Andrew Flint –
Spartak Moscow vs Rapid Vienna – Thursday, November 29, 15:50 GMT/16:50 CET/18:50 MSK – Otkritie Arena – Moscow, Russia
Oleg Kononov successfully negotiated his first match in charge of Leonid Fedun’s madhouse with a fair degree of controversy, even if it was through no fault of his own. Krylya Sovetov Samara have struggled massively to score goals this season – they’d only managed four goals in their first 12 games – but they still troubled Spartak and even took the lead. Luiz Adriano scored again, but also should have conceded a penalty for a blatant handball. Murmurs of favouritism towards the more popular team abounded, and perhaps not completely without reason.
Nevertheless, regardless of the initial performance and surrounding paraphernalia, to take the job at all took confidence. Kononov restored most of the old guard to the starting lineup, including the ostracised club captain Denis Glushakov to the chagrin of his new fans, and in the end, he got the job done. In this group, every side could top the standings or finish bottom, so the pressure is automatically ramped up a few notches compared to a supposedly comfortable league outing. Next week there is also the small matter of a Russian Cup quarter-final first leg against Ural Ekaterinburg. Kononov is smart enough to know he can ill afford to lose face so early in his career, so a fair amount of planning is needed already.
In their two home group-stage matches so far, Spartak have witnessed 13 goals, including plenty of late drama to save results that were slipping away from them. The loss to Rapid early on hurt their early momentum considerably, and with the weight of expectation heavily on experienced shoulders what should be a straightforward fixture is turning into a pivotal one in Spartak’s season. Win, and the mood will be lifted as a likely spring season of European football awaits. Lose, and the knives that cut Massimo Carrera loose won’t even make it back to the kitchen drawer.
Rapid Vienna have undergone a similarly turbulent autumn season themselves. Former playing legend Didi Kühbauer has returned to the club as manager after Goran Djuricin was fired following poor results. Kühbauer was the star of the side that faced Manchester United in the Champions League over 20 years ago and forced one of the competitions most iconic saves out of Peter Schmeichel.
A year later though, and Kühbauer suffered unimaginable tragedy. His pregnant wife was driving to pick him up when she lost control of her car, fractured her ribs and fell into a coma before passing away a few months later. Kühbauer continued his career abroad before moving into management a decade ago. His mental strength to carry on at all speaks volumes for his character, while the respect he garnered from a sparkling domestic career is as solid as iron.
He inherits a side in trouble. Rapid have not won in their last four matches, losing the last two league fixtures to leave them floundering in eight, five points off the championship round and a whopping 22 points off leaders RB Salzburg. At least there is a fair degree of positivity off the pitch. Following the club’s AGM on Monday, plans for a state-of-the-art training facility adjacent to the Ernst Happel Stadion were announced as approved, which will hopefully bring through the next generation of Kuhbauers. In the short term, it is Russian roulette for Rapid in Moscow: lose, and they all but guarantee a swift end.
Spartak Moscow vs Rapid Vienna – Players to Watch
Luiz Adriano #12 – Spartak Moscow
The Brazilian striker is one of the few Spartak players to have maintained a good run of form in recent weeks during one of the club’s worst domestic patches in recent memory. He has boundless continental experience from his time at Shakhtar Donetsk, with his career record an impressive 33 goals in 67 total European appearances to date. He had a hand in all three goals at the weekend and has scored three in his last four himself. His powerful figure is too simplified a feature of his play; his anticipation of defenders’ movements make him a nightmare to mark, and with his pace, he can turn his marker with ease.
Stefan Schwab #8 – Rapid Vienna
The powerful midfielder is the hub of Rapid’s side in more ways than one. His aerial strength is an obvious weapon at set pieces, and given the likely lack of possession that the Austrians will enjoy in Moscow this may well turn out to be the most potent threat the be quelled. Schwab’s quick feet can create openings in little space too though. While a lot of the attention may be on the wide players for their conventional danger, Schwab needs to be controlled to cut off their supply line or to attack Spartak’s goal directly himself.
Spartak Moscow vs Rapid Vienna – Match Stats
- Spartak have never beaten Rapid Vienna, although their only meeting before the defeat in Austria a few weeks ago was over half a century earlier
- They are also unbeaten in three home fixtures against Austrian opposition, although the last of those before this season was two decades ago
- There have been 20 goals in Spartak’s last five competitive matches
- Rapid Vienna have only lost once in their last 15 meetings with Russian opposition (W8, D6)
- They have kept clean sheets on each of their last four visits to Russia
- Rapid have only qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League once, despite qualifying for the group stage seven times
- They have lost eight of their last 11 European away fixtures, including all four this season
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Spartak Moscow vs Rapid Vienna 2-0
Spartak Moscow vs Rapid Vienna – Possible Lineups
Rebrov – Eshchenko, Kutepov, Bocchetti, Kombarov – Fernando, Glushakov – Lomovitskiy, Hanni, Melgarejo – Luiz Adriano
Manager: Oleg Kononov
Strebinger – Potzmann, Barac, Sonnleitner, Müldür – Ljubicic, Schwab – Ivan, Knasmüller, Murg – Alar
Manager: Dietmar Kühbauer
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.