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Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, Hrishi Anand turns his eyes to the Russian champions, CSKA Moscow.
PFC CSKA Moscow are one of the most successful teams in the Russian Premier League and are also a famous name in Soviet Era football. Formed as the official team of the military, CSKA Moscow are the first Russian team to win a European trophy in the 2004-2005 season when they won a UEFA Cup. They have 6 Premier League trophies and also have a penchant for nurturing young Russian talent as well as identifying talented players in various leagues around the world and contributing to their development.
CSKA Moscow’s season culminated in an exciting final matchday of the season when they marginally pipped surprise challengers FK Rostov to the title. The success was built upon the efficient and solid system implemented by manager Leonid Slutsky. Ahmed Musa who has since transferred to Leicester City played an important role and finished as one of the top performers in the tournament with 16 goals. Alan Dzagoev who was converted to a central defensive midfielder by Slutsky was a key element in the engine room and the experience of the likes of Roman Shirokov and Sergei Ignashevich were also vital in taking CSKA over the line. The pace of Roman Eremenko and Zoran Tosic also added the element of counter attacking football to the CSKA style of play. Their performance in the Champions League however was disappointing as they failed to make it out of their group.
Leonid Slutsky has been the manager of CSKA Moscow since 2009 with continued success. Taking over from Juande Ramos in 2009, Slutsky has shown his tactical versatility in terms of not being afraid to change things around in both defense and attack. Particularly fond of a strong defense and pace in attack, Slutsky was also the head coach of Russia for the Euro 2016 tournament in France. Russia were eliminated in the group stage after failing to win a game but were also unlucky in having key players like Alan Dzagoev injured.
Slutsky resigned after Russia’s dismal performance in France. Leonid Slutsky has won 3 Russian Premier League titles in his time at the club as well as 2 Russian cups. Another highlight of his tenure at CSKA is the Moscow team’s progress into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League in 2009, the first in the club’s history. CSKA repeated this feat under Slutsky in 2011 when they beat Inter at the San Siro.
CSKA Moscow usually adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders. Pace on the wings are also a factor that Slutsky has implemented in his highly effective system. In recent years CSKA have had pacey forwards like Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa who are effective in both a counter attacking system as well as link up play. Wing backs Mario Fernandes and Georgi Schenikov are also encouraged to venture higher up the pitch and overlap with wingers Tosic and Eremenko. A concern CSKA have to address is possibly the lack of pace in the heart of the defense. Both Vasily Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich are 34 and 37 respectively and are also not particularly fast.
As a result, a holding midfielder is required to collect the ball from the center backs and move it up the pitch. In the engine room, talisman Alan Dzagoev and Pontus Wernbloom are highly effective in spreading play and looking for ball playing opportunities. Dzagoev, once a winger, was converted to a central midfielder by Slutsky and impressed in his new role and finished as one of the players of the season. Creativity is not an issue for the CSKA midfield with a more than capable roster.
Veteran Roman Shirokov and Bibras Natkho also add much needed depth to the midfield. The front 3 playing behind the forward are also fairly flexible in this system with each comfortable exchanging positions as well as swapping wings. This allows the likes of Tosic and Eremenko to either cut in from the wings or put in crosses with the added support of wingbacks. CSKA are usually a possession based team more comfortable with a patient build up and dominating in the opponent’s half. Also employing the offside trap, their center backs maintain a high line. The eagerness of wing backs to support and overlap however frequently leave CSKA with a weakness towards attacks from the wings.
In a big blow for CSKA, star forward Ahmed Musa recently transferred to Leicester City. However CSKA have responded by signing Lacina Traore on a loan deal. Apart from the Ivorian, CSKA have been rather passive in the transfer market and are more concerned with keeping key players at the club. However CSKA have a tendency to sign players from Brazil and the African continent some notable examples being Jo, Vagner Love, Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa so it remains to be seen if Slutsky has any further plans of strengthening his squad with the aim of retaining the Premier league crown.
Alan Dzagoev- Every successful team always has a key element in the heart of the midfield. Dzagoev is no less as he is most frequently the creativity behind CSKA attacks. Capable of playing long balls as well as slick short passing, Dzagoev is quite simply a source of inspiration for CSKA’s style of play. His presence was also sorely missed by Russia at the Euros and CSKA fans will hope to see their star player remain at the club.
Igor Akinfeev- Club captain and custodian, Akinfeev is a fan favorite as well as a commanding presence between the sticks. With over 450 appearances for CSKA, Akinfeev remains an assured starter for CSKA as well as a vocal and involved leader on and off the pitch. He also holds the record for most clean sheets in the Russian Premier League. Akinfeev debuted for CSKA in 2003 and since then has been a true ‘Army Man’. With quick reflexes and a calming effect on his defense, Akinfeev is undeniably a pivotal element in the CSKA line up.
Pontus Wernbloom- Paired with Dzagoev in the central midfield, Wernbloom remains a bit of an unsung hero for CSKA Moscow. Adept at set pieces and unafraid of venturing into opponent territory to initiate attacks, Wernbloom is also a cog in the engine room. With Roman Shirokov ageing, Wernbloom’s role at CSKA is sure to increase in the upcoming seasons. Another important feature of Wernbloom’s contribution to CSKA is his ball retrieving capability. Robust in the tackle, Wernbloom also takes the responsibility of shielding his defense when not in possession of the ball.
Aleksandr Golovin- was touted by many pundits as a player to watch at Euro 2016.The young attacking midfielder caught the eye with a string of good performances at the club and international level. Pacey and with an eye for a pass, Golovin has CSKA and Russian fans alike excited. The creative midfielder spent three seasons in CSKA’s academy before making his debut in 2015.
Russia Under-21 coach Dmitri Khmukha remarks, “His basic technique, passing and understanding of game situations, that was what marked him out from his peers.” Golovin also has said that he models his style of play on star playmaker Mesut Ozil and is capable of playing on either wing or through the middle. Hopefully Golovin can step up and showcase his talent with more opportunities.
CSKA Moscow remain a favorite for hipsters and FM/FIFA fans alike just because of their unique style of play and pace. A talented squad with experience and flair, they are clear favorites to retain their Russian Premier League title but should also look to compete in the Champions League. The sale of Ahmed Musa may be a blow but CSKA should also look to ensure the commitment of key players. In short CSKA are a team to look out for in all competitions.
Written by Hrishi Anand
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here.