Season Preview: FC Rostov

League game against Manchester United. Photo: Danny Armstrong/RFN

League game against Manchester United. Photo: Danny Armstrong/RFN

What a difference 12 months makes. Last summer, Rostov were flying higher than they’d ever done before having qualified for their first Champions League campaign and only missed out on the title by a single goal, with arguably Russian football’s best tactician masterminding success from the sidelines. Fast forward to 2017, and their entire project is crumbling to pieces; 13 players (at the time of writing) have left the club, Kurban Berdyev has returned to his former home in the Rubin Kazan, and despite the riches that come with a lengthy European campaign are still officially in debt.

The side that lines up under Leonid Kuchuk will be almost unrecognisable to the one that beat Bayern Munich back in November, and expectations must be managed accordingly. A couple of beneficiaries of the mass turnover of players – 10 new permanent signings have been made, as well as four returning loanees – will be Moussa Doumbia and Saeed Ezzatolahi, who both had promising temporary spells last term. Doumbia in particular will be a key part of the midfield if he remains at the club, while Ezzatolahi has a real chance to build on a regular starting place having shown glimpses of what he can do over the last year.

Head coach
Belarussian manager Leonid Kuchuk returns to Russian football after a spell coaching in Ukraine with PFK Stal, whom he guided to a mid-table finish last summer. Kuchuk is familiar with the Premier League having been in charge of Kuban Krasnodar twice either side of a season with Lokomotiv Moscow. In fact, his consistency – or lack thereof – has been a feature of his last decade or so in management; he hasn’t remained in charge of a single club for two consecutive seasons since the last decade in Moldova. Given the current instability at the club, it would be a bold man who predicts that record the change.

Greatest strength
In all honesty there are very few to choose from, but central midfield is probably the strongest area of the team, even despite the departures of Christian Noboa and Alexander Erokhin to Zenit. Captain Alexandru Gatcan remains to anchor the team, and with Doumbia and Ezzatolahi returning with genuine prospects of permanent starting places there are the makings of a dynamic trio. A lot depends on how Kuchuk intends to line the side up; does he ape Berdyev and keep the 5-3-2, or revert to his more commonly used 4-2-3-1? Pavel Mogilivets continues his pinball career path between Zenit and Rostov and could offer further strength in this department.

Greatest weakness
Up front. Dmitry Poloz was critical to the system played last season, and while Kuchuk may opt to go with one frontman, it seems increasingly likely that he will also have to do without Sardar Azmoun, who has been training with Rubin Kazan. That would leave Aleksandr Bukharov as the sole recognised striker, although he may be joined by Vladimir Dyadyun, who hasn’t played a match for over a year, and has completed one full 90 minutes in the last two seasons. Neither of them is the quickest or most agile, making the attack lack a cutting edge.

Key player
Captain Aleksandru Gatcan will be looked to for leadership in his tenth season at the club, assuming he can stay on the field – last season he was suspended four times in just 24 Premier League appearances. His tenacity will be a vital source of drive for the new-look side that is likely to have their backs against the wall a lot more often than last year, especially with the less experienced partners he is likely to have in midfield. The defence has been been almost completely gutted, so some solid protection from the skipper will go some way to helping them settle.

Young starlet
This season has the potential to be huge for Saeed Ezzatolahi. The 20-year-old Iranian has endless talent – and 20 full international caps to show for it – and will have the added incentive of increased responsibility previously unheld at club level. He may well not begin the season as a starter – Mogilevets, Gatcan and Doumbia all have more experience on their side – but his physicality and intelligence on the ball will surely become too prominent to ignore. He can also act as a guiding example to his fellow countryman Reza Shekari, who has scored regularly for Iran’s youth teams.

Season prediction
Without being too pessimistic, avoiding relegation will be a relative success for the completely revamped squad. On paper the players that have come in should have little trouble doing this, but a lot depends on how they able to gel as a group under new management, and there is always the ugly spectre of financial difficulty hovering overhead to add to the uncertainty. The remainder of the transfer window will be crucial in determining their destiny this season; if they can keep together the players that remain and add a forward or two, they can look to consolidate in mid-table. Realistically they will be bottom half material unless a lot changes in their fortunes both on and off the pitch.

Author: Andrew Flint

I moved out to Russia in 2010 to teach English because it sounded like fun, then I met and fell in love with FC Tyumen (and my wife!) and decided to stay. Surprisingly, I turned out to be the only English person remotely interested in a Siberian third-tier club, but then who wouldn’t fall for a grizzly Georgian midget, a flying Brazilian and Tyumen’s 93rd most influential figure…

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