Opposition Focus - Russia
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On Friday Steve Clarke and Scotland will welcome Mother Russia’s finest to Hampden Park with the aim of landing our first major blow in Group I. Having defied the critics at their home World Cup to not only make it out of their group but to progress to the quarter finals, where they were shown the door by eventual runners up Croatia, Russia will again be looking to make an impression on the international stage and perform on home turf in St Petersburg at the Euro 2020 Finals.
Steve Clarke has said he’s happy with his start to his Scotland tenure, winning his first game at home against a sticky Cypriot side and putting on a good display in Brussels against the number one side in the world. Russia are unfamiliar foes however. They’re the only side Scotland are yet to face in the group so far. Our last competitive fixtures with them was in qualification for Euro ’96, where the spoils were shared on both occasions.
Russia sit second in the group having taken nine points from a possible twelve. Belgium were the only team to stop them from a perfect run in their first four games, beating them 3-1 on the opening day. Since then, they haven’t conceded and have netted 14 goals in the three games (although nine of those were in a demolition job against San Marino).
So, who are their star men? And who should the Tartan Army expect to line-up for ‘Sbornaya’ on Friday night? Having looked at their first four games it’s easy to spot trends and who is preferred for a position in the starting eleven.
Apart from the match against Belgium, where they were rather defensive and opted for a back five, they have operated with the same back four and goalkeeper. The midfield has seen a few changes in layouts and individuals while a lone striker has always been the preference for manager Stanislav Cherchesov. So, lets break it down, and try to predict who our boys in blue will be matching up against man for man. Formation: 4-5-1 or 4-3-3
The Defensive Wall
Goalkeeper: Guilherme Marinato (33yrs), Lokomotiv Moscow (Rus).
Born in Brazil, but having gained Russian citizenship in 2015, Guilherme has been capped 8 times for Russia and has been between the sticks in all four games so far this campaign. At club level he has 243 appearances for Lokomotiv. Last season they achieved a second-place finish in the Russian Premier Liga, eight points behind winners Zenit, securing a place in this seasons Champions League where the shot stopper will have the task of keeping Juventus, Atletico and Leverkusens finest at bay. Coming off the back of 3 clean sheets, Guilherme should be between the sticks for Russia ruling out a stark change in his gaffers mindset.
Right Back: Mario Fernandes (28yrs), CSKA Moscow (Rus).
Another Brazilian born Russian international, Mario has in fact been capped for his country of birth, featuring in a friendly win over Japan. After gaining Russian citizenship he made his debut for Russia in a friendly against South Korea in 2017. In 2018 he was included in the squad for their home World Cup and performed very well. Having made it out the group, he scored his first international goal in their quarter final tie with Croatia, an equaliser which forced the game to penalties. It didn’t take him long to go from experiencing the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, as he dragged his penalty wide of the target which led to a heart-breaking Russian exit. Mario has 18 caps for Russia and has started all four games so far at right back. Near enough a nailed-on start.
Left Back: Fyodor Kudryashov (32yrs), PFC Sochi (Rus).
Born in Russia, Kudryashov has 30 caps for his country, and scored his only goal in their 9-0 demolition of San Marino. He plays his club football with Sochi, who have suffered a poor start to the season with one win in their first eight games, the others three draws and four losses. He did manage to score for Sochi at the weekend, contributing to their only win. He moved to Sochi in the summer from Basaksehir, and he probably wishes his fortunes followed him from Turkey. Basaksehir narrowly missed out on winning the title, with Galatasaray pipping them to the post and winning by two points. While he only featured eight times for them, he did suffer from injury at several points through the season. He’s started all four games for Russia this campaign, another player we can have reasonable confidence in starting.
Centre Back: Andrei Semyonov (30yrs), Akhmat Grozny (Rus).
The 6ft3” centre half was born in Moscow and came through the Spartak youth setup. He’s been capped 11 times for Russia and made both squads for the 2014 and 2018 World Cup, although he never featured for them at either tournament. Having spent the Belgium loss on the bench, he has started the last three matches where Russia haven’t conceded. Coincidence? Andrei would count himself unlucky to lose his spot in the starting eleven for Fridays match.
Centre Back: Georgi Dzhikiya (25yrs), Spartak Moscow (Rus).
Also hailing from Moscow, the centre half has 17 caps for Russia. He’s featured in all four qualifiers and was also present in their four competitive Nations League games, where Russia finished level on points with Sweden but missed out on promotion to League A due to their head to head record. It would be a surprise if Cherchesov was to change his centre back partnership which has ran a tight ship and kept the door shut for oppositions strikers.
The Heart of the Midfield
Central Midfield: Roman Zobnin (25yrs), Spartak Moscow (Rus).
Having graced every level of the Russian youth program from u16’s to the men’s squad, Zobnin is very familiar with the Russian national setup. With 23 caps, he played every minute for the Russians at the World Cup and was only absent in their defeat to Sweden in the Nations League due to an injury. He then fractured his hand and had to withdraw from the squad for the Belgium and Kazakhstan matches. Since regaining full fitness, he returned and started both the San Marino and Cyprus game. Since the start of the season he has been ever present in Spartak’s midfield not missing a single competitive minute, and after breaking off for this international break was lucky enough to become a father for the second time to a baby girl. Let’s hope the sleepless nights start to catch up with him when the time comes for us to travel for the return leg in Moscow. I think it’s reasonably foreseeable that we’ll be watching Zobnin battling it out on the hallow turf at Hampden on Friday night.
Centre Midfield: Aleksandr Golovin (23yrs), Monaco (Fra).
