35. Vasiliy Berezutskiy, defender, CSKA
At the age of 33, Vasiliy Berezutskiy exudes old-pro calmness and confidence on the pitch. The former national side captain has been an extremely important figure in the CSKA defence for over a decade, being named one of the 33 best players in the league an extremely creditable nine times. The Moscow-born man sits atop the RPL table with the Army Men despite recent poor results. With the side now out of European competition, and Berezutskiy returning from a thigh injury after the winter break, the veteran will be looking for a big end to the season in preparation for Euro 2016, which could be his last major international tournament.
34. Christian Noboa, midfielder, Rostov
When Noboa was re-united with his former boss from his Rubin Kazan days, Kurban Berdyev at Rostov, there was always an inkling that Rostov’s fortunes could change. A magnificent, dynamic midfielder, the Ecuador international quickly re-affirmed his position as one of the RPLs most underrated players with a string on assured performances, shoring up a formerly shaky Rostov midfield.
He announced his return to Russia with a thunderous 30-yard strike to secure 3 points against Amkar, and hasn’t looked back since, not once leaving the first team after Rostov’s initial troubles getting him registered.
33. Solomon Kverkvelia, defender, Rubin
The towering Georgian centre half put himself on the minds of several football fans around Europe this year, with a whole host of impressive performances for both club and country. In Georgia’s European qualifying campaign, he put in dominating performances against Germany, Ireland and Scotland, which caught the attention of many European scouts.
For his club side Rubin, he was outstanding over two games against Liverpool, particularly at Anfield, where he and teammate Ruslan Kambolov seemed to block or intercept every single shot that Liverpool could fire off, despite David James expecting a 5-0 thrashing for the home side.
32. Oleg Kuzmin, defender, Rubin
Rubin’s veteran right back and captain continues to amaze football fans all over Russia. After helping Rubin to a fifth placed league finish last season, the ever running Kuzmin received a call up to the national team, a chance to make his debut aged 34. After Zenit full back Smolnikov picked up an injury, he got his chance, and boy did he take it, scoring a magnificent first time volley against Montenegro to seal Russia’s place at the Euro 2016 Championships in France.
Although he didn’t cover himself with glory with a silly sending off at Anfield in the Europa League, the 34 year old is still a valuable player and has rescued Rubin on more than one occasion this year.
31. Gerson Acevedo, midfielder, Ural
Of all the players on our list, Acevedo’s inclusion might be the most surprising to football fans not familiar with the league. Ural’s Chilean playmaker is in his second spell with the club, having first joined in 2010 with a brief stint at Mordovia in between. Acevedo now however, is in the form of his life, with five goals and four assists from central midfield, including game winning goals against Spartak Moscow and Ufa, not to mention a world-class free kick in an unfortunate 3-2 defeat to CSKA Moscow.
After almost leaving the club when they scraped survival against Tom Tomsk in the relegation play off, Acevedo will be pleased at his decision to say something, which may have changed his long term career immensely.
30. Magomed Ozdoev, midfielder, Rubin
Another Rubin player comes in at number 30, and that is tenacious midfielder Ozdoev. After faltering at Lokomotiv Moscow, Rubin gave him a second chance with his career, and he has taken that with both hands. After a fine 2014/15 season, he has cemented his place in the Rubin first team with a string of impressive performances and fantastic goals.
This form saw him return to the Russian national team, and while he and the Rubin side experienced a tough start to the season, he was able to shine on the European stage, enough to catch the eye of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. With excellent physical capabilities, he could cope in one of the big leagues, but it remains to be seen if he has the ability.
29. Aleksei Ionov, midfielder, Dinamo
Often touted as the best right-sided midfielder holding a Russian passport, Aleksei Ionov has proved indispensable for Dynamo Moscow with some brilliant and versatile displays. This season has seen Ionov play in every position across the White-Blues’ front line and most importantly as cover for the injured Aleksandr Kokorin in the centre forward role. However, when his Dynamo teammate isn’t on the treatment table, Ionov has been equally adept at finding Kokorin with his pinpoint crossing from the flank. Instability has somewhat hampered his international career, otherwise Ionov would be a regular starter for Sbornaya.
28. Elmir Nabiullin, defender, Rubin
20-year-old Rubin Kazan left back Nabiullin is the youngest player on our list. After bursting onto the scene as an 18 year old in 2014, the youngster has had a meteoric rise, becoming a first team regular for Rubin, as well as making his debut for the national team.
