CSKA Moscow vs AEK Athens – Wednesday 2 August 18:00 BST/19:00 CET – VEB Arena, Moscow
Negotiating a two-legged tie against AEK Athens seemed a tough challenge before the first leg for Viktor Goncharenko’s depleted squad, but as they welcome the Greeks back to Moscow with two unanswered away goals to their name, they are in complete control. Neither side were at their fluid best last week, but two simple headed goals from set pieces thanks to Alan Dzagoev and Pontus Wernbloom handed CSKA an all-but-insurmountable aggregate lead.
The ease with which Dzagoev, in particular, was able to glance Viktor Vasin header back across goal while being completely unmarked was a luxury that is unlikely to come their way if they reach the group stages, but they won’t complain. They followed up their 2-0 continental success with the same scoreline at home to SKA Khabarovsk at the weekend, without picking up any extra injuries, so will even be in a position to give some of their much-vaunted youngsters some game time.
AEK will need a huge miracle if they are even to consider getting back into this tie. The one blessing they have is that they have had a whole week to prepare themselves for this return leg in Moscow, in contrast to their hosts. Admittedly they can point to the shallow nature of the Muscovites’ playing squad and the likelihood of them fielding some less experienced players, and even though a lot has been made of CSKA’s lack of firepower up front, the last four goals scored by the Army Men in all competitions have all been scored by different midfielders.
The performance of AEK Athens will be substantial not just regarding their immediate success, but also for the coefficient ranking points. Greece currently receives two places in the Champions league as the 15th highest association, but if they drop one more place by the time the next cycle of places are determined – and they currently hold less than a single coefficient point advantage over Denmark – they will only receive one place in the Champions League.
CSKA Moscow vs AEK Athens – Players to Watch Out For
Pontus Wernbloom #3 – CSKA Moscow
The combative Swede is a tremendous player for CSKA in any situation, but especially when the stakes are high. The temptation for the Russian side might be to assume the tie is done and dusted, and therefore take their collective foot off the pedal to avoid overstraining themselves; with Wernbloom on the pitch, there is no chance of that happening. The ground that he covers and the decibels he reaches in spurring his teammates on are unparalleled, so with his professional attitude, CSKA should be able to ensure they complete the job – one they can’t afford to mess up.
Marko Livaja #10 – AEK Athens
The Croatian forward will start in what will have to be an attacking lineup – Manolo Jiménez knows his side must take the initiative or the group stage riches will remain beyond their grasp, and the tenacious pace of Livaja will be critical to his gameplan. The CSKA defence wasn’t tested nearly enough in the first leg, but if seeds of doubt can be sown in the minds of Viktor Vasin and the 35-year-old Berezutskiy twins – something AEK’s number 10 is capable of – the door may edge open.
CSKA Moscow vs AEK Athens – Match Stats
- CSKA have not won in their last five European home games
- AEK have failed to make the group stages of the Champions League for over a decade
- Igor Akinfeev finally broke his incredible 11-year run of failing to keep a clean sheet in the Champions League in the first leg
- AEK have won just one of their last 12 Champions League away matches, and have conceded 20 in their last eight
Futbolgrad Prediction CSKA Moscow vs AEK Athens: 2-1
CSKA Moscow vs AEK Athens – Possible Starting Lineups
Akinfeev – A. Berezutskiy, Vasin, V. Berezutskiy – Fernandes, Golovin, Wernbloom, Zhemaletdinov, Schennikov – Chalov, Vitinho
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Anestis – Rodrigo Galo, Chygrynsky, Vranjes, Bakakis – Johansson, André Simões, Mandalos – Rodríguez, Livaja, Almeida
Manager: Manolo Jiménez
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.