AEK Athens vs CSKA Moscow – Tuesday 25 July 18:30 BST/19:30 CET – OAKA Spiros Louis, Athens
The ever-thinning squad of CSKA must begin their European crusade in the baking heat of Athens on the back of a crushing 3-1 derby defeat to city rivals Lokomotiv. Viktor Goncharenko’s resources were stretched as it was last season, but with the departure of experienced winger Zoran Tosic to Turkey, the end of Alexey Ionov’s loan and the temporary exits of four other squad members it is impossible to see the club maintaining a challenge on three fronts this season.
The relative ease with which a well-organised Lokomotiv picked them apart on their ground on Friday will be a major concern, especially as the defensive system of three centre backs failed to contain any forward movement. Viktor Vasin is in a particularly poor run of form, showing indecision and stiffness in his positioning as well as contributing the mistake that led to the second goal. With no other centre back fit who has played a minute of Premier League football other than the Berezutskiy twins, he is guaranteed to start.
Failure to get through this playoff would be catastrophic for the business model of a club still paying off the astronomical cost of the impressive VEB Arena, but there is some hope. Vitinho has built on his promising if unspectacular form from last season up front with a goal and assist in two league games, while Fedor Chalov is waiting in the wings to offer further attacking threat. Alan Dzagoev has shown signs of flourishing in his more advanced role so far, and the fact that the 2005 UEFA Cup champions have already begun their competitive season will help.
AEK Athens may have a relatively poor record in continental competition in recent years – they last made the group stages of a competition five years ago, and are currently ranked 211th in by UEFA – they have fought their way back to the top table the hard way. Relegated to the third tier a few years ago due to major financial problems, they now boast three players with previous experience of Russian football in Ognjen Vranjes, Hugo Almeida and Marko Livaja, and former Barcelona £20m defender Dmytro Chygrynsky.
They are also the second most successful Greek side in European competition, having reached been the first to reach the group stages of the Champions League, and in making the semifinals of the 1976-77 UEFA Cup went further in that competition than any other Greek side. Different schools of thought would label their lack of competitive football until this fixture a bonus or a drawback, but where they will almost certainly gain an advantage is the conditions; Tuesday is forecast to be pushing 37 degrees centigrade in the Greek capital.
AEK Athens vs CSKA Moscow Players to Watch Out For
Hugo Almeida #9 – AEK Athens
The 33-year-old target man may not be the most sprightly opponent that CSKA’s three-man defence will face all season, but his powerful presence will unsettle a creaking backline that will be tough to deal with. The former Kuban Krasnodar frontman only scored four goals last season, and due to injury and competition in the squad he struggled to hold down a place in the starting XI; even if he is only used from the bench, his extensive continental and international experience will be a valuable weapon to test their opponents.
Alan Dzagoev #10 – CSKA Moscow
The diminutive playmaker has begun to rediscover his form that wowed spectators a few years ago in his more advanced role. He did depart the pitch clutching his ever-fragile leg muscles, but assuming he comes through any pre-match fitness tests; he will be the key to unlocking the AEK defence for a vital away goal. When he ticks, CSKA tick. An away goal to take back to Moscow would be priceless, and this man is likely to be involved in counter-attacks than last campaign due to the new set-up under Goncharenko.
AEK Athens vs CSKA Moscow – Match Stats
- AEK Athens have lost their last four home European matches
- They have failed to win in their last nine meetings with Russian sides in continental competition, drawing twice and losing seven times
- CSKA have only encountered Greek opposition once, knocking out PAOK in the Europa League seven seasons ago
- CSKA have won just twice in their last 15 European away matches, and not in their last seven
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: AEK Athens vs CSKA Moscow 2-2
AEK Athens vs CSKA Moscow – Possible Starting Lineups
Barkas – Galo, Chygrynsky, Vranjes, Vila – Simões, Johansson – Mantalos, Rodríguez, Livaja – Almeida
Manager: Manolo Jiménez
Akinfeev – V. Berezutskiy, Vasin, A. Berezutskiy – Fernandes, Wernbloom, Golovin, Natkho, Schennikov – Vitinho, Dzagoev
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.