Spartak Moscow are through to the quarter-finals

Spartak Stadium in Moscow. Photo: Открытие Арена

Wednesday evening, Spartak Moscow destroyed their namesakes from Nalchik; bringing their undefeated streak to twelve, which they extended to thirteen on Saturday – the longest since 2002 (Oleg Romantsev managed a 14-game streak back then). To celebrate that, here are twelve more statistical facts about the game.

  1. The game against Spartak Nalchik was a milestone for Denis Glushakov (130th game) and Ivelin Popov (70th).
  2. Ilya Kutepov scored his first ever goal for Spartak Moscow (in his 47th game).
  3. Lorenzo Melgarejo scored his first ever brace for Spartak Moscow.
  4. Mario Pasalic scored his first ever goal in a match that Spartak Moscow won. Before that, he scored against CSKA (1-2) and Anzhi (2-2).
  5. An own goal was last scored in a Spartak cup game back in 1991: Igor Golovanov from Gastello Ufa put the ball past his goalkeeper. Spartak won 4-2.
  6. Spartak has also prolonged their undefeated streak against Spartak Nalchik: 13 games, 0 losses.
  7. This was Spartak Moscow’s first ever big win against Spartak Nalchik. Before that, the highest-scoring game between these teams ended 4-2.
  8. Spartak Nalchik was only the second team to open the score against Spartak Moscow this season. The first one was Zenit.
  9. This was Spartak Moscow’s first big win after coming from behind since 2006. Back then, Vladimir Fedotov’s Spartak conceded a goal against Amkar Perm but then went on to win 4-1.
  10. Spartak conceded their first goal with Pedro Rocha on the field. Rocha’s “clean sheet” streak lasted 310 minutes.
  11. Alexander Maksimenko is the fifteenth U19 goalkeeper to debut for Spartak’s first team.
  12. Finally, speaking of clean sheets – the last time a U19 goalkeeper managed to keep a clean sheet for Spartak was in 1988; that was Vladimir Pchelnikov, who currently is a goalkeeping coach for Spartak’s youth team. Besides Pchelnikov, only two more U19 goalkeepers kept clean sheets for Spartak: Yuri Kostikov and Emerich Mikulec, way back in the 1950s.

Now, to the game. Carrera’s rotation this time was probably surprising for many: Petkovic was last seen in the Tosno disaster, Davydov’s last game for the first team was in December 2016 against Krylya Sovetov (0-4), and Alexander Maksimenko, 19, played his first ever match for Spartak today. The stats posted above predicted that the hosts would surely concede, and they did. Moreover, they were the first to concede: after a couple of attacks in the early game, the Nalchik players gradually became braver, and after a good corner, Veniamin Mednikov (who, by the way, played together with Ilya Kutepov and Roman Zobnin for Academia Togliatti in 2011) scored with a point-blank header.

After the goal, the champions became groggy for a while, but quickly recovered and started besieging Shogenov’s goal. Denis Davydov hit the crossbar with a pretty curved shot, then the Nalchik keeper saved a difficult shot from Pasalic. The ghost of another “match of life” for an underdog reared its head.

But, thankfully for Spartak Moscow, it didn’t happen. At the 30th minute, Luiz Adriano received a long ball from Melgarejo and took a shot. Shogenov saved, Rocha missed the rebound, but the Nalchik defender fumbled the ball, Pasalic intercepted and essentially walked it into the net.

Spartak Nalchik didn’t fall apart after that, however, and even had a good 2-minute period when Spartak Moscow scrambled to defend; Maksimenko put out a good aerial save.

During the half-time break, as Carrera confessed at the press conference, he told the players “exactly what he thought”. And so, in the second half, we saw a different Spartak, more similar to the one that demolished Sevilla a week ago. The first serious attack ended with a goal: after elegant passing from Glushakov and Davydov, Melgarejo slotted the ball into the corner.

Melgarejo is really on fire this month, perhaps even the best of his career, and soon he scored a brace. Shogenov saved a shot from Petkovic, putting the ball away for a corner kick. Davydov crossed the ball, and Melgarejo coolly headed it into the net without even jumping.

This should have put the game beyond doubt, but right after Melgarejo was replaced by Promes, Spartak Nalchik launched an unexpected attack and scored their second goal. Kutepov lost the aerial challenge for a long ball, and Guguev put the ball past Maksimenko without much difficulty.

