3: Giuliano, Midfielder, Zenit (NEW ENTRY)
No one really knew what to expect from the Brazilian when he joined Zenit before this season. After a couple of seasons in Ukraine with Dnipro Giuliano returned to Brazil in 2014, and left the public eye. When Zenit sold Hulk, many fans hoped for the club to replace him with a major signing, but Giuliano, who was brought in for €7 million, has done a better job than any marquee signing could ever do.
Of course, it has been impossible for Giuliano to avoid comparisons with Hulk, but while Giuliano might not have the same obvious skills as Hulk, it is widely agreed that he is much more of a team player, and that he suits the club better than he predecessor.
Giuliano hasn’t looked back since scoring in his debut against Rostov, and halfway through the season he has 14 goals and eight assists to his name, making him by far the most influential signing this season. In fact, he has delivered so many stellar performances that it is difficult to name just one, but he has been incredible for Zenit in the Europa League. In the 4-3 victory away against Maccabi, he made three assists and a goal, while he contributed with a goal and two assists in Zenit’s powerful 5-0 demolition against AZ.
Domestically it is impossible to overlook his performance against Spartak Moscow, who were beaten 4-2 in St. Petersburg. Adding another goal and assist to his account, Giuliano was the stand out player that day, and had it not been for an awful performance by goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin, Zenit would have won by more than just two goals.
His strong performances even earned him a comeback on the Brazilian national team for the first time since 2012, where he so far has taken part in three World Cup qualification matches.
2: Quincy Promes, Striker, Spartak (+0)
Ever since joining Spartak prior to the 2014/2015 season, Quincy Promes has been one of the best players in the Russian Football Premier League. The combination of speed, a powerful shot and tricky dribbles makes him a lethal player for any defence, truly a unique player by Russian standards, and this season has been no different. After 14 games, Promes has six goals and six assists to his name, numbers that most likely would have been higher had he not struggled with injuries.
Being the sole workhorse in the catastrophic seasons under Murat Yakin and Dmitry Alenichev, Promes is now finally being helped up front by other players as head coach Massimo Carrera has managed to build upon the foundation laid by his predecessors and turn Spartak into a well-oiled machine that has more strings to its bow than just Promes. This certainly suits the Dutchman, who now has more freedom on the pitch, as his opponents also have to keep an eye on players such as Denis Glushakov, Jano Ananidze, Ze Luis and Ivelin Popov.
With Promes’ performances in the previous two and a half season in mind, it is no surprise that he is regularly linked with moves to fashionable addresses across Europe, such as Juventus and Liverpool. With Spartak closing in on their first championship in more than a decade however, it looks unlikely that the Red-Whites will give up their talismanic forward until after this season.
1. Fyodor Smolov, Forward, Krasnodar (+8)
The race to snatch the coveted top spot in the RFN Top 50 went down to the wire as Krasnodar’s shining jewel pipped Liverpool target Quincy Promes by a single voting point, but Smolov’s personal race to outscore his rivals has been anything but close. Last year, Smolov plundered an astonishing 31 goals for club and country – considering how he was often played out of position for Russia – while his nearest rivals in the scoring stakes, Quincy Promes and Artyom Dzyuba, only managed 16 and 18 respectively. He even missed four league matches through injury in the autumn; no matter, he still tops this season’s scoring charts.
Goals are of course a striker’s currency, but what makes Smolov worthy of this win is how he has matured from Viktoria Lopyreva’s eye candy into a complete forward. In 2015 we saw him begin his long-awaited renaissance as a top class player as he threw off the shackles to save Ural from relegation, then explode into life as he joined Sergey Galitskiy’s impressive collective. 2016 confirmed that the previous 12 months has not been a flash in the pan. According to InStat, he averages six dribbles (completing almost half of them) and also commits 1.9 tackles per match. Whereas Dzyuba is successful in just 25% of his tackles, Smolov’s rate is 42%; his willingness to do work for his team, and do it well, is what sets him apart from the rest.
Worryingly for Russian football fans, Smolov announced what many had suspected for some time – a European club had offered him a contract to move during this winter transfer window. He confirmed that it was from an unnamed Bundesliga club, thought to be Borussia Dortmund who are missing their talismanic Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on AFCON duty with Gabon for six weeks, but at the time of writing he hasn’t taken the plunge yet. He did once make the foray into Europe with a disastrous loan spell at Feyenoord six years ago, but if he moves this time it will take a significant amount of trouble to prevent him finally fulfilling his immense potential.
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…