35: Salvatore Bocchetti, Defender, Spartak (NEW ENTRY)
The left-footed centre-back has flourished under the tutelage of fellow Italian Massimo Carrera this season, improving on his good run of form in the latter stages of the 2015-2016 season under Dmitri Alenichev. Bocchetti has been played in numerous positions this calendar year, proving adept playing in a back-three, and has even been played as a left back earlier in his career. On the pitch he is known for his pace, strength, astute technical ability on the ball and anticipation of the game. The Italian has been a leader at the back for Spartak Moscow and an able mentor for the young and improving Ilya Kutepov, yet has had to overcome injury problems throughout the year, and eventually lost his place in the starting line-up to Mauricio.
34: Zoran Tošić, Midfielder, CSKA (-26)
The aggressive winger with a penchant for long-distance shooting has had a mixed season, with an undoubted highlight CSKA clinching the 2015-2016 championship title in May. This term however, the whole club have struggled in comparison, as the Serbian has started fourteen of seventeen games this season, but has struggled to make the same impact. He has dropped from last year’s impressive position of eighth to his rating in the lower echelons of the 50. He has scored only once and provided three assists, with both his shots-per-game ratio and cross completion percentages falling drastically from last season. In fact, CSKA players and fans alike often accuse Tošić of being greedy, as he is averaging merely 1.6 crosses per game with a completion rate of only 36%, with other prominent wingers in the league such as Yoann Mollo and Denis Kulakov averaging at 4.6 and 5 per game respectively.
33: Stanislav Kristyuk, Goalkeeper, Krasnodar (NEW ENTRY)
Another new addition to the RFN Top 50, the dependable Russian goalkeeper was signed permanently by the Bulls in the summer, following his impressive performances on loan from SC Braga in the first-half of 2016. An alumni of the Yuriy Khonoplyov Academy alongside Alan Dzagoev and Artur Yusupov, the Togliatti native chose to follow his footballing path in Portugal, not the academy team in the Russian Third Tier. Kristyuk performed well for Braga under Paulo Fonseca but did not settle in the area and has used his strong aerial prowess, great reflexes and leadership to take over from the ageing Andrey Dikan.
32: Alexandru Gațcan, Midfielder, Rostov (NEW ENTRY)
Gațcan last season was Rostov’s driving force in midfield behind their ascent up the Premier League table and qualification for the Champions League. His leadership from midfield and relentless pressing were integral to the Selmashi’s defensive, deep-lying and counter-attacking style. However, since the Kurban Berdyev scandal, the loss of key players and added European fixtures, Rostov have struggled to carry their impressive early calendar-year form into the first half of the 2016-2107 season. One reason for this has been Gațcan’s diminished influence as a leader, and more so as somewhat of a liability. His discipline this season has been nothing short of appalling, receiving eight yellow cards and three red cards so far this season. Away from his ill-discipline, the Moldovan’s influence in midfield has been overtaken this season by the ever-improving Aleksandr Erokhin and dynamic Christian Noboa.
31: Aleksandr Erokhin, Midfielder, Rostov (-9)
As previously mentioned, Aleksandr Erokhin has developed his game in the last year arguably as much as any other player on this list, despite his relatively low-ranking. Although losing nine positions from his ranking in 2015, Erokhin has fully completed his transition to a tall, rangy forward man to an effective box-to-box midfielder. The Russian was signed in the winter 2016 transfer window from FC Ural and was immediately placed into midfield by Berdyev. Although arguably more a natural attacking midfielder, it has been his defensive transitioning and discipline which has developed this season. Erokhin has ultimately however lost numerous positions on his ranking from last year as he is often still prone to mistakes, losing the ball on average ten times per game this season, with a passing percentage of only 72%.
30: Jonathas, Striker, Rubin (NEW ENTRY)
One of eleven summer signings for the Tatars, Jonathas has arguably been the outstanding acquisition alongside many other questionable ones. The Brazilian is currently the joint-second top scorer in the league with eight goals from thirteen starts this season. Jonathas does not particularly get involved with Rubin’s attacking play until the final third, and despite his impressive size, is not the most effective target man in the league, winning only 37% of his aerial challenges per match, competing for ten on average per game. He relies on his sublime finishing, positioning and raw physical attributes to go beyond the last man, as shown by his recent goal in a 1-0 win over Arsenal Tula. One of his main strengths’ is his willingness to close down the opposing team high up the pitch using his pace and upper body power, with his defensive contribution key in Rubin’s high press.
29: Aleksandr Golovin, Midfielder, CSKA (NEW ENTRY)
The twenty-year-old is another new name on this year’s Top 50, as although Golovin made his debut for CSKA in March 2015, he did not really get into the first team until the first-half of 2016 and became an integral part of the team as the Army Men won the RFPL last summer. Despite poor performances in a defensive midfield role under Slutsky for Sbornaya at Euro 2016, he largely avoided criticism and garnered much empathy for the position he was forced to play in. This season he has been one of the first names on the team sheet and a popular performer across the whole midfield. On average, he has completed 52 passes and 4.6 dribbles per match, with respective success rates of 83% and 70%. However, he has only scored once, and has one assist thus far, and with time and further development could become more involved in key areas more often.