Promes didn’t score or assist this time, but soon after coming on the field, he was tackled hard by Musluev, and they scuffled briefly. Both teams gathered around them, but thankfully the situation was quickly defused without any big fights breaking out. Promes and Musluev were booked.

Davydov got tired in the second half but had to be subbed out in two stages due to the foreigner limit. Carrera couldn’t directly replace him with Ivelin Popov, so first, he had to switch Bocchetti out for Dzhikiya. Georgy scared both fans and coaching staff when he fell on the field soon after coming out, but, thankfully, he continued the game after being attended by club physios.

When Popov finally came out, he put out quite a display. First, he attempted a shot from some distance – Shogenov saved. Then Pasalic could repeat Melgarejo’s heroics and score a brace too but missed his header after a Popov corner. And in the very next attack, Popov received the ball from Petkovic, ran from the central line to the box and passed towards Luiz Adriano. The Brazilian missed the ball, but Islam Zhilov didn’t – and he didn’t miss his goal either. This own goal finally dispelled any doubts.

In the dying minutes of the game, Spartak scored their fifth goal. Three out of four Spartak defenders took part: Petkovic received the ball from Popov, crossed it into the box, Dzhikiya won the header, and Ilya Kutepov scored from a point-blank range. 5-2, Spartak will play Krylya Sovetov in the quarter-finals.

***

Massimo Carrera’s post-match interview:

Massimo, congratulations with the win! Do you know your next opponent in the Russian Cup?

Not yet. We’re just out of the dressing room.

It’s Krylya Sovetov.

I’ve got bad memories of them. (Laughs)

Most Premier League clubs lost in the 1/16 round. Spartak was touted as the favourites, along with Rubin. Now that Rubin is also out, everyone will demand nothing less than a win from Spartak in this competition. Does this pressure make you uncomfortable?

I think if Krylya Sovetov defeated Rubin, they must be a good team too. You can’t win a game before it begins.

Still, can you say that Spartak is now favourites in the Russian Cup, with CSKA and Zenit also out?

You should play the game before you talk about favourites. Nobody ever won anything on paper. All the teams that are through to the quarter-finals defeated their opponents, even those who were favourites on paper.

Are you satisfied with the game, especially defending? The defenders seemed quite lazy at times. Can you also personally comment on Petkovic? He looked awful.

I never comment on players individually, because otherwise, I’d have to discuss every one of them. Concerning the game – I liked the second half when we scored the third goal. But I didn’t like our approach in the first half. When you come on the field without 100% concentration, it’s hard to play against any team. I played a lot of football, and I know that it can be hard to find motivation when you play so often. But if a team wants to win, they should be ready to fight with any opponent, in any game, no matter the opponent’s name.

What’s the reason for Melgarejo’s substitution, who just scored a brace?

He played his game and got a bit tired, so I decided to substitute him.

Weren’t you a bit scared when Dzhikiya fell down on the field?

Yes, a bit – someone gets injured almost every game. Thank God that nothing happened.

Why was Bocchetti substituted? When Dzhikiya came to the touchline, many thought he’s going to replace Kombarov who got shown a yellow card.

Bocchetti hasn’t played for some time, he didn’t have 90 minutes in his legs, so I replaced him.

Speaking of substitutions: why did you use Promes when Spartak had a comfortable 3-1 lead? Someone immediately tweeted, “He’ll come out and get injured”, and just minutes later, he was tackled hard.

I wanted Promes to play for half an hour. Nothing happened to him! He got to train, that’s why I fielded him.

I think Rocha and Petkovic looked really bad today. On the other hand, Davydov, who plays in FNL, looked good. Didn’t you think about sending Rocha, Petkovic or someone else who lacks practice to Spartak-2?

(Sighs) The problem is that when you play rarely, it’s hard to gain tempo during the game. But I’m not as negative as you. I’m a coach, not a journalist, I’m not as pessimistic, and I’m not criticizing my players as harshly as you do. If you’d like, I can sit down with you and my translator, and we’ll discuss all the mistakes, starting from the goalkeeper.

You took off your coat during the match. The journalists usually interpret such gestures as “messages” for the team. Was it so in your case?

No. At first, I was cold, but when the game began, it becomes hot. I saw that my team didn’t perform as expected, but I took off my coat because it was hot. Adrenaline has that effect. This wasn’t a challenge for the players.

So, your “message” was delivered during the half-time? Popov came out at the 78th minute and still tore through the opposition, it was pure joy to behold!

