RFPL Mid-Season Review – Part Two

As we are at the halfway stage of the 2017/18 season, it is now time to look at the season so far and how it has transpired for each RFPL member club. This mid-season review will look at the pre-season expectations for each club based on their squad and summer signings, cross-referencing with last season’s performance and reputation. Then deducing whether or not each club is achieving its pre-season goals so far this season, the comparative high and low points so far for each club, expectations for the rest of the season and finally, placing a grade based on all of the aforementioned factors out of ten.

READ PART ONE HERE

Here is part two, covering CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Moscow, FC Krasnodar and Lokomotiv Moscow.

 

CSKA Moscow

Last Season: 2nd

Pre-Season Expectations: Qualification for the Champions League

Current Position: 3rd

Viktor Goncharenko’s first full season so far in charge at CSKA has been a much tougher affair for the Belarusian than the impressive half season he spent at the helm last season. CSKA’s brand new 30,000 capacity stadium, despite being an impressive facility has saddled the club with a huge debt, which according to reports is valued at €218 million, the seventh highest in European football. This has had a huge effect on CSKA as they were the only club in the RFPL to not sign a single senior player for their first team squad this summer transfer window.

This lack of recruitment and the departure of some squad players over the summer means CSKA’s squad is wafer thin. This is unfortunate timing for CSKA, the performances of their long-term defensive trio of the Berezutsky twins and Sergey Ignashevich have understandably dropped a little recently and all three, despite still performing capably most weeks do need replacing soon. However, not everything has been negative for CSKA. Away victories in the Champions League group stages against Benfica and Basel, an impressive 1-0 away victory against Krasnodar and the season-long form of 21-year-old Aleksandr Golovin, who over the last 12 to 18 months has become the star man in CSKA’s midfield. Finally, CSKA still remains third in the RFPL, which would qualify them for next season’s Champions League. Normally, third place would be seen as a disappointment for CSKA, but taking all things into account, Goncharenko is doing a fairly good job in transitional circumstances for CSKA.

Positives: The form of Golovin, who looks certain to move to a high-ranked club in one of Europe’s top four leagues next summer. In previous seasons, CSKA used to really struggle away from home in European competition, yet this season won their two away group matches in the Champions League, which gives them a decent chance to qualify for the last 16. Finally, the promotion of several promising young academy players into CSKA’s first team such as Timur Zhamaletdinov and Konstantin Kuchayev could see the club unearth some gems to replace their ageing team.

Negatives: The disappointing 1-0 defeat away to second-tier Avangard Kursk in the last 32 of the cup. CSKA’s performances at home both domestically and in Europe, which have seen defeats against Lokomotiv (1-3), Rubin Kazan (1-2), Akhmat Grozny (0-1) and FC Basel (0-2). Last season Fyodor Chalov was seen as CSKA’s bright young hope alongside Golovin, this season, the 19-year-old striker has yet to score, a common problem amongst CSKA’s strikeforce as a whole given the club have only scored 15 goals in 15 games. Finally, loaning out 21-year-old central defender Nikita Chernov to surprise package FC Ural was a puzzling decision, especially considering the age of CSKA’s central defence and given that Chernov has featured regularly for Ural in their ascent to the upper echelons of the RFPL.

Grade: 6/10 – A mix of the good and the bad for CSKA, whilst their league performances have been slightly disappointing, they remain on course to fulfil their objective of a top three finish. Some good results in Europe bump up their grade.

 

Dinamo Moscow

Last Season: 1st in FNL (promoted automatically)

Pre-Season Expectations: Midtable

Current Position: 14th

Dinamo’s stay in the second tier was a brief one season stop as they comfortably won promotion back to Russian football’s top tier for the 2017-18 season. However, optimism has quickly soured in the blue and white corner of Moscow. Widely expected to be the strongest of the three promoted FNL sides from last season, the white-blues have not proven much better equipped to survive than Tosno and SKA Khabarovsk, with Tosno arguably looking stronger and currently above them in the standings.