28: Andreas Granqvist, Defender, Krasnodar (NEW ENTRY)
The Swedish centre-back will no doubt be most recognisable to British football fans for his unconvincing spell at Wigan Athletic in 2007-2008, but since then he has developed into a rock at the back and leader of the Krasnodar defence. A technically able, left-footed defender, Krasnodar’s captain has completed over 92% of his passes this season and dominated aerially in both boxes for the Bulls. Granqvist was linked with a move to the England in the summer, but stayed with Krasnodar as defensive partner Ragnar Sigurdsson moved to Fulham FC. Quoted as claiming he would consider a move to England, Granqvist may not be in Krasnodar much longer but until then will still be a leader both on and off the pitch.
27: Bekim Balaj, Striker, Terek (NEW ENTRY)
Another new face on this year’s Top 50 is Terek’s summer signing, Albanian forward Bekim Balaj. Signed from Croatian team HNK Rijeka alongside Odise Roshi, Balaj has lit up the league so far with eight goals, joint second with Artyom Dzyuba and Jonathas. Named as Terek’s player of the month for October, he has carried on his form from last season, as he scored 18 goals in 46 games for the Croatian champions. Balaj’s astute finishing and aerial prowess has led to many describing him as a complete forward, as his playing style could be described as a mix between league-leading Fyodor Smolov and the aforementioned Dzyuba. A brace in Terek’s 2-1 victory over Zenit in early November proved his credentials to score against even the strongest of teams in the league and he is overwhelmingly responsible for the team from Grozny’s ascent to fourth in the league during the winter break.
26: Aleksandr Kokorin, Striker, Zenit (-1)
Kokorin’s most infamous moment of 2016 is arguably his post-Euro antics with Pavel Mamaev in Monaco, as many Russian fans took great offence at their excessive partying so soon after the embarrassment of the tournament. Although this year has seen the Russian mature while at Zenit, his off-pitch behaviour and unfulfilled promise has seen him drop a place down this year’s list. On the pitch however, Kokorin has become an integral part in Zenit’s attack with his impressive displays as an inside forward, arguably now his best position. Aside from the dire performances in France in the summer – as most players in the 23 are also responsible – Kokorin has no doubt matured as a player and is beginning to finally fulfil his early promise.
25: Pavel Mamaev, Midfielder, Krasnodar (-4)
The other guilty party in the Monaco fiasco ironically sits alongside his partner in crime on this year’s list. Although Mamaev’s performances and link up play with Fyodor Smolov belie his final position, these off-field troubles and constant injuries have irrevocably disrupted his 2016. Equally adept as both a winger and a deeper lying midfielder, many were calling for him to be played much more in the summer tournament, and ironically, Leonid Slutsky’s unwillingness to do so has saved the Russian for some criticism on the pitch. A classy midfielder with an eye for a through ball, he has provided more assists for Fyodor Smolov this calendar year than any other player.
24: Javi García, Midfielder, Zenit (-1)
The Spaniard has been Zenit captain in the absence of the ever-injured Danny this year. Whether deployed in midfield or defence, the ex-Manchester City man performs to the best of his ability and admirably as the Petrovsky crowd would expect. Javi Garcia has been the club’s most consistent performers under both Andre Villas-Boas and Mircea Lucescu and is often the starting point for many of the Blue-White-Sky Blues’ attacks. Boasting impressive passing figures thus season of 91% pass completion and 74% key passing completion rates, he dictates the game in the majority of Zenit’s matches this season.
23: César Navas, Defender, Rostov (+13)
Although now at the age of 36, the Spanish defender is having somewhat of a twilight year in his career as Kurban Berdyev’s trusted stopper, and just like wine, he seems only to get better as he gets older. Despite rumours of him going to both England as well as America on one last lucrative contract, Berdyev and Rostov talked him into staying, and he remains as good as ever. Challenged by the loss of both of his partners from last season, Ivan Novoseltsev and Bastos, the Spaniard has kept his level as one of few Rostov players this season, and stellar performances both against top class European opponents as well as domestically proves that he is still one of the finest defenders in Russia.
22: Soslan Dzhanaev, Goalkeeper, Rostov (NEW ENTRY)
After a year as understudy for Stipe Pletikosa at Rostov, 29-year-old Soslan Dzhanaev entered the Russian football scene in style last season after a couple of years in the shadows. Being the last man in Kurban Berdyev’s defensive machine, Dzhanaev received plenty of help from an excellent defensive unit, but time after time, the goalkeeper also proved that he was more than capable of holding his stand on his own. In fact, it didn’t take Dzhanaev long to become one of the strongest in the position in the league, which was quickly recognized by Stanislav Cherchesov who gave him his debut for Sbornaya in October. Had it not been for Dzhanaev between the posts, it’s safe to say that Rostov wouldn’t have been able to reach the amazing highs of 2016.
21: Domenico Criscito, Defender, Zenit (-3)
The Italian left-back is one of the unsung heroes of the Zenit team, and the kind of player who rarely steals the headlines, despite him always delivering on the pitch. He is the highest ranked left back on this list, and despite the addition of Russian international Yuri Zhirkov to Zenit’s squad in January, Criscito remains one of the first names on the team sheet each week. The Italian has even worn the captain’s band on several occasions, proving his importance. Criscito is furthermore a versatile player, allowing Mircea Lucescu to move him to the centre of defence more often than not this season to close gaps. The 30-year-old defender is often linked with Italian clubs, but remains happy with life in St. Petersburg, although has recently stated that he’d love to return to Genoa one day.
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.