krylia Sovetov (Now Zenit) (NEW ENTRY)

Frenchman Yoann Mollo’s 2016 in Russia was split into two parts. The first half, a loan to Krylia Sovetov, which bore great results, as he became the key attacker in their failing strike force. His most notable appearance came away against Zenit St Petersburg when he bagged three impressive assists in a memorable victory. The summer rolled on by without any progress, but eventually, Mollo re-joined Krylia on a free transfer before the start of the 16/17 season.

This season he has been even more productive and even more influential, scoring five and assisting four in just 12 appearances, contributing to over half of Krylia’s goals. The highlights of this fruitful run were undoubtedly a goal and assist in an electrifying performance as Krylia destroyed league leaders Spartak 4-0.

Following on from this, transfer rumours were rife, and in early January, a transfer to giants Zenit St Petersburg was confirmed on a 3.5 year deal for a rumoured €3m.

18: Oleg Shatov, Midfielder, Zenit (-12)

Oleg Shatov is another Russian experiencing a slightly rough patch. Having racked up a large tally of goals and assists in the 2015/16 season, his productivity has dropped considerably, and in the whole of 2016, the wide man only managed to score three times in the league. His form for club and country has been combined with him being played in a number of positions across midfield, rather than consistently playing in a comfortable left wing position.

This lead to a disappointing Euro 2016 for the winger, before Zenit added Giuliano and Robert Mak to the squad to add competition to his positions. Playing ten times after summer, Shatov has added one goal and three assists to Zenit’s repertoire, however, his competitors have proven far more fruitful, and his poor form has lead to Zenit purchasing Krylia’s Frenchman Yoann Mollo.

If Shatov can get back to his form from 2015, however, it would be a huge boost for club and country, and with clubs such as Liverpool linked with the winger in recent times, potentially a boost to his career.

17: Igor Akinfeev, Goalkeeper, CSKA (-4)

Igor Akinfeev once again drew headlines in 2016, for a multitude of reasons, good and bad. As CSKA took advantage of an underperforming Zenit side, Akinfeev pulled out the big guns when it was needed, and on the final day of the season, with a win needed to seal the title, he pulled off a dramatic save with only minutes remaining against Rubin Kazan, to ensure a clean sheet and 1-0 win to earn the championship gold medal.

For Russia, he was one of few to come of Euro 2016 with some positive feedback, pulling off some top saves as Russia stole a point against England.

On the negative side, Akinfeev continues his dreadful streak of not keeping a clean sheet in the Champions League, extending his run to 38 games, spanning a decade. CSKA’s dreadful form in the league and Europe has been a massive swing from the previous season, and their European displays did nothing to help Akinfeev keep a clean sheet in those games.

16: Igor Smolnikov, Defender, Zenit (-4)

Zenit’s pacey right back has had an up and down year. Featuring heavily in the tail end of the 15/16 season, Smolnikov put in a series of consistent performances as a faltering Zenit finished outside the top two, however a definite step down from the level he had been known for in the years previous, where his goals and assists from defence made him a thorn in the side for many clubs.

On an international level, Smolnikov had strong competition at right back from Rubin’s Oleg Kuzmin, who impressed on his debut, scoring a goal, but thanks to a long-term injury, Smolnikov retained the starting berth for Euro 2016. Despite this, he was the victim of a series of poor performances, as Russia were dumped out at the group stage, and Smolnikov himself received heavy criticism for his poor defensive work, particularly against England.

Back in Russia, he was back as Zenit’s first choice right back, but only until October, when he sustained a long-term injury, ruling him out until after the new year.

15: Axel Witsel, Midfielder, Zenit (Now Tianjin Quanjian) (-10)

Although he has now departed for China, it is no surprise that Axel Witsel makes the RFN Top 50 for 2016 and he will no doubt go down in history as one of the best players to play in the Premier League.

The Belgian is a delightful midfielder who has the ability to control matches from the centre of the park with his intelligent passing. Whilst he may not dazzle in every match, he is Mr Consistent and generally gives you a 7/10 every game.

