Andrew Flint –
Spartak Moscow vs Thun – Thursday, August 15, 17:45 BST/18:45 CEST – Otkritie Arena, Moscow – Russia
It was never going to be simple with Spartak; it never is. Dmitri Alenichev was sacked the day after a catastrophic defeat to AEK Athens three years ago, and after an hour in Switzerland last week it looked like the vultures that had been circling Oleg Kononov would finally close in for the kill. A late Zelimkhan Bakaev winner granted a stay of execution, but the manner in which Spartak briefly imploded after half time was a major concern. It is bad enough that the club is propping up its extravagant expenditure without Champions League income, but if they fail to even find a way to the Europa League groups the consequences do not bear thinking about.
Switch perspective however, and Spartak’s outlook can be considered extremely bright. André Schürrle has already settled into his new role as conductor in chief, having assisted and scored in his opening three matches. Ezequiel Ponce is rested having been suspended from domestic action at the weekend, and finally broke his duck in Switzerland. New boys Guus Til and Jordan Larsson have earned minutes too. And for the first time in almost 18 months, they have scored at least three goals in consecutive games.
To almost all observers, the odds are stacked firmly in Spartak’s favour. Home advantage will provide a boost in itself as they protect a comfortable aggregate lead after a positive couple of results. It is never safe to say that the club have turned a new page entirely of course, and pressure very much remains on them to not be too cautious and let the initiative slip. Even a committed cautious manager like Kononov will have to work very hard to mess up their chances now.
Thun’s disarray is not going to be helped by the immediate demands of their situation. Still nursing a considerable portion of the squad back to health and already five points off the title pace after just four league games, it is questionable exactly what the primary concern is for the Swiss side. Such is the condensed nature of the Swiss league outside the big two of Young Boys and Basel that the margins between survival and Europe are miniscule. Last season, for example, just three points separated six teams from Lugano in third – which offered group-stage Europa league football – and Sion in eighth, the final position of guaranteed safety.
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In their 121-year history, Thun have qualified for Europe’s premier competition once and reached the group stages of the Europa League once. Of their 12 post-qualifying matches they lost nine, while three years ago they needed away goals to edge past Lichtenstein outfit FC Vaduz who play in the Swiss second-tier. They’re never won the Swiss title and have spent most of their existence outside the top flight. In short, there is precious little pedigree to fall back on.
Let’s switch perspective again though. Thun sliced through a pourous Spartak defence with alarming ease after the break last week, and can be confident of taking advantage of lapses in concentration again. Although they have to score twice away from home, if there’s anywhere they can bank on an implosion it is Spartak Moscow. Strike first, and Kononov’s panic button could be pushed. There is nothing to lose with such little weight of expectation on their shoulders. It is a big ask for sure, but that depends what the question is.
Spartak Moscow vs Thun – Players to Watch
Zelimkhan Bakaev #10 – Spartak Moscow
For all the frantic transfer activity swirling around Spartak Moscow this summer, it is a returning loanee who is lighting up their attacking threat. Zelimkhan Bakaev had a hugely productive loan spell at Arsenal Tula last season, where he finished their top goalscorer in the league with an impressive eight strikes from the wing. He’s already registered four goals in all competitions this season, all in the last two games. His quick feet help engineer space out of nowhere as Thun realised to the cost last week in Switzerland. With the pure confidence he has at the moment, it will take a lot of focus to shut him out.
Simone Rapp #13 – FC Thun
It is thankless task to lead the line away from home in a European away game when your side is chasing an aggregate deficit. Simone Rapp will most likely be tasked with a solitary role as the only out and out striker fully fit, but what will give his side hope is his adaptation to the role. He unselfishly runs the channels out wide to bring others into play, meaning Spartak’s defence will have to be compact and organised to avoid being dragged out of position. Rapp’s alertness and awareness of his teammates will be critical to Thun forcing their way back into the tie.
Spartak Moscow vs Thun – Match Stats
- FC Thun have failed to win any of their last seven away matches in the Europa League qualifiers or group stage
- They have kept just one clean sheet on the road in the competition ever
- To progress at Spartak’s expense, they need to score at least twice; this is a feat they’ve achieved once in their last seven attempts away from home
- Spartak have won just once in their last eight home games in this competition
- In that time they have conceded an average of three goals per game
- They have lost both of their last two home qualifiers in the Europa League
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Spartak Moscow vs Thun – 3-1
Spartak Moscow vs Thun – Possible Lineups
Maksimenko – Eshchenko, Gigot, Dzhikia, Ayrton – Zobnin, Gulev – Bakaev, Til, Schurrle – Ponce
Head coach: Oleg Kononov
Faivre – Glarner, Havenaar, Sutter, Joss – Stilhart, Gelmi – Hefti, Castroman, Tosetti – Rapp
Head coach: Marc Schneider
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.