Andrew Flint –
CSKA Moscow vs Ludogorets – Thursday, November 28, 17:55 GMT/ 18:55 CET – VEB Arena, Moscow – Russia
CSKA Moscow are incapable of doing anything in half measures it seems. Last season they lit up the scene of the World Cup final, the iconic Luzhniki, and the Bernabeu with home and away wins without conceding against the then-reigning European champions Real Madrid. Even in failure to progress from the group they did so dramatically, with a seven-point tally not enough to even earn the consolation of entering the Europa League knockout stages. This season though they have been nothing short of abysmal. Team selection and rotation has accounted for a considerable amount of the dire drivel served up this time around, but however many injuries they have had to contend with the performances and results have been embarrassing.
The joint-worst goals scored tally, the eight unanswered goals conceded since Igor Diveev’s early opener just 11 minutes into the group stages, the utter limp passivity in possession throughout the four games; it is hard to pinpoint just one major disappointment to CSKA’s catastrophic efforts in this edition fo the Europa League. With the top five of the league table getting extremely congested it is unlikely Goncharenko will be putting a whole lot of importance behind continental matters now, especially given the perilous mathematical chances of actually reaching the spring still in the competition.
Stranger things have happened, though. The lack of the urgency and expectation that has ironically come about largely due to hugely impressive showing against top sides over the last two seasons might act as a liberating factor. Chalov knows his chances will come domestically and might use these last two group games like he has the under-21 fixtures in the international break – as a warm-up and confidence booster for the main event. Alan Dzagoev has returned to action from the bench in the last two league games and could use the chance to further stretch his still talented legs.
Ludogorets can claim to be legitimate European contenders now having made it to the knockout stages twice in their last three Europa League runs. Contenders in the sense that they compete anyway; they’ll never win the competition in this generation given how large the gap is between the haves and have nots, even in the second tier of UEFA’s club competition. They will not turn up as exotic unknowns, plucky underdogs there to make up the numbers and add a modicum of colour to the fixture list. With their ever-improving track record and significant financial backing, it will start becoming a let-down if they don’t make it out of the groups.
Claudiu Keseru dismantled CSKA in the home game with his quick-fire hattrick and remains the side’s top scorer by some distance. With 13 goals for Romanian and over 50 European appearances under his belt, it isn’t hard to see the value his know-how brings to the table. He is used sensibly to avoid burnout. At the age of 32, this season he’s started less than half of Ludogorets’ matches but is still easily their top goalscorer with 14 in all competitions. CSKA will be only too aware of his threat after his dominant showing in the first meeting. He is approaching his twilight years as a player though, and cannot be expected to carry the whole burden by himself.
The fact that he is now into his fifth year in Bulgaria and Brazilian-born teammates Wanderson, Marcelino and Renan have all qualified to represent their adopted country through residency shows how well-bound the squad is. So often Latin Americans are processed through the lesser-known Eastern European leagues as a pathway to a bigger stage. At Ludogorets though there is a continuity that makes for promising prospects of a challenge to more established sides. CSKA can’t realistically play the intimidating stage card on their well-monied opponents this time; if they’re going to head into the last matchday with anything still to play for, they’ll have to earn it.
CSKA Moscow vs Ludogorets – Players to Watch
Nikola Vlasic #8 – CSKA Moscow
Fedor Chalov is still some way off his scintillating form from last season, so the burden on Vlasic’s shoulders remains. The contrast to his time in England at Everton to the explosive impact he’s had consistently since his initial loan and then big-money move this summer is stark. Only three other players in the entire competition to have played every minute so far have. Registered more key passes per game, while he’s taken more shots than any other CSKA player so far. With the appalling form of the entire team in front of goal those numbers have to translate into tangible results, or their European adventures will be over for another season.
Jorginho #17 – Ludogorets
While Claudio Keseru – Futbolgrad Network’s player to watch in the first meeting between these two, when he bagged a 22-minute hattrick – is the focal point for Ludogorets’ attacks, Jorginho is a potentially lethal threat from out wide. With the emphasis firmly on CSKA to make the running Ludogorets can afford to sit back a little more than they have otherwise. When they do break forwards though, The former Manchester City academy product will offer a vital outlet. He has seven assists in all competitions this season, and played a major part in qualifying for the group stage. With a strong position in the group and the need to keep legs fresh in Moscow, Jorginho will be itching to build on his six group-stage minutes so far.
CSKA Moscow vs Ludogorets – Match Stats
- CSKA’s only hope of progressing is to win tonight; any other result and they are definitely out
- They’ve only scored on goal so far in the group after four matches and collected one point
- Since the 2010/11 Europa League campaign in which CSKA won their group with 16 points, they have won just once at home in the competition (D2, L5)
- Ludogorets will secure passage to the knockouts with a win and a Ferencvaros defeat
- The Bulgarian champions have made it out of two of their last three Europa League group stages
- Ludogorets have only won two of their last 11 away matches in the Europa league
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: CSKA Moscow vs Ludogorets – 2-1
CSKA Moscow vs Ludogorets – Possible Lineups
Akinfeev – Diveev, Karpov, Magnusson – Fernandes, Oblyakov, Akhmetov, Kuchaev – Vlasic, SIgurdsson – Chalov
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Iliev – Ikoko, Grigore, Moti, Nedyalkov – Badji, Anicet – Tchibota, Marcelinho, Jorginho – Keseru
Manager: Stanislav Genchev
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.