14th out of 16th so far is not a complete disaster for Dinamo as they are outside the automatic relegation spots, yet, this season has been disappointing. They have only won once in the league in nine games since a 3-1 away victory over Anzhi in round six and that win was a widely expected 2-0 home victory against SKA Khabarovsk. Despite the cost-cutting that has taken place at the club over the last two seasons, a recent edition of the RFN Podcast whilst debating Dinamo stated that their budget is still around the seventh or eighth biggest in the league, which is not reflective of their current league position. Finally, after their defeat 3-0 against Lokomotiv, Dinamo made the surprising decision to dismiss their Ukrainian manager Yury Kalitvintsev who had led them back to the RFPL. His replacement, 41-year-old Dmitry Khokhlov has so far had a mixed start with one win, one draw and one loss from his opening three games and whilst Khokhlov has an impressive pedigree with Dinamo’s youth teams, throwing an inexperienced manager in to firefight a relegation situation is a bold gamble by the club.

Positives: In the opening round,  after trailing fierce rivals Spartak by two goals, Dinamo rallied with two late goals to snatch a draw. This theme of gaining unexpected points against some of the larger teams was also demonstrated with home draws against both CSKA and Zenit. Kirill Panchenko, who hit 24 goals for Dinamo and guided them to promotion last season adapted well to the top flight and is currently Dinamo’s top scorer with four goals this season. Defensively, the club look solid, only having conceded 15 goals in 15 games. Finally, the performances of 23-year-old homegrown winger Aleksandr Tashaev.

Negatives: After four goals in the first six league matches this season, Panchenko suffered an injury on Matchday Ten and has been missing ever since. After Panchenko on four, Dinamo’s next highest scorers are the aforementioned Tashaev and central midfielder Aleksandr Zotov on two goals each, highlighting their dependence on Panchenko. Even prior to Panchenko’s injury, goals were drying up for Dinamo, scoring just 11 goals in 15 matches, nine of which came in the opening seven matches. The club’s debt of around €191 million means transfer activity in the winter could be limited, which could hinder their chances of survival. Finally, Dinamo’s disappointing 1-0 loss at home to relegation rivals Tosno could prove to be a fatal blow to their survival chances come the end of the season.

Grade: 4/10 – Out of the three newly promoted sides, Dinamo have performed the poorest so far. Survival should have been a relatively comfortable objective this season, however, it looks far from certain on the evidence so far.

READ MORE: Pavel Pogrebnyak – A Constant Reminder of Dinamo’s Chaos

 

FC Krasnodar

Last Season: 4th

Pre-Season Expectations: Qualification for the Champions League

Current Position: 4th

One looks at Krasnodar’s pre-season expectations and current league position of fourth and many would assume that this season has been so far so good for the Bulls and they will be the recipients of a high grade from myself. However,  all that glitters is not gold.  I don’t often criticise managers, however, one has to lay the fingers of blame for Krasnodar’s season so far at the feet of their manager, Igor Shalimov. He is a classic case of a talented team like Krasnodar being held back from achieving their potential by an underperforming manager, as we recently discussed.

READ MORE: Why it is Time for Krasnodar to Sack Igor Shalimov

Krasnodar should be battling for the Russian league title let alone just qualifying for the Champions League. They invested heavily in new, talented young players over the summer such as Brazilian winger Wanderson, Romanian attacker Andrei Ivan and Serbian midfielder Mihalio Ristic to compliment the talent already in their squads such as Pavel Mamaev, Fyodor Smolov, Cristian Ramirez, Ricardo Laborde and Viktor Claesson. They were comfortably ahead of Lokomotiv last season and in my opinion on paper possess a higher calibre of player, yet veteran Lokomotiv coach Yuri Semin is getting the best out of the squad at his disposal at present, whereas Shalimov is doing the exact opposite. They should also be ahead of CSKA given the thin squad, delicate financial situation and lack of summer recruitment affecting the Koni at present, yet disappointingly are behind them. Finally, an inability by Shalimov to decide on a settled team and some awful results in cup competitions such as a loss to second-tier Tom Tomsk in the last 32 of the cup and a aggregate loss to Red Star Belgrade in the final round of Europa League qualification further highlight how poor a job Shalimov is currently doing.

