Andrew Flint –
Ludogorets vs CSKA Moscow – Thursday, September 19, 20:00 BST/21:00 CEST – Ludogorets Arena, Razgrad – Bulgaria
The model is simple; get funds, find Brazilians, win trophies. Except like all of football, nothing is quite that simple. The Shakhtar Donetsk model of harvesting the finest unearthed talent into a marketable product is not the only way the maintain some semblance of power and stability. Paulo Autori was hired last year in an opaque attempt to solidify the relationships his fellow Brazilians held with the club. When interference came from above and the sporting director who had hired Autori in the first place was fired without much apparent explanation, Autori himself left.
Stoycho Stoev took over again, having already guided his array of rich talents to a league and cup double four years earlier, and duly completed formalities, but he himself departed just a few days before the Europa League playoff against Maribor. Stoev successfully navigated his way past the Slovenian powerhouses and secured group-stage football. How long he will remain in charge is anyone’s guess; he has a rather powerful and efficient man to keep happy. Kiril Petrov Domuschiev, and industrialist and entrepreneur worth almost $1 billion who invested in the club when they were in the lower leagues having been reformed due to prior mismanagement, clearly does not suffer fools.
The problem is what to do when there are no more lands to conquer. The extrapolation of the division of wealth in football between the very top echelon and the rest mean that it is impossible for Ludogorets to compete sustainably in continetal football, so what is the point of Domuschiev investing another level of funding into a project he has bankrolled for the last nine years? Ludogorets have made the Champions League group stages more than once, rubbing shoulders with current European champions Liverpool, so the next reasonable target will be to qualify more regularly. It will take more than prize money to satisfy a man who has bought it all.
CSKA Moscow have a very different, and more prosaic, set of issues to deal with. Once again their squad is decimated by injuries, just as it was last season. There are only two senior centre-backs fit, and one of those – Hordur Magnusson – is suspended for domestic action for one game. That in fact works in CSKA’s favour in the short term, as it mean Magnusson can play without fear of exhaustion as he will have more time to rest. The more pressing problem for manager Viktor Goncharenko is how to juggle his dwindling resources.
He has instilled a three-man defence throughout his time with the Armymen and is unlikely to want to move away from it for fear of unsettling his players and giving their hosts a sniff of weakness. What it means though is either Jaka Bijol deputising in defence, which he has done in the past, or introducing a youth team player like Nayair Tiknizyan or Vadim Karpov to a potentially intimidating atmosphere. Bulgarian fan culture has a strong far-right element that directs the passions of the crowd, as in many Balkan countries.
There is also the balance to strike between chasing three points or maintaining the health and confidence of his players. A point under calm conditions may be preferable to three under duress if any knocks are picked up. There is no pressure yet to chase the group leader as there is plenty of time. A tough fixture at the weekend against Krasnodar is of far more immediate importance and should be prioritised. The fate of this fixture rests on the confidence and short-term ambition of both managers, but perhaps more so with Goncharenko. He has the quality to be beating Ludogorets comfortably; but does he want to risk it?
Ludogorets vs CSKA Moscow – Players to watch
Claudiu Keseru #28 – Ludogorets
Spearheading the Bulgarian attack is the veteran Romanian international striker Claudiu Keseru. Despite his advancing years he is on fire again this season with seven goals already. His adaptation to his physical capabilities has been impressive, but perhaps not so surprising given that his standout characteristic is his intelligence. A deft touch in the box, a tight angle, close markers; nothing deters him from working an opportunity to get a shot away. His scoring record is the simplest measure of his sustained success – well over a goal every other game since arriving in Bulgaria four years ago – although it should be noted how he is carefully managed nowadays. He rarely completes a full 90 minutes, but when he is on the pitch the focus of Ludogorets attacks will pour through him. Keeping him under wraps will be key.
Nikola Vlasic #8 – CSKA Moscow
The Croatian creator has had a stunning year in Moscow after spending a mild purgatory on Merseyside where his attitude and abilities were questioned. His loan spell couldn’t have moved forwards more smoothly as he fit perfectly into the 5-3-2 formation that Viktor Goncharenko favours as the conductor in chief. He naturally loves having space to drive forward into with the ball, drawing opposition before either releasing to a teammate in a more favourable position or having a go himself. With the raft of defensive injuries CSKA are currently suffering he may have to slightly rein in his bombarding instincts if needed to help wait out a sustained period of pressure. Once unshackled though, there will be little Ludogorets will be able to do to stop him.
Ludogorets vs CSKA Moscow – Match stats
- Although this is Ludogorets’ eighth Eauropean campaign, they have never faced Russian opposition before
- They have won the Bulgarian league title eight years in a row
- Last season they failed to win a single group-stage match
- CSKA have only once faced Bulgarian opposition – Levski Sofia in 2005, who they beat 2-1 at home
- CSKA have only ever lost two away matches in the Europa League, and both came in the knockout stages
- CSKA manager Viktor Goncharenko has managed Ludogorets midfielder Stanislav Manolev before while in charge of Kuban Krasnodar
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Ludogorets vs CSKA Moscow – 0-1
Ludogorets vs CSKA Moscow – Possible lineups
Renan – Ikoko, Grigore, Terziev, Nedyalkov – Goralski, Dyakov – Bakalov, Biton, Jorginho – Keseru
Manager: Javier Ramos
Akinfeev – Fernandes, Magnusson, Diveev, Bijol, Kuchaev – Bistrovic, Akhmetov, Vlasic – Nishimura, Chalov
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.