Blessed with lots of pace and with a calm head, this shy youngster is capable at both ends of the pitch, causing trouble for opposition defences, as well as being very astute at defensive tasks himself. Nabiullin has recently been linked with Southampton, and 2016 could be a big year for the skilled defender.
27. Roman Shirokov, midfielder, Spartak
Moscow Oblast-born Shirokov is certainly not short of charisma. The Spartak player and current Sbornaya captain’s reputation for being sharp-tongued and unceremonious is only outshone by his unparalleled effort and influence on the pitch that has made him a talisman for both club and country. Shirokov rejoined the Red-Whites at the start of this season after a period on loan at Krasnodar and so far this season has the joint-most assists of any player with three. He was also an integral part of Russia’s victorious Euro 2016 qualifying campaign of which he played seven games.
26. Lorenzo Melgarejo, forward, Kuban
Kuban’s Paraguayan forward as been a shining light in a very dark spell for the Krasnodar side. After a relatively ineffective 2014/15 season, Melgarejo has finally hit a run of form in the current season, and his eight goals mean he is the joint second placed scorer in the league, alongside Hulk, Artyom Dzyuba and Oumar Baye Niasse.
Without those eight goals, 1/3 of Kuban’s total goals scored, their predicament would look even worse than it already is, sitting 2nd bottom in the league. Melgarejo has been a vital cog, operating anywhere in attacking midfield or up front, and if he can add more spectacular goals to his tally, then he’ll surely attract suitors in Europe.
25. Aleksandr Kokorin, forward, Dinamo
It’s almost difficult to spot Aleksandr Kokorin’s frequently discussed potential with the media furore that sometimes swarms him. Then again, it is becoming all too few that Kokorin performs to the level that potential dictates. Nevertheless, Russia’s prodigal playmaker makes the list due to his sheer flair and creativity. A flashy and fearless forward player, the 24-year-old has courted attention from the Premier League and was twice reportedly a target for Arsenal. Internationally, Kokorin netted three goals for Sbornaya in the Euro 2016 qualifying stage, and has four club goals this season. Kokorin has struggled with injuries this season, and has only played eight RPL matches so far. Many expect big things this season from the man on whose back the tag of ‘Russia’s next great hope’ rests.
24. Vedran Corluka, defender, Lokomotiv
Another former City player plying his trade in Russia, Corluka has built a reputation as a magisterially gifted defender in the Lokomotiv back line since his transfer from Tottenham Hotspur three years ago. His skill on the ball and reading of the game belie his 29 years and has also seen him named Loko captain since. The Croatian – who is a regular in his national side – was part of the Lokomotiv team that ended an eight-year trophy drought in the Russian Cup final win over Krasnodar last season, the year in which he also became the supporters’ player of the year, solidifying his place as a favourite of the fans of the Railroaders.
23. Javi Garcia, midfielder, Zenit
Seemingly entering his peak years at 28, Javi Garcia has been a rock for Zenit St. Petersburg in his one and a half seasons in the RPL since joining from English Premier League giants Manchester City for £13m in 2014. The Spaniard’s pedigree is unquestionable. A graduate of ‘La Fabrica’ – Real Madrid’s revered youth setup – he has seven major honours across four different countries to his name, including three league titles with Benfica, Manchester City and the 2014-15 Russian Premier League with Zenit. Aerially dominant and always threatening when involved in attacking set pieces, his 2015 also included a Russian Super Cup winners’ medal.
22. Aleksandr Erokhin, forward, Ural
FC Ural’s talismanic forward has had quite the year. After helping Ural survive the 2014/15 season with six crucial goals and getting his first call up to Russian national team, Erokhin has begun the 2015/16 season at lightning pace, scoring four and assisting five in his first 12 appearances before picking up an injury. His early purple patch lead to him being scouted by clubs all across Europe, with Sporting Lisbon rumoured to have had a bid rebuffed.
Tall and rangey, with great awareness, the versatile 26 year old is now hot property. With a Russian passport and his contract expiring in summer 2016, any Russian side would be foolish not to have Erokhin on their radar.
21. Pavel Mamaev, midfielder, Krasnodar
Krasnodar are one of the most exciting teams in the Premier League to watch, and Mamaev is one key member of their attacking prominence. Able to operate on either wing or in central areas, Mamaev is starting to fulfil the promise he first showed at CSKA.
Along with Smolov and Ari, Mamaev is part of a devastating attacking trio and this season he has scored 14 times from midfield in all competitions, including goals home and away against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League as he helped Krasnodar to qualify top from their group.