Russia head into the FIFA World Cup 2018 tournament, with a huge weight of expectation on them, given they are the proud host nation. In this article I hope to give you a guide to the hosts and what to expect from them on home soil. Many eyes will be not just on the team, but the country as a whole and just how welcoming a host nation they are throughout the competition.
Russia qualified automatically as hosts and have been placed in Group A, alongside Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Egypt. This is a rather favourable draw I’m sure you will all agree, and with the opening fixture against the Saudis the home side will be looking to get off the mark early on, securing all three points, building momentum before stiffer tests await down the line.
I’m sure like many of you we watched them being eliminated in the group stages of last year’s Confederations Cup. The semi-final of the World Cup has been set out as a target for the host nation, however I do feel that may prove a tad optimistic with the level of players at the managers’ disposal.
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Cherchesov, is the man tasked with leading the hosts, previous stops have included Dinamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw, the latter being the reason he has been handed the job, after leading Legia to a very impressive domestic double in 2016. I wouldn’t expect or envision him getting to comfy in the job as he left both clubs following disputes, and will likely pay the price should Russia fail to live up to the high expectation level.
In a time of transition for the squad though Cherchesov is known as someone who is willing to give chances to youth, this is something that the Russian squad has been desperately needing for some time.
Igor Akinfeev, Vladimir Gabulov, Andrey Lunyov
Georgi Dzhikiya, Mario Fernandes, Vladimir Granat, Dmitri Kombarov, Fyodor Kudryashov, Ilya Kutepov, Konstantin Rausch, Igor Smolinkov, Yuri Zhirkov
Alan Dzagoev, Denis Glushakov, Aleksandr Golovin, Aleksei Miranchuk, Anton Miranchuk, Oleg Shatov, Roman Zobnin
Artem Dzyuba, Fyodor Smolov, Anton Zabolotny
In favouring a back three Russia’s tactical structure is relatively fluid depending on the position of the ball and whether they are in the attacking or defensive phase. At times when defending we see a 5-3-2 whilst in attack a 3-4-2-1.
Russia, play an attacking, highly entertaining brand of football. The formation may sound like something you would find in or attempt in Football or Championship Manager, however what it does deliver is goals, keeping them out will be the Russians biggest problem. A lack of any real international experience at centre back may get exposed on the world stage.
Whilst Russia are good to watch in the attacking phase carrying no small threat to the opposition goal they can be caught out of position in the immediate transition from attack to defence.
Here we see an example with the Russian attack breaking down, the Spanish quickly move the ball in to space in the half space and a simple through ball breaks the defensive line of Russia and releases a Spanish player in to acres of space. The positioning of the three Russian defenders is extremely questionable will all three being caught over at the far side.
Here we see some of the fluidity that Russia can offer in the attacking phase. As they break in to the Spanish half the forward, Fedor Smolov pulls out of the immediate centre on to the shoulder Gerard Pique, the far side centre back. This subtle movement is enough to stretch the space between the two Spanish central defenders and the first pass to Smolov creates the opportunity for the runner from deep to attack the gap before receiving a simple first time pass from Smolov and breaking in to the penalty area.
The phrase that springs to mind when describing Dzagoev is, made of glass. Keeping him fit will be the key factor in just how far Russia can progress. The talented midfield playmaker was joint top at Euro 2012 but could only manage just over an hour at the last World Cup, before injury struck. Missing both Euro 2016 and last summers Confederations Cup with injury. He is a player who has the whole package, fantastic technique, pace to burn and can thread a pass, just how much we will get to see of that will be down to his body that continually lets him down.
If fit then expect to see Dzagoev controlling and dictating the game from the centre of the field. His ability to link with the attackers in particular could well be key for the Russians if they are to advance from their group.
Young Player to Watch
Aleksey Miranchuk, is the rising star of Russian football, a goal threat from the role just behind the forwards, his left foot has been one of the main reasons for his club Locomotiv Moscow’s assent to the top of domestic football. Perhaps he and many others will be looking to catch the eye of scouts from the big leagues around the world, after all there is no better showcase than the greatest tournament in the world.
He is in the squad along with his twin brother Anton although it is Aleksei who is being tipped to make a significant impact on the tournament, especially if the Russians are able to qualify for the knockout round. His ability to get in to the penalty area and support the front man in particular could be key for Russia in the attacking phase.
Traditionally in major tournaments the main issue around the Russian side is the lack of goals. This should be less of a problem this time around with the Krasnodar forward Fyodor Smolov looking to impress enough to finally earn the move to Western Europe that has been strongly touted for the last two seasons.
Strong both physically and technically the forward displays excellent movement in and around the penalty area and is intelligent enough to link up the play in the attacking phase. In the group stage in particular the Russian side could well rely heavily on his goal threat.
The sheer fact the majority of the squad play in Russia, is something that should help with the familiarity of the grounds. Russian players are famous for not travelling well, so if they are to ever do anything of noteworthy at a major tournament you feel this could be it. Backed by a fanatical home support, failure to get past the group stages this time is not an option. There is no out-and-out superstars in this squad, the golden generation of Russian football has passed. This is a team that will rely upon hard work and pace, to break down the opponents.
Russia have exited seven of the eight tournaments they have featured in at the group stage since they started competing as Russia. A stronger showing will be expected this time around, and whilst they may not be everyone’s favourite nation I’m predicting Russia to qualify in second place behind Uruguay. They might just surprise a few onlookers with their brand and style.