CSKA Moscow vs Crvena Zvezda – Wednesday, February 21, 17:00 GMT/18:00 CET – VEB Arena, Moscow – Russia
Now that the nervous first competitive game back has been safely negotiated, it is time to put the strength of the Army Men to the test. A solid 0-0 away in Belgrade was a testament to the maturity of the side, and although it wasn’t quite as commanding a performance as they would like to put out, their opponents rarely held more than fleeting moments of dominance despite the vociferous home support. One key absentee will be Aleksandr Golovin, who is suspended after picking up booking last week.
Konstantin Kuchaev was a surprise starter in an unfamiliar left wing-back position, but his attacking instincts were a calculated gamble from manager Viktor Goncharenko. Kirill Nababkin completed 90 minutes of the friendly against Esbjerg at the weekend and could offer a more senior presence on the left flank. Another left-field selection was Pontus Wernbloom as part of the back three alongside Viktor Vasin and Vasiliy Berezutskiy. What it did allow was for a more cerebral passer in the centre of the midfield inexperienced Israeli international Bibras Natkho; whether the Swede’s more aggressive, dominant presence will be utilised further up the pitch remains to be seen.
Ahmed Musa’s much-anticipated return to the red and blue of CSKA was quite flat. Played up front as a conventional striker alongside Vitinho, the on-loan Nigerian naturally drifted out wide on numerous occasions to try and find more freedom but was ineffective for the most part. Nevertheless, it appears Goncharenko has little choice to continue with him up front unless he alters the system that has served him well so far this season.
Crvena Zvezda are sweating on the fitness of Richmond Boakye, who missed the first leg completely and was also absent from the league match against Javor at the weekend. The Ghanaian forward is still uncertain of staying much beyond this summer, but his stock will surely drop a little if he does not play in arguably the highest-profile match in years for the Serbians.
His presence might well be a key factor in the adventurousness of the visitors, who don’t necessarily need to score but may smell a golden opportunity to snatch the initiative from CSKA and pile all the pressure onto the Muscovites. Their routine 3-0 win in the Superliga was played down by manager Vladan Milojevic. “These first matches need not be analyzed much,” he told local press on Sunday, “for the simple reason that we come from a break, we are not in the rhythm, and we need to pass a couple of matches to get things in place… there are some things that we will try to improve.”
The fact that Crvena Zvezda used their fifth different captain of the season demonstrated how much they were able to rotate their squad ahead of the trip to the Russian capital. However fresh their XI may be, they will need to show a lot more incision if they are to threaten CSKA’s defence after an insipid performance at home.
CSKA Moscow vs Crvena Zvezda – Players to Watch
Vitinho #11 – CSKA Moscow
After his strike partner Musa returned to the fold, it became clear that Vitinho remains the more natural central striker of the two. His direct running and penchant for taking long shots suits him to the more battling physical side of playing on the shoulder of central defenders, and with the adjustment that Musa still needs to make to produce something resembling his finest form, the responsibility to lead the line falls on his shoulders.
Damien Le Tallec #4 – Crvena Zvezda
Given the lack of cutting edge shown by Crvena Zvezda in the first leg, it seems likely that they will set up to contain rather than bomb forward, so the coverage provided by the Frenchman will be critical. Formerly a central midfielder, and with knowledge of the Russian game from his time at Mordovia Saransk, his purpose will be to provide a clam outlet from the defence as opposed to launching the ball long. CSKA will need to unsettle him to get past one of the most parsimonious defences in this season’s competition.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: CSKA Moscow vs Crvena Zvezda – 2-0
CSKA Moscow vs Crvena Zvezda – Match Stats
- This match will be Crvena Zvezda’s 16th UEFA match of the season, making it their longest European campaign ever.
- Crvena Zvezda are competing in their first knockout stage of a European competition in 26 years; then they were defending their crown as champions of Europe
- The Serbians scored just three goals to progress from their group.
- Crvena Zvezda have lost just one of their seven European away matches this season, not conceding since the qualifiers after clean sheets away to Arsenal and Koln.
- CSKA have won all five of their European knockout ties in which they have drawn the first leg away from home
- The last time CSKA faced a Serbian side – Crvena Zvezda’s eternal rivals Partizan Belgrade in 2004-05 – they lifted the UEFA Cup (as the Europa League was known then)
CSKA Moscow vs Crvena Zvezda – Possible Team Lineups
Akinfeev – Ignashevich, Vasin, Vasiliy Berezutskiy – Fernandes, Dzagoev, Natkho, Wernbloom, Nababkin – Vitinho, Musa
Manager Viktor Goncharenko
Borjan – Stojković, Savić, Le Tallec, Rodić – Donald, Jovičić – Radonjić, Krstičić, Ben – Pešić
Manager: Vladan Milojević
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.