Monday, January 13, 2014

Russian Premier League First Half Review

So now that we've all had a few weeks to sit back and reflect on the events of the first half of the Russian Premier League season, I think it's due time to complete my review on the teams and players that shocked fans of Russian football, both in positive and negative ways.

The Overachievers:

Lokomotiv Moscow:

After a decidedly disappointing 2012-13 campaign, the Railwaymen have turned around into their best season in recent memory on the back of some excellent signings, sitting in first place as of the winter break. Loko profited greatly from the exodus at Anzhi, signing Lassana Diarra and Mbark Boussoufa from the Dagestani club, and the duo have combined to great effect thus far. However, the team's true strength has been their superb defence, to which no new members have been introduced. Their typical back four of Roman Shishkin, Vedran Corluka, Jan Durica and Vitali Denisov has proven to be the best in the league and has given the team a solid foundation to build on top of in their push for the title.

Amkar Perm:

Amkar too have built their success this season on a solid defence, shooting up to an unprecedented 7th place, with Thomas Phibel and Dmitri Belorukov forming a dominant partnership in central defence. Amkar have struggled some up the other end however, scoring just 22 goals in 19 matches, the lowest of any team in the top half, with their reliance on Georgi Peev to score becoming startling at times. Regardless, it has been an impressive campaign for the side, and it will take a severe drop off in form to fall out of the top half.


Rostov have had something of a rollercoaster campaign, dishing out upsets to established teams before going on a ten game winless streak, but ultimately reaching the half way mark in a respectable 10th. Their success thus far has been based around a group of excellent loan signings from both Spartak and Lokomotiv, in particular Artem Dzyuba, who leads the league scoring charts with 12 goals. Meanwhile, Zhano Ananidze and Arseni Logashov have also upgraded the team for the time being and have shown great development in their time at Rostov, something that will undoubtedly please their parent clubs. Although they lack quality depth in many areas, Rostov can still put up a very good fight to finish in the top half provided they can become more consistent in the second half of the season.

Krylia Sovetov Samara:

Krylia are yet another team that have relied on good defence to reach their league position, sitting in 11th but on equal points with the three teams above them. Krylia's back four has certainly performed well above expectations considering the lack of midfield protection in front of them, while their disappointing forward line has not done much to help the club's league position either. Regardless, Krylia have the potential to build and could push Rubin, Kuban and Rostov for a top half spot, given a few choice signings in midfield and on the wings.

The Underachievers:

Anzhi Makhachkala:

The withdrawal of funding from Anzhi by their owner, Suleyman Kerimov, has led to an exodus the likes of which have never seen before in modern football and has ultimately led to the complete collapse of the club's first team. With no wins in 19 games, Anzhi has looked completely and utterly incapable of staying in the league, and it looks like it will get even worse for them with the departure of Lacina Traore, by far their best player, to Monaco. I can't see anything for them but relegation this year.

Terek Grozny:

After an impressive 2012-13 campaign in which Terek managed a top half finish, many thought that they might be able to push on and challenge for a European place, but the team has regressed and now finds itself languishing down in 14th place. Normally solid contributors like Igor Lebedenko and Maciej Rybus have struggled to make an impact, while the fact that Zaur Sadaev is actually playing tells the whole story about Terek's lack of quality at striker. This lack of quality up front will continue to cause them problems if it goes unsolved, and I imagine that they won't manage to pull out of the relegation playoff places.

Rubin Kazan:

Rubin have, like Lokomotiv and Amkar, tried to base their team around a solid defence, doing well in that respect but struggling in the goalscoring department. Their aging defence has conceded the least goals in the league, helped considerably by the incredibly defensive midfield pairing of Bibras Natkho and Yann M'Vila, but the lack of fitness of Salomon Rondon has forced the team to field inferior strikers. Providing their defence can remain solid and Rondon can find some semblance of fitness, they could challenge for a European spot, but mid-table seems more likely at this stage.

CSKA Moscow:

Just half a season removed from winning the title, CSKA look like a shadow of their former selves and sit in 5th, 6 points off the top. The departure of Vagner Love hit the team hard, especially due to Seydou Doumbia's injury struggles, while other injuries to Mario Fernandes and Alan Dzagoev have seriously damaged the team's title hopes, as shown by the excellent performances of these players when fit. Certain players, such as Igor Akinfeev, Georgi Schennikov, Pontus Wernbloom and Zoran Tosic, have managed to keep some fantastic form, but they are unable to carry the team on its own and the return to fitness of other key players is vital to their ever-slimming title chances.

