RFN Top 50 2017: 3-1

As 2017 has turned into 2018, it is time for an annual tradition on russianfootballnews.com: The RFN Top 50. We rank the 50 best players in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) in 2017 by genuine ability alone, and now it’s time for the players ranked 20-11 (movement compared to last year’s ranking is shown in brackets).

This is the third year in our annual tradition, and definitely the hardest yet. Let us know who you would have picked, and we hope you enjoy it.

Find the players ranked 50-36 here.

Find the players ranked 35-21 here.

Find the players ranked 20-11 here.

 

3 – Manuel Fernandes (Midfielder, Lokomotiv Moscow) NEW ENTRY

After a few years of underachieving since moving to Moscow from Beşiktaş in June 2014, the Portuguese talisman is finally producing the football many expected of him as a young prospect over a decade ago. Fans of the English Premier League may recognise him from his days as a young and raw but evidently talented central midfielder at both Everton and Portsmouth, but the Manu Fernandes which has taken the RPL by storm in 2017 is a much more mature, efficacious and captivating player.

Gifted with unmatchable vision and close control, his superior technique is often Fernandes’ get out clause. He does not attribute great pace nor prolific finishing, but due to his low centre of gravity poses arguably the most superior dribbling skills in the nation.

As matter of fact, due to Lokomotiv’s own struggles as a club in past seasons, Fernandes’ effect has been treated somewhat as a paralipsis during his time at the railroaders. His impact on the side has often been great on the side, but both unspoken and undervalued due to his sheer inconsistency, that is, prior to 2017.

In 2017 as a whole, Fernandes registered 19 goals or assists in just 32 games in the league, a wonderful return which merely quantifies how successful 2017 was for the powerful midfielder. Fernandes has brought this form right into the Europa League; in the second game against Czech minnows Zlín – he brilliantly scored an easy hat-trick within 17 minutes, after which they coasted aimlessly past their opponents. He picked up from his late-2016 form in which he also scored three as Loko plundered Tom Tomsk 6-1. Yuri Semin and Erik Stoffelshaus have been brought in by Ilya Gerkus and Loko have been transformed, and Semin has placed all his trust in Fernandes, employing him as the red-greens’ attacking fulcrum and trequartista.

To go from being woefully unfeatured in neither the 2015 nor 2016 RFN Top 50 to third in 2017 is no mean feat. In the past, we have criticised Fernandes, citing him more frustrating than anything else, but in this form, he is firing Lokomotiv to the championship, and others such as the Miranchuk twins’ own fortunes are likewise transforming as a result.

READ MORE: Exploring Lokomotiv Moscow’s Auspicious Start To The Season

2 – Fedor Smolov (Forward, FC Krasnodar) -1

The Russian talisman may not have topped our list in 2017, but do not let that devalue his continued sheer brilliance. Long gone are the days of struggling as a wayward talent at Dinamo, Fedor has transformed himself into the most potent, prolific and effective striker in the league. As a result, he has spent the last 12 months linked to big-money moves to England, Germany and the St. Petersburg and Moscow elite back in Russia.

In November, RFN writer and resident Englishman in Siberia, Andrew Flint presented Smolov with our 2016 Player of the Year award, and in the course of 2017, Smolov plundered an incredible 18 goals in just 24 games in the league. Back in July, fellow RFN writer Will Baumgardner wonderfully described Smolov’s emphatic rise;

Smolov’s rise to stardom has been anything but conventional. His unique resume includes multiple unsuccessful loan spells, as well as a season spent on the edge of Siberia, and yet today the striker stands as the back-to-back scoring champion of the Russian Football Premier League, and arguably Russia’s brightest star.

He has matured through his time at Krasnodar into a genuine complete forward, with impeccable finishing, decent pace and unexpected physicality central to his success – he has a deceptively large build of 189cm (6’2) and 80kg (12.5 stone). Just look at the positions he takes up after Pavel Mamaev’s inch-perfect vertical passing before finishing with aplomb in the video below.

Interestingly, Smolov isn’t necessarily a specialist in any one skill but utilises his wide skill set in order to mould himself to a number of differing approaches, making him a vital cog to Krasnodar’s buildup play. Without him in 2017, the Bulls won just six games out of 17 in all competitions. Although 18-year-old heir-to-be and protégé Ivan Ignatiev is a promising young player, an efficacious and beautiful on-the-eye Krasnodar team look alarmingly ordinary without Smolov.

In 12 starts in the league this season, Smolov has scored 10 goals at an average of 4.8 shots per game. He takes a lot of shots on goal in order to score, but he is still prolific, and his shots-per-game ratio is often only so high due to the style of play Krasnodar play and the fact they dominate 90% of domestic opponents they face. Smolov scores 0.8 goals per every 90 minutes from inside the penalty area from 2.4 shots per 90 in the same zone. Therefore he averages a goal in dangerous areas every three shots and has a xG this season of 7.07. His xG per 90 is the highest in the league this season, at 0.57 (excluding Ivan Ivanchenko and Ricardo Laborde who have only appeared three and five times respectively).

Although often found offside, Smolov is an expert in finishing, long shooting, holding onto the ball, dribbling and is an expert from dead ball situations, be that a direct free-kick or penalty.

READ MORE: Fedor Smolov – Russia’s Brightest Star

 

1 – Quincy Promes (Forward, Spartak Moscow) +1

Last year, just a single solitary point separated Quincy Promes and Smolov in the Top 50, but this year it was a little more clear-cut with every single writer choosing Promes as their player of the year. Quincy has spent the last two seasons finishing in second place, but third time is most certainly the charm as he finally overtakes Smolov to snatch the coveted number one spot.

His combination of speed, power and lethal technical ability stands him above anyone else as the single most valuable and best player in Russia. More than anything, the bare statistics prove just the incredible impact Promes has had in 2017, he has registered a breathtaking 33 goals and assists in 35 games for club and country in 2017.

Many fans of the red-whites’ presumed upon his arrival that it would be Promes who would break Spartak’s long Fedun-curse, that they had not won a trophy at all since 2003 and long before the LukOIL magnate became the majority shareholder. He had already established himself as the most coruscating talent in Russia long before the Spring of 2017, but it was this time when he literally shot himself towards Spartak immortality. He scored the winning penalty that confirmed Spartak’s historic championship victory in May, confirming their return to past glories followers of the club had all been too accustomed to before their recent drought.

Promes can operate anywhere along the frontline, but is most effective cutting inside from wide areas and shooting from afar. Arguably his only weakness is his lack of aerial ability, but in nearly every other aspect of being a modern winger, he excels; crossing, defensive contribution, dribbling, finishing, holding on to the ball, key passes, long shots, passing, taking set-pieces and through balls.

No more did he prove this in 2017 than on the highest stage, the European Champions League. In Spartak’s 5-1 demolition of Sevilla, he scored twice and registered two assists, all four contributions highlighted his huge array of different techniques he can call upon, from poaching ability, genuine finishing, acute vision and ability to pick a pass and deft one-touch football.

Promes may leave Spartak in the summer, but he is sure to fire himself to farther stardom, still aged just 25 – he has not even yet hit his prime.

Congratulations Quincy!

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.

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