Russian Premier League Review
(picture courtesy of Rsport.ru)
Winner – CSKA Moscow (1st)
Champions League – CSKA, Zenit St Petersburg (2nd)
Europa League – Anzhi (3rd) Spartak Moscow (4th) Kuban Krasnodar (5th) Rubin Kazan (6th)
Relegated – Mordovia Saransk (15th) Alaniya (16th)
Promoted – Tom Tomsk, Ural
19 goals from Ahmed Musa and some impressive performances from Alan Dzagoev helped CSKA Moscow to a 12th league title, and to add to that they also won the Russian Cup. Zenit finished two points back, and the ever improving Anzhi came third.
Money was flowing, with hundreds of millions being thrown about. Anzhi purchased Willian from Shakhtar and Lacina Traore from Kuban for around £46.5m, Zenit smashed records with the signings of Axel Witsel and Hulk, setting them back a cool £80m. Rubin Kazan spent £10.5m on Yann M’vila, and also £8.5m on Malaga forward Jose Salomon Rondon. CSKA bought Mario Fernandes for £9.2m, and Spartak snapped up talented midfielder Romulo for £7m. This isn’t all that surprising, if you look at Forbes Rich list many of the top 100 are Russian Billionaires – and the richest have stakes In football teams.
The fight for Champions League places was close, but the four Europa League places were even closer! 5 points separated 3rd from 8th, and with CSKA playing Anzhi, another place was up for grabs. Anzhi finished 3rd with 53 points, Spartak and Kuban tied with 51 and Rubin Kazan saw off Dinamo Moscow and Terek Grozny to secure the final space, with 50 points.
Spartak may be a little disappointed this year after 2nd place in 2011/12, and with such a talented squad with the likes of Rafael Carioca, Kim Kallstrom, Marek Suchy and rising star Jano Ananidze – getting into the Europa League is a step down from the Champions League. They were struggling at the halfway point, but purchased Krasnodars’ star striker Yura Movsisyan to boost their title aspirations.
Anzhi managed to get 3rd and automatically qualify for the Europa group stages, and had a good run in last season’s competition, defeating Liverpool in the group stages but eventually lost to an injury time Papiss Cisse winner to lose 1-0 to Newcastle United in the last 16. 3rd place is a big improvement from 5th. Guus Hiddink masterminded this, and despite being linked to big spending PSG, he has decided to stay – and to be honest, he has just been given Willian so why would he leave? Lacina Traore ended the season with 12 goals, with Samuel Eto’o, the man who is paid £17m a year, scoring 10 and assisted 7.
A surprise package this season has been Kuban Krasnodar. With no real well known players, bar Charles Kabore, once of Marseille, who joined in January 2013, it was widely expected that they would end the season similarly to last season, mid-table, but they have beaten the likes of Dinamo/Lokomotiv Moscow as well as Rubin to a place in the top five.
Dinamo Moscow will be a little disappointed after a 4th place finish in the 2011/12 season. German forward Kevin Kuranyi scored 10 as did Aleksandr Kokorin, Balazs Dzsudzsak scored several important goals and was 2nd in the assists chart, with 9 – but all in all it was a poor season for them.
Krasnodar fell one place this season, but added one of the stars of the African Cup of Nations to their ranks, Moussa Konate, as well as Monaco’s Hungarian fallen star, Vladimir Koman.
Lokomotiv Moscow had an excellent attack, with ex-Premier League strikers Felipe Caicedo, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Victor Obinna – add to that former Copenhagen star Dame N’Doye, but a poor defence let them down, ending in 9th.
Akmar Perm and Volga stayed pretty much out of trouble most of the season, Volga happy to stay away from the relegation play-offs no doubt. Rostov and Krylya Sovetov finished in the play-offs, but defeated 2nd division opponents to remain in the top league.
The same cannot be said for Mordovia and Alaniya, who both were annihilated by most all season. Both were promoted in 2011/12 but have gone straight back down, with 20 and 19 points respectively – both lost two thirds of their games, which when you play 30 games a season is far too many. Tom Tomsk and Ural were the two to come back up, for Tomsk it was the first attempt. For Ural, it is their first season back in the Premier League since 1996.
Bar Musa, there were very few high scoring players, the next best being Yura Movsisyan/Wanderson with 13 apiece. Lacina Traore ended the season in 3rd place with 12. In terms of Assists, Joaozinho was top with 10, Balazs Dzsudzsak finished with 9 and Mbarak Boussoufa was 3rd with 8.
With all the star players the league has to offer, it was very surprising that no side managed more than 55 goals, it was a very low scoring season with plenty of games containing one goal or less – Zenit were the kings of 1-0 victories, and Kuban 0-0 specialists.
In what was a good move, at the start of the season the league’s format was changed. In previous seasons after the original 30 games, the league was split into two, and every team played each other home and away again – meaning a total of 44 games – which some complained was too many. This season the split format was taken out, so it was a straight 30 game season – which gives European contenders from the league a better chance with the congestion issue being resolved.
In our opinion and that of many, Russia is an up and coming league, especially with the amount of money being spent. A great deal of highly talented players are taking the opportunity to make a quick buck or two (million) by joining the big spenders such as Spartak, Anzhi or even CSKA. Much like the Turkish league, there are some European giants amongst divisions that have fallen by the wayside in recent years, and it’s good that players are taking the opportunity to play for such teams.
However with the good, there always comes bad. Russia seem to have a racial issue, with many black players, the biggest being Hulk and Axel Witsel being racially abused by fans. The fans of Zenit, known as Ultras, took it to such a level that they wrote a letter to the board and owners of the club to demand that all players of that ilk be sold immediately, despite the fact they had just spend £80m on the two, which to anybody bar the idiots and racists would be baffling.
We sincerely hope this issue is eradicated and the league goes from strength to strength, but if problems persist it could put any players from joining the ranks of Russian teams, which we believe already has. The clubs must act and ban these prehistoric buffoons’. All issues aside, it was a brilliant season and if some spend like they have previously, next season could be filled with more talent!