The Players:

Artem Dzyuba:

Artem Dzyuba has stunned RPL fans this season, notching up an excellent 12 goals and 2 assists for Rostov, on loan from Spartak. For many a year, Dzyuba was shoehorned into a withdrawn striker role that limited his effectiveness at Spartak, and he fell behind players like Welliton and Emmanuel Emenike in the pecking order. His loan to Rostov has been something of a rebirth however, as he's been allowed to play as a lone striker, using his strength and good hold up play to bring others into the attack and become arguably the best striker in the RPL right now.


After something of a lacklustre first season in which he struggled with personal issues, Hulk has finally found his footing at Zenit, notching up an impressive 9 goals and 4 assists in 14 matches. After playing in his natural right wing role for all of his first season and much of this one, Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti experimented with Hulk as a lone striker, which paid off as he made the position his own in Aleksandr Kerzhakov's absence due to injury and abysmal form. If Hulk can keep up this pace and versatility, I see very few reasons why he can't lead Zenit to the title.

Vitali Denisov:

One of the things that could potentially stand in Hulk's march to the title is Lokomotiv's Uzbek left back, Vitali Denisov. Since joining Loko on a free in January, Denisov has done nothing but impress, with his fantastic pace and crossing ability providing an effective attacking outlet down the left flank in addition to a strong defensive presence. Denisov has most certainly been the best left back in the league this season, outperforming better known names like Georgi Schennikov, Domenico Criscito, Christian Ansaldi and Dmitri Kombarov. If Lokomotiv are to maintain their title ambitions, Denisov will need to keep fit and performing well.

Jose Manuel Jurado:

After being competent, if not brilliant, on loan at Spartak from Schalke last season, Jose Manuel Jurado was brought in permanently by the Moscow club and has repaid them well for their faith. Jurado has been an essential link in Spartak's attack this season, providing an essential supply line to Yura Movsisyan, which has been a large reason why the Armenian has succeeded this season. In addition to his creative tendencies, Jurado put in one of the best individual performances of the season, scoring a hat-trick and providing an assist in the 4-1 win over Dynamo, a performance only challenged by Alan Dzagoev in CSKA's 1-0 win over Kuban and Zhano Ananidze in Rostov's 4-0 demolition of Volga the following day.

Thomas Phibel:

Key to Amkar's impressive defence this season, Thomas Phibel has found his feet immediately following his transfer from Polish club Widzew Lodz. The 27 year old Frenchman has been a rock at the heart of Amkar's ambitious and dangerous high line and has done his job to perfection, leading the league in clearances and offsides won, as well as being an impressive distributor from the back. After impressing greatly at Amkar, it would not be surprising in the least if Phibel is snapped up this summer by a bigger RPL team in need of a centre back, such as CSKA or Zenit.

Team of the Half Season:

football formationsYuri Lodygin - Zenit St. Petersburg:
19 matches, 6 clean sheets.
Arseni Logashov - Rostov (on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow):
13 matches, 1 goal, 0 assists.
Vedran Corluka - Lokomotiv Moscow:
18 matches, 1 goal, 1 assist.
Thomas Phibel - Amkar Perm:
11 matches, 1 goal, 0 assists.
Vitali Denisov - Lokomotiv Moscow:
13 matches, 1 goal, 4 assists.
Dmitri Tarasov - Lokomotiv Moscow:
17 matches, 4 goals, 1 assist.
Christian Noboa - Dynamo Moscow:
19 matches, 5 goals, 3 assists.
Hulk - Zenit St. Petersburg:
14 matches, 9 goals, 4 assists.
Jose Manuel Jurado - Spartak Moscow:
18 matches, 6 goals, 1 assist.
Danny - Zenit St. Petersburg:
15 matches, 10 goals, 7 assists.
Artem Dzyuba - Rostov (on loan from Spartak Moscow):
17 matches, 12 goals, 2 assists.

I'd like to give a big thanks to everyone who made it this far. Check back here in a few weeks time for my preview of the second half of the season and after that for the return of my regular weekly content.

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