Season Preview: FC Krasnodar

Krasnodar Stadium. Photo: Dimka Pukalik

Krasnodar Stadium. Photo: Dimka Pukalik

Krasnodar have qualified for the Europa League three years in a row now and will be aiming to do so again in Igor Shalimov’s first full season in charge of the Bulls. This may look harder than ever with the disappointing performances of the team last season both in Europe and domestically, questions marks over the future of star player Fyodor Smolov and the emergence of Rubin Kazan and Akhmat Grozny as genuine contenders for European qualification.

This summer has been somewhat of a mini-rebuild due to last season’s drop-in form – a return of 49 points the club’s lowest since they finished 6th in 2013/14 – with seasoned veterans Dmitriy Torbinskiy, Vitaly Kaleshin, Vladimir Bystrov and Marat Izmaylov either moving on or retiring. All-time leading goalscorer Wanderson has joined Dinamo Moscow on a permanent transfer but has been replaced by his promising namesake from Red Bull Salzburg. Joining Wanderson are Renat Yanbaev, Alexey Gritasaenko and Mihlio Ristic, and Roman Shishkin’s loan deal has been made permanent.

Head coach

Igor Shalimov initially took over as caretaker boss after Oleg Kononov resigned in September 2016, following four games without a win. Although Shalimov expressed his surprise at the decision and pondered why, he did not do so for long, leading Krasnodar to five wins from his six matches as caretaker, and was given the job full-time in October.

Since then, Krasnodar has relatively struggled considering their playing squad, impressive academy and huge financial clout. They are only in the Europa League this season by clinging onto fourth place ahead of Akhmat Grozny and FC Rostov, winning merely one of their last five games; a 5-1 victory over lowly Tom Tomsk. Although at one point in the season, before the winter break at the eclipse of the apertura, they did even leapfrog CSKA into third thanks to an impressive 2-1 victory over Zenit. Despite this, Shalimov repeatedly did not bring the best out of his strong squad and over-relied upon Fyodor Smolov finding the net. This was particularly the case in Europe, as Smolov scored 40% of their goals in the competition. Shalimov will have his work cut out to remove question marks over his managerial ability if Krasnodar continues to underperform.

Greatest strength

Krasnodar may have finished twenty points behind Spartak by the end of the season, but they impressively only lost five games all season, the same number as the champions as only CSKA Moscow lost less. This, while conceding the fourth least amount of goals in the division at 22, made the Bulls an immovable object at times last year, as shown by their impressive rear-guard display away against a strong Fenerbahce team including Robin van Persie, Jeremain Lens and Moussa Sow.

Andreas Granqvist will once again lead their defence this term, as the experience head is performing better and better while heading into the twilight of his career. He will be joined by either Naldo or Aleksandr Martynovich forming a formidable partnership in the heart of the defence, flanked by Cristian Ramirez, Sergey Petrov or Renat Yanbaev their defensive unit will once again be very efficient, supported by a hard-working and high-pressing Krasnodar team willing to put in the hard miles to not lose.

Greatest weakness

Inability to spend. Krasnodar irrevocably has the ability to rebuild through their massive financial stability and backing of the billionaire owner, Sergey Galitsky, but they may not be able to spend his $8.4b fortune. Galitsky in May 2015 agreed to a Financial Fair Play (FFP) settlement with UEFA which deemed Krasnodar in breach of UEFA’s stringent FFP regulations. The settlement guarantees Krasnodar will have to comply with the “break-even compliance” until the end of this upcoming season but were allowed a €20m deficit in 2015 and €10m in 2016, and are still under intense scrutiny and investigation. Though the club must now only spend money on players that have been previously received through player sales, hence the shipping out of Ari, Wanderson, Odil Ahmedov, Kouassi Eboue and Artur Jedrzejczyk since the start of 2017.

Shalimov and Galitsky may be forced to sell star player Fyodor Smolov this season in order to rebuild and ensure the club does not stagnate out of Europe. This has already begun, last season the average age of the playing squad was the second highest in the RFPL, but has now dropped to 26.9, the fourth lowest in the league thanks to the departures of the aforementioned veterans. The pair will have a difficult year ahead due to these FFP regulations and will face many long and agonising decisions before the transfer window closes.

Key player

Without a doubt, it has to be Fyodor Smolov. Over the past two seasons, he has scored 49 goals and registered 14 assists in 75 games for Krasnodar, including 45% of all the team’s goals last season in the Premier League. Smolov was listed as RFN’s best player in 2016, and Russian Player of the Year for the 2016/17, as he has thrived for both club and country. Smolov has decent pace, as well as a wicked shot, clinical finish, effective physical presence and keen ability to find space behind the opposition defence. As a complete forward both adept playing on his own or alongside another, he scores all types of goals. His link-up play with Pavel Mamaev is wonderful to watch and will reduce grown men into excited wrecks, and Krasnodar missed that too much last year due to the pair’s injury troubles.

If Smolov stays, he will likely fire Krasnodar towards the European places once more, but if he leaves it may be a short-term disaster, such is his importance.

READ MORE: Fyodor Smolov – Russia’s Brightest Star

Young startlet

Despite the efforts to reduce the overall average age of the squad, Krasnodar does not have many young prospects seeing regular game time with the first team. One man to breakthrough last year, however, is the supremely talented Ilya Zhigulev. The 21-year-old midfielder made his debut for the senior team last season following a loan move to Moldovan side FC Milsami Orhei, scoring three goals and registering two assists in twelve appearances, losing only once and winning all the rest.

Equally adept in a deep-lying or attacking midfielder, Zhigulev made his Krasnodar debut as the former against Ural in the cup in February, playing 50 minutes in a very competitive 3-3 draw. Since then, he has played a farther seven times in the league either centrally or out wide and has impressed with his vision and ability to recycle possession.

Season predictions

Krasnodar must finish in the European qualification spots once again until the FFP investigation end this season. This and a scarcity of offers from abroad may be what is stopping Galitskiy from selling Smolov now, as he has already claimed he does not want to sell his prize asset to an RFPL rival. I predict another close season, where Krasnodar will end up in the top five and be granted a Europa League spot thanks to the increased coefficient ranking of the RFPL.

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.

Leave a Reply