Andrew Flint –
Stadium: Arena CSKA (30,000)
Note: CSKA will finally be able to play in their own stadium after six years playing at the awkwardly situated Khimki Arena, with the very first official match taking place this weekend in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) against Terek Grozny. With no atheltic track around the pitch, steep stands and even a safe standing section, the potential atmosphere could be electric—one corner will house a skyscraper designed to resemble the historic UEFA Cup won by the Army Men in 2005.
CSKA Moscow Champions League Preview Club Details
As per tradition we will preview all teams from the post-Soviet space, and the Balkans that take part in this year’s UEFA Champions League, and we will begin our journey with our CSKA Moscow Champions League preview.
CSKA have been at the forefront of domestic Russian football in recent years, but have never quite managed to kick on from their groundbreaking UEFA Cup success in Europe. Manager Leonid Slutsky—still only 45 years old—has garnered a well-deserved reverence among his club’s supporters after collecting three league championships, two Russian Cups and two Russian Supercups in seven years. He has struggled to make progress in continental competition though, and has reached the Champions League quarter final stage once in five attempts.
His appointment to a dual role as national team head coach and club manager, was generally accepted as a wise move at the time, given the respect he held from the primary players of the team but, despite dragging Fabio Capello’s dismal qualification campaign over the line, his almost complete lack of direction at the finals in France has tarnished his reputation. Because CSKA Moscow’s core players, who have served him so well for so long, are in danger of breaking up very soon, the next major test of his ability will be how well he guides the team through the transition to a newer, younger lineup.
Recruitment has been a sore point over the last 18 months or so, especially in the context of the ageing core of the defence. Crowd favourite, Seydou Doumbia was allowed to leave for AS Roma in the winter break in 2015, but was never properly replaced leaving whippet-quick Ahmed Musa to cope in an unfamiliar central role. Although Musa showed immense maturity and adaptability and finished as the league champions’ top goalscorer, he was never more than a stopgap and, even he, has since made his own big money move to Leicester.
— PFC CSKA Moscow (@PFCCSKA_en) July 18, 2016
Giant Ivorian Lacina Traoré—he stands over 200cm tall—has arrived on loan, but has looked woefully out of his depth, with unfancied Swedish youngster, Carlos Strandberg, the only other striker left. All the while, Kirill Panchenko has been banging in goals for fun in the second tier Football National League, on loan at Dinamo Moscow. Critics would say that the nervous appearance of Slutskiy on matchdays mirrors a lack of conviction in his long term planning—it is for only so long that he can rely on his admittedly top quality, but thinning, starting XI squad, to carry him through.
Know your oligarch:
It has been popular for fans of rival clubs to insinuate that club president Evgeniy Giner has been dipping his fingers in a few corrupt pies to guarantee the results of certain matches. While this ill feeling is almost certainly fostered through a certain amount of jealousy at the Army Men’s success, it is equally true that almost no administrative figures in Russian football can be said to be completely clean. The Ukrainian-born businessman is also head of the Russian Football Union’s Financial Committee and, although he is an immensely wealthy man, he rarely dips too deeply into his pocket in the transfer market.
The draw threw up an intriguing group for CSKA with no clear favourite. Bayer Leverkusen drew last season with Barcelona and played out a thrilling 4-4 against AS Roma, but only picked one point on the road before crashing out on head to head record against the Italians. They do, however, have former Manchester United poacher extraordinaire, Javier Hernández, better known as Chicharito, who scored an impressive 26 goals in all competitions last season.
Tottenham have had their fair share of dramatic European nights over the last few years— Gareth Bale’s phenomenal hattrick five years ago in a 4-3 defeat to Inter Milan lives long in the memory—and in last season’s Europa League group stages they hammered this year’s rivals Monaco 4-1. Harry Kane has been hailed as the saviour of English football in rather hyperbolic fashion by the London-based media for a while, and Erik Lamela provides a wide man of genuine class and no shortage of rabonas.
Despite the fact that Monaco have their very own Russian oligarch (read all about that here) the club lives in the shadows of the über-wealthy Paris Saint-Germain domestically, but had to battle past Fenerbahçe and Villareal to make the group stage, so shouldn’t be taken lightly. João Moutinho pulls the strings for the principality outfit, who will need Radamel Falcao to rediscover his sensational form from a few years ago to make a significant impact.
CSKA Moscow Champions League Preview what to expect:
Judging by last year’s lacklustre performances in an arguably less challenging group, and considering the impact of Musa’s departure, it would take the most positive CSKA fan to expect progression to the knockout stages. Tottenham and Leverkusen away are the obvious difficult fixtures, although a lot depends on how much emphasis is placed on European matches by Mauricio Pochettino.
— PFC CSKA Moscow (@PFCCSKA_en) August 30, 2016
The new stadium offers an intriguing unknown factor of the atmosphere; with a sensible capacity of 30,000, a tight layout of stands and the usual stereotypical fear Western European teams have of playing in deep, dark Russia, the intimidation of the impressive surroundings could play their part. The key fixture for the Army Men will be the visit to the Stade Louis II on November 3; if they could come away with three points from that, then their chances of going through suddenly become very real.
But in reality Europa League qualification is about the best CSKA can realistically hope for.
Futbolgrad prediction: 3rd
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Andrew Flint is a English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has been 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.