Positives: Despite a summer of speculation, star striker Smolov remains at Krasnodar and the club has recorded victories on the road at notoriously hard places to get a result such as Ahkmat and Ufa.

Negatives: Poor performances in the domestic cup and in the Europa League that fell way below expectations, the manager Shalimov as described above really holding the team back and finally missing a real opportunity this season to genuinely challenge for the league title considering the problems affecting CSKA and Spartak’s slow start to the season.

Grade: 4/10 – Probably, in terms of pre-season expectations and current performance, Krasnodar have disappointed the most amongst RFPL clubs, hence the low grade.

 

Lokomotiv Moscow

Last Season: 8th and cup winners

Pre-Season Expectations: Qualification for European football

Current Position: 1st

Lokomotiv have so far been the feel-good, surprise factor which all of us look forward to seeing from a particular side each season. Veteran 70-year-old manager Yury Semin in his fourth stint at the club has so far confounded all the critics this season by maximising to the limit the squad at his disposal. Whilst last season’s eighth-place finish in the league was a disappointment for the Railroaders, a justifiable explanation was their run in the cup which ultimately culminated in them winning the competition. With little to play for after their cup triumph, understandably, Loko’s season faded away.

One thing that the cup win gave to Loko though was confidence, this being reinforced by a strong start to the league season with four wins from their first four games. Since then, Loko have not looked back and two highly impressive results in their last two league matches, a 2-0 home win against Krasnodar and a 3-0 away win against Zenit have seen Semin’s team storm to the top of the league table. Strong mental toughness has been evident this season by Loko, there have been some disappointing results such as home defeats to newly promoted Tosno and Amkar, yet immediately after these two bad results, Loko responded like potential future champions in their next two fixtures by recording two straight victories. Whether this will result in a third ever Russian title at the end of the season is still for debate, yet everything so far suggests they can do it. The defence is solid, conceding only 11 goals in 15 games and 23 goals in 15 is proof the team has enough goals in them to sustain their challenge.

Positives: Excellent recruitment by Loko has been key to their surprise title challenge, the summer signings of Igor Denisov and Solomon Kvirkvelia at bargain prices have proven themselves as two of the best players in the whole league this season. Vladislav Ignatyev’s conversion from previously under-utilised winger to in-form right back is reminiscent of Antonio Conte’s transformation of Victor Moses at Chelsea and a demonstration of finding a new position to improve an existing squad member. Aleksey Miranchuk and Manuel Fernandes have been arguably the best two midfielders in the league this season. Loko’s performances in the big games this season has been exemplary, with away victories against their rivals CSKA, Spartak and Zenit. Finally, the emergence into the first team of talented young academy players such as Anton Miranchuk, Mikhail Lysov and Dimitry Barinov.

Negatives: The one problem Loko have had this season is struggling at home against teams that will sit deep in defence and thus nullify their deadly execution and efficiency of their counter-attacking game, emphasised in their shock defeats to Tosno, Amkar and most disappointingly Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League.

Grade: 9/10 – Despite the disappointing losses at home highlighted above, this really is the only negative I can find in Loko’s season so far. Semin has Loko playing together brilliantly as a team so far. They will certainly be in the mix for the Championship come May.

READ MORE: Exploring Lokomotiv Moscow’s Auspicious Start to the Season

READ PART THREE HERE

Author: Richard Pike

Wigan Athletic season ticket holder whose first memories of Russian football were TV highlights of Spartak’s 4-1 victory against Arsenal in the 2000-01 Champions League. Huge fan of the Russian Premier League, other mid-ranking European leagues and the English Football League

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