Yes, I told the boys exactly what I thought. When I’m thinking about something, I’m always saying it directly to the players’ faces. I conveyed my feelings about what was happening on the field to them, and that’s all.

Concerning Pasalic… Perhaps he’s just nervous and cannot calm down during the games? He made many mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes in the games. It’s football, we make mistakes. Pasalic also missed some games, he needs time. I’ll reiterate: I’m not as pessimistic as you are. I haven’t seen nearly as much negative as you have today. Of course, you’re doing your job, and I’m doing mine. You can criticize the team as much as you want, but I disagree with you.

Who was the best player on the opposing team?

I don’t watch the opposing players during the game, I’m looking at my own players. When I rewatch the game next day, I do watch the opposition, but during the game, I concentrate on my team. Not because I’m not interested in my opposition, but only because I’m concentrating on my guys.

Massimo, let’s discuss positive things for a change. Spartak is on a 12-game unbeaten run, the longest in 15 years. I’ve once asked you if you’d like to prolong the streak, and you seem to like it.

Yes, we’re always trying to prolong unbeaten runs, but it’s very hard because you have to have good physical form, mindset, right psychological approach. We’re always trying to use the best squad and win the Russian Cup, Russian league, Champions League. Even when we play friendlies, I want to win.

For reference: Spartak’s longest-ever unbeaten streak was 26 games long.

The players and coaches who took part in this run were great.

Sergei Trubitsin’s post-match interview:

Would you please give a short overview of the game?

What can I say? We prepared for the game very seriously, we knew it would be difficult – the teams are on completely different levels. Still, the boys showed that even in PFL, you can play good football, and we should give them credit for that. But Spartak is Spartak – they deserved their big win, we got really tired at the end.

In the first half, the football was really good. Carrera said that he shook the things up a bit during half-time, and Spartak scored two goals in the beginning of second half. What happened to your team?

I think that the quick goal affected the team psychologically, we got confused a bit. Different speeds, different thinking. Later, we managed to go back into the game, but the score was already 3-1 at that point. We managed to make it 3-2, but then the boys got very tired, and Spartak used fresh substitutes.

Spartak Nalchik players went into some hard tackles during the game. Were they over-motivated, or what?

There was no over motivation. They were eager to play, but then again, it’s football, anything can happen. Spartak Moscow also made some rough tackles in the first half. But I’ve never told the guys to viciously attack the opponents or something. It’s struggling, it’s challenging. Anything can happen, there was no intentional harshness.

Your team’s set pieces in the first half looked good. Did you prepare them specifically for Spartak, or your players play like that in PFL all the time?

Yes, you’re right. We do use set pieces, and we do prepare for them. We looked through several Spartak games and got valuable information out of that. Everyone knows how they play – fast, attacking football, but we analyzed the games and saw that there were certain opportunities at the set pieces, and when Spartak attack high, they leave space behind their backs, and we tried to launch counter-attacks.

So, when there were three counter-attacks down the right flank in a row in the first half after Kombarov’s forward runs, you did specifically prepare for mistakes?

Yes. We prepared that for Spartak – intercept the ball in the middle, and then launch quick attacks. We knew that it’s useless to play open football with Spartak – it’s dangerous even for many European teams, let alone Russian ones. So, we gave the ball to them and relied on interceptions and quick attacks.

***

Some notes on the pairings in the Russian Cup quarter- and semi-finals.

In three of four pairs, the hosts have been determined automatically: SKA – Shinnik, Amkar – Avangard, Tosno – Luch. A draw will be required to determine the host for the game between Spartak Moscow and Krylya Sovetov.

In the semi-final, the winner of Amkar – Avangard will play the winner of SKA – Shinnik at home, as both Amkar and Avangard played only one game at home, while both SKA and Shinnik played two.

For the other semi-final, it’s a tad more complicated. If either Spartak or Krylya Sovetov win away from home, they will be hosts in the semi-final against Tosno or Luch. If Spartak or Krylya Sovetov win at home, then a draw will be required to determine the host for the semi-final.

In any case, the Russian Cup final is going to be played in Volgograd, on 9th May 2018.

Author: Alexey Spektrowski

I’m a Spartak Moscow fan who dabbles in Soviet/Russian football history (mostly numerical and statistical). Contributed some data to the Spartak Moscow museum at Otkrytie Arena.

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