Season Preview: FC Ural

SKB-Bank Arena in Ekaterinburg during a Ural - Rostov game in November 2016. Photo: Andrew Flint/RFN

SKB-Bank Arena in Ekaterinburg during a Ural – Rostov game in November 2016. Photo: Andrew Flint/RFN

Ural will look back on 2016-17 as the season that could have been; reaching the Russian Cup Final for the first time was a momentous achievement for a side more accustomed to battling relegation than fighting for continental football, and the financial advantages a Europa League run would have brought could have offered extra security. As it is, they prepare to move into the redeveloped Centralniy Stadium later this year with a reasonably settled squad under the man who effectively resurrected Fyodor Smolov’s stuttering career, Alexander Tarkahnov.

Romanian international playmaker and creative lynchpin Eric Bicfalvi has stayed – so far – while Roman Pavlyuchenko has been replaced by Lokomotiv Moscow loanee Igor Portnyagin, which makes sense for both parties. While Portnaygin had a virtually non-existent season after arriving in the capital from Rubin last summer, he offers an interesting foil to the lively Vladimir Ilyin and is desperate need of a boost in his career so should be motivated. Former Zenit youngster Alexey Evseev, who spent last season in the FNL with Zenit-II, has arrived in midfield, but is unlikely to start ahead of Roman Emelyanov and captain Artem Fidler.

Head coach

Aleksandr Tarkhanov is phenomenally popular in Ekaterinburg after somehow steering Ural clear of relegation twice in successive season in 2014 and 2015, and his positive attitude is a refreshing change to the dour Vadim Skripchenko. He has proven himself to be a master at eking out the best from limited resources, and has reinforced sensibly rather than extravagantly this summer. Despite being a former assistant to the legendary Oleg Romantsev, his tactics fall on the side of caution more often than not, but he will have to work hard to lose the faith of Ural’s management and fans.

Greatest strength

In a word, continuity. While many middling RFPL clubs are frantically scrabbling around trying to steal a march on their rivals in the rat race for survival, Ural have kept the core of their side intact. Losing Pavlyuchenko should be regarded as a bonus in this vein, as the former Russian international barely featured for Ural in a meaningful manner last season, while stars such as Bicfalvi, Emelyanov and the lightning fast Chisamba Lungu have remained.

Greatest weakness

Scoring regular goals has been an issue for some time with Ural – no player has scored in double figures in the league since promotion to the top flight four years ago, and last season Ilyin and Pavlyuchenko were joint top scorers with just four. While the former looks to have settled into the side well and may be the major threat to opposition, a lot will depend on how well he adapts to Portnyagin as a strike partner. In theory, with the likes of Edgar Manucharyan, Giorgi Chanturia – who was injured for most of the season – Bicfalvi and Lungu in the side, goals shouldn’t be a problem, but the magic formula for maximising their goalscoring potential is yet to be discovered.

Key player

When Eric Bicfalvi fires, so do Ural. His arrival was heralded by three goals in his first two games, two of which helped stage the most improbable of comebacks away to Krasnodar in the Russian Cup, and his invention allows others to perform their duties more smoothly. Fidler and Emelyanov are best suited to playing a double pivot shielding the defence, with the latter pushing forward more, but without Bicfalvi there is a heavy burden on the younger man to provide the forwards with opportunities. His delivery from set pieces is also a very important weapon.

Young starlet

Dominik Dinga may still only be 19 years of age, but the Serbian centre back has more maturity than his slender frame would have you believe. Now in his third season at the club already, Dinga has often been preferred to former Vojvodina teammate Radovan Pankov despite the latter being two years his senior, to the extent that Pankov has been sent out on loan to gain more game time. A cheeky persona off the pitch shows a relaxed and laid back character, but on it he is an intense tackler with good positional sense; if he can build up his physique, he will become a very valuable asset as Ural fight to stay up.

Season prediction

Ural are never likely to challenge in the top half of the table, especially without a settled in-form goalscorer, so another season of battling the dreaded drop beckons. With the World Cup stadium nearing completion this autumn there will be added incentive to stay up with a magnificently remodelled home to play in, most likely after the winter break. If the squad remains settled, then they should survive, but don’t expect much more than that.

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…

Comments

  1. Daniel Koenig says:

    Excellent comment! Many thanks Daniel
    p.s. Your outlook for Samara and Tyumen?

Leave a Reply