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The inside track on CSKA Moscow with Russian football expert Danny Armstrong

Posted on 7 December 2016  - 10:00

Danny Armstrong is a journalist and Russian football expert based in Moscow and regularly attends CSKA matches - including their 4-0 win against FC Ural on Saturday. Here he runs the rule over Leonid Slutsky's side ahead of tonight's Champions League clash at Wembley...

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Danny Armstrong
Russian football expert, Moscow

danny_armstrong_cskaIn terms of form, CSKA seem to have picked up in recent weeks, how are they playing at the moment? Any players performing particularly well?
Danny: "CSKA’s form has improved of late, but if we take into account a run from September to mid-November where they won just one of 10, anything could be seen as an improvement. The Spurs game in Moscow on September 27 came in the midst of that run but on Saturday they trounced an FC Ural side 4-0 at home with a brace from Lacina Traore who is on loan from Monaco and is depended on highly for goals - the Ivorian’s five goals in fourteen appearances this season tell their own story.

"Midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, recent recipient of the Russian Young Player of the Year award, is perhaps one of the brightest players in the country at present and has played every league and Champions League minute for CSKA this season. He’s been pivotal in the champions maintaining a respectable defence of their Premier League crown, although whether he wants to take credit for their European efforts is another thing. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a CSKA side without him. Zoran Tosic, ex of Manchester United, is of sublime skill - which his assist for Traore’s first at the weekend attests to - and at the other end Igor Akinfeev recently celebrated becoming the Russian goalkeeper with the most clean sheets yet, ironically, his record of not having kept a clean sheet in his last 42 Champions League games has been well documented. It will be something he personally will want to rectify at Wembley."

Below: Aleksandr Golovin

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How do you think coach Leonid Slutsky will line-up at Wembley? Any players definitely missing?
Danny: "The match at Wembley will most likely be the last for Slutsky in charge of CSKA; reports have circulated that the coach has even booked a restaurant in London to celebrate his farewell after the game before flying back to the motherland (CSKA have announced his departure). His time at CSKA has been largely successful and yielded three Russian titles and two Russian Cups in a seven-year spell, but he has been dogged by doubt following the Russian national side’s failure at the Euro 2016 tournament this summer, which he oversaw on a short-term contract. All things considered, it’s probably the right time for him to leave the Armymen.

Below: Leonid Slutsky

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"On the pitch, normal service should be resumed up front with Traore coming back into the starting line-up after being on the bench for the last two European games in favour of Fedor Chalov and Carlos Strandberg. Roman Eremenko will definitely miss the match, following a UEFA ban. Tactically, Slutsky will likely stay with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation with both Berezutskiy brothers at centre back - unfortunately it might not be cold enough in London for them to don their outstanding thermal headbands they sport in Russia! Brazilian-Russian wingback Mario Fernandes was taken off concussed at the weekend and it remains to be seen whether he will be fit enough to start the game. Should he be available, he will be a big threat down the flank from right back."

Below: Igor Akinfeev

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Finally, you’ve watched every minute - how would you sum up CSKA’s Champions League campaign?
Danny: "CSKA’s Champions League campaign this season has been a tale of what-ifs, hard battles to scrape points and outright hammerings. Igor Akinfeev was just three minutes away from throwing the clean sheet monkey firmly off his back with CSKA one up versus Monaco at home. The game ended in a deflating draw, then in the return leg they were turned over 3-0 with all three coming before half-time. In Germany they battled back from 2-0 down against Bayer Leverkusen to snatch a point and then had to fight just as hard on home soil for a 1-1 draw. Spurs then won by just the one goal at CSKA Arena.

Below: Watch highlights of our 1-0 win in Moscow in September

 


"When all said and done, not qualifying from the group stage isn’t wholly surprising, but to not register a single win in the group stage won’t be good enough for a club like CSKA and they know it. The Russian champions gain a prestigious automatic Champions League spot and to surrender it in such a way doesn’t give a great showing of Russian football, but fans will argue that after the sales of strikers Ahmed Musa (now at Premier League champions Leicester) and before him Seydou Doumbia (now of Roma), who both featured heavily in previous campaigns, their chances of improvement and progression were dealt a thudding blow long ago. The match at Wembley is their last of 2016 owing to the Russian Premier League’s winter break and is among a number of factors why they will be looking to win, including gaining a place in the Europa League, sending Slutsky off with a victory, and finally keeping a clean sheet in Europe."