Although he tends to play deeper, Witsel also tends to get a few goals from midfield with his record of 22 in 179 games pretty good for somebody who does not find himself in the box too often.

Witsel’s attitude has also been commendable this season as, even after he lost out on his dream move to Juventus in the summer, the 27-year-old laced up his boots and got on with the job at Zenit and has been one of their best players this season.

The former Benfica man is one of very few players to ever play in Russia who has genuine top level ability and would not look out of place at several top European clubs. Unfortunately, with his move to China, we are now unlikely to see that talent be on display in a really top team in his prime years.

14: Vedran Corluka, Defender, Lokomotiv (+10)

Vedran Corluka is arguably one of the most underrated players in the RFPL and if he played for one of the top two or three sides, he would no doubt be in the top 10 of the RFN Top 50. I would even go as far as to say that he is the best centre-half in the league.

The Croatian is a tough tackler and rarely lets an attacker get by. He is arguably the main reason why Lokomotiv have only conceded 13 goals this season and if he were younger, would no doubt be interesting some of the European clubs on his displays so far this season. Thankfully, though, the Railroaders have Corluka in his prime, just as he starts to enter his thirties.

In today’s market, it is ridiculous to think that he signed for just £5.5m a few years ago – perhaps the only good legacy that former manager Slaven Bilic left Lokomotiv during his disastrous reign in the 2012/13 season.

13: Fernando, Midfielder, Spartak (NEW ENTRY)

The Brazilian arrived with a rather large price tag in the summer after being signed by previous Spartak Moscow manager and club legend Dmitri Alenichev. There were reasons to be sceptical as this was one of the rare cases in which a Brazilian arriving at Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk did not work out as they originally bought him for €11m before selling him at a €3m loss to Italian side Sampdoria.

However, Fernando has made an immediate impact since arriving from Italy in the summer and is a key reason why his Spartak side is five points clear at the top of the Russian Premier League.

Whilst everybody thinks of the attacking options available at Spartak in the likes of Quincy Promes and Ze Luis, Fernando is just as important as he allows the team to play that open style without being too susceptible at the back. He simply sits in front of the back four, adding that extra defensive body and is one of the reasons why the Red-Whites have only conceded 13 in 17 matches.

At just 24 years old, if he carries on the way he is for the next couple of years, Spartak will make a large profit on the €11m they spent in the summer.

12: Ze Luis, Striker, Spartak (NEW ENTRY)

Whilst the majority of praise goes towards Quincy Promes out of all of Spartak’s squad, his fellow attacking player Ze Luis is also a vital cog in the machine.

The Cape Verdean may not be a consistent goal machine and rarely scores in consecutive matches, usually having a brace here and there, however, he does have a highly respectable nine goals in 12 matches.

Although manager Massimo Carrera would no doubt like him to be a bit more consistent with his strike rate, Ze Luis is always a threat with his pace and the way he links up so well with his attacking colleagues which arguably makes Spartak the most exciting team to watch in the division.

It is no coincidence that in the weeks in which Ze Luis was out injured before the winter break, Spartak was only winning games by a one-goal margin.

11: Mario Fernandes, Defender, CSKA (+5)

The Brazilian is now the undisputed best right back in the division and arguably the most important player in CSKA Moscow’s roster right now. In fact, his reputation is not only excellent inside Russia but also from the outside where he has been linked with a big-money move to Spanish giants Barcelona for a number of months.

He is so highly-rated and well coveted because he is essentially the perfect modern-day fullback in the fact he is able to defend well whilst also being able to start off CSKA attacks with his insightful passes.

His height also gives him an advantage at full back as he more often than not wins his aerial duels whilst, from a versatility point of view, allows him to slot in at centre-half if required.

One of the more astonishing statistics about Fernandes, who will be eligible for the Russian national team come April, is that he is yet to be booked this season. This shows his calmness as a defender and demonstrates that he does not need to slide into rash tackles due to his excellent reading of the game.

Author: David Sansun

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

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