Season Preview: Anzhi Makhachkala

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In the winter transfer window last season, Anzhi Makhachkala signed 25 players and swapped experienced Czech manager Pavel Vrba for SKA Khabarovsk boss Aleksandr Grigoryan. Most people expected Anzhi to be relegated after this, but surprisingly the squad and manager gelled quite quickly and put together some decent performances, including a relegation six pointer win against Orenburg, and resilient 0-0 draws against FC Krasnodar and Lokomotiv Moscow, which ultimately saw them avoid the relegation playoffs.

This summer’s transfer window seems no different to winters, having parted way with 11 players, including excellent goalkeeper David Yurchenko to Tosno, and promising youngster to Georgiy Tigiev to Spartak Moscow. Conversely, they have signed 14 players, including FC Tyumen star Khasan Mamtov, Vadim Afonin from FC Orenburg and Ethiopian midfielder Gatoch Panom, with many more appearing on trial throughout the summer, including Spartak midfielder Ayaz Guliev, who impressed on loan last season.

Head coach
Aleksandr Grigoryan took SKA Khabarovsk half way to promotion last season before taking over at Anzhi. The Armenian’s first ever roles as a manager were in women’s football, where he worked for five years. When he eventually started in mens football, managing for FC Khimki, Tosno and SKA Khabarovsk, some people ridiculed the fact that his main experience was in women’s football, and did not take him seriously, but eventually he gained success at SKA, attracting interest from Anzhi. Since taking over Anzhi, Grigoryan adapted to a 4-4-2 formation rather than their traditional 4-2-3-1, and using the experience of RFPL and FNL journeymen, he has had real success.

Greatest strength
Anzhi’s midfield on paper has some real class. Vadim Afonin was excellent for Orenburg last season, helping them avoid automatic relegation, and the year before was named FNL Player of the Year as they were promoted. SKA Khabarovsk’s player of the year Pavel Karasev has also come to bolster the midfielder, as well as Zorya Lugansk duo Jaba Lipartia and Igor Tchaikovskyi and Shakhtar Donetsk youngster Oleh Danchenko on a season loan.

Greatest weakness
While many doubted and were proved wrong about how quick the squad would gel last season, the main doubt would have to again be that the squad will struggle to gel given such wholesale changes to the squad. Aside from this, having lost David Yurchenko to newly promoted Tosno, Anzhi’s goalkeeping department is looking very thin, with Aleksey Solosing joining from Tom Tomsk as their only recognised first team player.

Key player
Wide man Arsen Khubulov was arguably the difference when it came to keeping Anzhi in the Premier League last season, with five goals and two assists in just ten appearances. The former Kuban man became one of a few players who has ever scored a hat trick of penalties, as he rescued a point against Tom Tomsk in a 3-3 draw. An underrated player, Khubulov has plenty of RFPL experience, and he has also played in the Europa League for Kuban still just aged 26, and he definitely has the ability to play at a higher level than the lower half of the league.

Young starlet
Excluding their loanees Konstantin Bazelyuk and Oleh Danchenko, Anzhi have a good youth system and a healthy batch of talented players coming through. Dzhamal Dibirgadzhiev has returned to the first team squad after a loan in Portugal at 2nd Division side Fatima, where he scored ten goals in 18 games, including six in one match. The 20 year old will be looking to make an impact in the RPL, having scored and assisted on his Anzhi debut as an 18 year old in the FNL, his only Anzhi appearance to date. Additionally, 18 year old forward Said Aliev is also one to watch, super speedy and with an eye for goal, he has been included in the first team squad over pre-season.

Season prediction
Anzhi are so far undefeated in pre-season, but to expect anything other than battling to avoid relegation would be a surprise. It’s been their place for a few years now, and without the money that they once had, and the instability of the squad, it will probably continue this season. Individually, they have some good players and talented youngsters, but as a collective it is hard to predict whether they will function as a team that contend higher up the league, considering the quality which exists elsewhere in the league.

Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.

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