Despite being only 23 years old, Golovin has the most caps of the midfielders in the squad, having made 28 appearances for Russia. He made his debut at 19 years old in a friendly against Belarus in 2015, where he came off the bench and managed to grab himself a goal in a match Russia won 4-2. During the 2018 World Cup he started every game for them except their group stage loss to Uruguay. He particularly shone in the opening match of the finals where they crushed Saudi Arabia. They won the match 5-0 and young Aleksandr bagged himself 2 assists and a goal in the dying minutes. He plays his club football in France after he moved to Monaco from CSKA Moscow for a record fee (reported to be €30m). He played 30 games for Monaco last term, but it’ll be a season he’d probably like to put behind him, as Monaco had a shocker and narrowly avoided relegation. Back on the international scene, he started their opening fixture of the campaign against Belgium but was shown a second yellow card in the 90th minute which mean he missed the following fixture with Kazakhstan. After serving his suspension he returned to the starting line-up and saw out the entirety of both games.
Central Midfield: Magomed Ozdoyev (26yrs), Zenit St. Petersburg (Rus).
Plying his trade in the ‘Venice of the North’, he helped his team in his first full season there to a league title and will be competing in the Champions League with them this season scoring an easier group than Lokomotiv, matching up with Benfica, Lyon and RB Leipzig. So far in Premier Liga he has played every minute for Zenit and has 2 goals in eight league games, but he’s also managed to pick up four bookings in his last four games. He was also sent off in the Russian Super Cup Final after picking up a second yellow in the 92nd minute, a game which Zenit lost 3-2. He’s been capped 15 times for his national side and has 1 goal to show for it. He didn’t feature in the Belgium defeat but has played the ninety in the three game since. Three games, three wins, zero conceded, don’t change it if it isn’t broken. Ozdoyev is a high contender for starting position in Russia’s midfield.
Leading The Line
Right Winger: Anton Miranchuk (23yrs), Lokomotiv Moscow (Rus).
This was actually going to be a lovely little segment about the two Miranchuk twins, Aleksei and Anton, both stars for Lokomotiv Moscow and the Russian national team, prepared just in advance of the last round of domestic fixtures before the international break. During Lokomotiv’s 2-1 loss to Rostov however, Aleksei sustained an injury which meant he could not continue the game and exited on the 30th minute mark, an injury which has also led his withdrawal from the Russia squad. Despite my frustrations, the articles loss is Scotland’s gain. Although his stats are inferior to his brothers, Anton is by no means to be underestimated. He has 10 caps for the Russian national side and has only scored a single goal, which came against San Marino. Anton made his debut for the Russians in 2017 along with Fernandes against South Korea, and along with his brother he made the cut for the finalised World Cup squad, although Aleksei was the only one to feature. More recently, in this campaign Anton made a substitute appearance against Belgium but didn’t feature in the Kazakhstan game. He also started both games in June and assisted and scored as mentioned against San Marino. Apart from his now injured brother, the only competition for this place as such in my eyes is from Aleksei Ionov. At 30 years young the Rostov man has 20 caps to his name and scored the crucial goal to help Russia to victory over the Cypriots. While Anton was the man to score for Lokomotiv at the weekend, Ionov assisted the winning goal for his own side. It’s hard to pick between the two of them for a starting spot but they’re both very strong candidates to help lead Russia’s line from the beginning on Friday.
Left Wing: Denis Cheryshev (28yrs), Valencia (Esp)
The former Real Madrid man has spent all his career in Spain. After progressing through the ranks at 'Los Blancos' he never quite made the cut at Real, and after a couple loan spells and injury troubles he now plays his football at Valencia after joining permanently in the summer. Opportunities on the international stage have also been limited. He only recently started to impress for their national team after he replaced injured Dzagoev in the 24th minute of the opening game at the World Cup against Saudi Arabia. He seized his opportunity and grabbed two goals for himself and continued his good form on their run to the quarter finals playing every game and scoring two more (ignoring an own goal he was credited with against Uruguay, nothing more than a cruel deflection). He played and scored three in the opening fixtures of Russia's Qualifiers against Belgium and Kazakhstan. He hasn't played much football since missing their June double header with San Marino and Cyprus. Having been out since April he returned around the start of August, and in Valencia's first three league games he only made two appearances as a substitute. Don't let his domestic football catch you out however. With 22 caps, 9 goals and a handful of assists he seems to be a player who can find form when the national team comes calling, and if fit he's more than a contender to start on the left flank for Russia.
Striker: Artem Dzyuba (31yrs), Zenit St. Petersburg (Rus).
El capitano. Almost without doubt leading the line will be this 6ft 5” monster of a man. With 36 caps and 20 goals as well as the role as team captain, Artem will be one to watch for sure. He grabbed 3 goals for himself at the World Cup finals, including an important equaliser in their last 16 tie with Spain, a game they won on penalties. So far this campaign he’s started every game for Russia and has 5 goals to show for it, although there are certainly higher achievements in international football than scoring 4 against San Marino. None the less they count, and his other was scored earlier in March as he found the net at the Astana Arena in Kazakhstan (something Scotland failed to do). Looking at Dzyuba and what he has brought to the Russian attacking line, it’s fair to say it would be a safe bet that their captain will start on Friday.
Predicted Starting XI for Russia vs Scotland
Well here it is in all its glory, my predicted Russian line-up. As mentioned, some seem nailed on starters whereas others could find themselves on the bench. Right midfield especially comes to mind here, Anton Miranchuk and Ionov both strong contenders for a start and opponents Steve Clarke will certainly be weary of. Let’s hope he’s done just as much homework as I have!
Finally, come on Scotland! Get yourself down to Hampden on Friday night to give the boys your backing and make that Hampden Roar. It’s certainly shaping up to be a cracking game.
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