Russian Football Premier League Roundup – Can Spartak challenge for the title?

Russian Football Premier League Roundup – Can Spartak challenge for the title?

Manuel Veth –

Futbolgrad’s Russian Football Premier League roundup from matchday 15 focuses on Spartak Moscow, who are now six points clear of second place Zenit Saint Petersburg on top of the Russian Football Premier League table.

This week, Spartak Moscow’s head coach Massimo Carrera was featured alongside Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid coach), Antonio Conte (Chelsea manager), and Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus head coach) on the cover of the legendary Italian sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport. All four were, or in Allegri’s case are, in one capacity or another, employed by Juventus, and all four are currently on top of the table with the teams that they manage. The paper, therefore, asked whether the four were exemplary for what the paper calls the Juve DNA.

Russian Football Premier League Roundup Spartak coach Carrera feature on La Gazzetta dello Sport

Massimo Carrera made it on the title page of the La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy

There is certainly no doubt that working for a club like Juventus Turin breeds success into one’s character. The record Italian champion has slowly rebuilt its reputation since the calciopoli scandal, and is often spoken of in the same terms as the two Spanish giants, and Bayern München, when it comes to naming Europe’s elite clubs.

Yet, the most remarkable aspect of the story is that the Italian newspaper has recognized Massimo Carrera’s success since he took over as the head coach of Spartak Moscow. When speaking on the Futbolgrad Podcast this week I mentioned that Spartak Moscow is like the Liverpool FC of Russian football. The club is the most historic club in the country and has the most titles to its name, but also has not won a national championship since 2001.

The oil tycoon, Leonid Fedun, owns the club, and the lack of success has not been due to his lack of investment. In fact, Spartak have been one of the highest spending clubs in Russian football since Fedun took over in 2004. The results, however, have been poor and the club has employed 12 different head coaches—among them big name signings such as Michael Laudrup (2008-09), current Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery (July to November 2012), and Murat Yakin (2014-15).

Massimo Carrera has stabilised Spartak

The most recent experiment with former club legend Dmitri Alenichev, who was hired to re-install the Spartak ethos, was terminated after Spartak was eliminated in the third qualification round of the Europa League. Spartak then attempted to sign Kurban Berdyev, who had guided FC Rostov to a sensational second place finish last season, but the negotiations were ended, when Spartak refused to meet Berdyev’s demands over bringing in an entirely new coaching team.

Instead, Spartak promoted assistant coach, Massimo Carrera. Carrera was signed in the summer from the Italian national team, and has long been understood to be the tactical genius behind former Italian national team coach, Antonio Conte, now with Chelsea. At the time, Carrera was described by the Russian press, which always seems to be dominated by pro-Spartak writers, as Spartak’s most important signing of the summer.

Now, with matchday 15 in the books, the trend seems to prove the Russian journalists right, as Spartak have won their sixth Russian Football Premier League game in a row by beating Terek Grozny 1-0 in Chechnya in what is always a difficult away fixture—Spartak’s closest rival, Zenit, lost 2-1 in Grozny on matchday 13. This proved to be a massive result, as Zenit lost 2-1 away at Krasnodar, which means that the two teams are separated by six points at the halfway point of the season.

But, also significant was the manner of Spartak’s victory in Grozny. Playing at a stadium that is known for its volatile crowd, and where it is not uncommon that Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov at halftime visits away teams, Spartak managed to grind out a victory against a tough opponent. Spartak’s defender, Mauricio, scored in the 26th minute, and after that both sides had several chances, and it was only thanks to Spartak keeper, Artem Rebrov, that Terek did not get on the score sheet.

Carrera has brought Italian sensibility to Spartak

It was, in many ways, a typical Italian victory where a sensible and well-organized defence was able to secure three points in a difficult environment. Carrera was often seen on the sideline communicating with midfielder, Fernando, who was brought in from Sampdoria Genoa during the summer transfer window. The Brazilian, who from 2013 to 2015 had played for Shakhtar Donetsk, speaks enough Italian and Russian to act as Carrera’s extended arm on the pitch.

Indeed, as Andrew Flint rightly points out on the Futbolgrad Podcast, Fernando has been key to the squad’s success this season. In 14 games played for Spartak, this season, the 24-year-old Brazilian has a pass success rate of 87.8%, and is, therefore, vital to Spartak’s midfield game. Fernando, however, does not shy away from the physical aspects of the game, and it would be fitting to describe Fernando, as the Arturo Vidal of Spartak’s game.

Spartak has the best defence in the league with just eight goals conceded in 15 games. Another aspect of Spartak’s game has been its unpredictable nature. Quincy Promes, and Zé Luís both lead the club scoring with five goals each, with the rest of the 14 goals distributed among the entire squad. In fact, no team in Russian football creates more chances than Spartak (15.8 per game) and, with 24 goals, Spartak are second only to Zenit’s 31 goals scored this season. Hence, Spartak could be blamed somewhat for not scoring more often.

The Russian Football Premier League will have two more matchdays before going into a three month long winter break. The winter break could be Carrera’s biggest challenge thus far, as the long break could really undermine the club’s momentum. Furthermore, there is a danger that clubs could launch bids for Spartak’s prolific Dutch winger Promes, who has already been linked with major clubs in the past.

Spartak will likely turn down any offer for the Dutchman, but transfer stories of this kind could disrupt the harmony in the dressing room. Another danger could be Spartak dabbling in the transfer market themselves, as new signings could help in the push for the title in the spring, but could also threaten the chemistry created in the squad.

Russian Football Premier League – Talking Points

  • CSKA Moscow continue to struggle, as they drew Rubin Kazan 0-0 in Kazan. CSKA Moscow head coach, Leonid Slutsky, has called this the most difficult period during his coaching career at the club. “This the most difficult situation in the last seven years at the club.” At the same time he urged fans to remain patient “CSKA has always been, and always will be, a great club. Whatever difficulties may arise, with the CSKA fans at our back we can overcome any adversity.” CSKA fans have heavily criticized Slutsky both for the performances on the pitch, but also for his involvement in promoting the Jewish cultural centre in Moscow in what can only be described as anti-Semitic behaviour by the club’s fans.
  • Zenit have lost to Krasnodar with Krasnodar’s Georgian midfielder  Tornike Okriashvili stunning Saint Petersburg in the dying moments of the game with an absolute sensational goal.

  • Winter has arrived in Russia, prompting the yearly debate over whether Russia should switch back to the old calendar year schedule (read more about that here). The snow was particularly bad in Samara where Krylia Sovetov beat Tom Tomsk 3-0. Vitaly Mutko has told the Russian media that one way to avoid clubs having to play in heavy snowfall would be to introduce a more flexible schedule with more home games for clubs based in Southern Russia during the winter months.

  • Anatoly Tymoshchuk could join the coaching staff of Zenit Saint Petersburg. The Ukrainian midfielder played at the club from 2007 to 2009, and from 2013 to 2015. Tymoshchuk won two Russian league titles with the club, and the UEFA Cup, and the UEFA Super Cup in 2008. Current Zenit head coach, Mircea Lucescu, also coached Tymoshchuk from 2004 to 2007 at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.