It’s New Year’s Eve, a cold wind was blowing from the north but Ruslan had a warm feeling in his belly. The UN Security Council had just recognised the legitimacy of the United Republic of Russia & Ukraine, his friends Mike According and Ángel Bastardo are safe and have sought refuge in Colombia following the collapse of the Republic of La Plata.
(If you are interested in how this has been achieved see the slide show and timeline below. Some of this has already happened in your universe and some of it has yet to come to pass. Alternatively, if you don’t give a shit, move on to the update.).
Despite a strong showing in the league last season, finishing 3rd, it was clear the squad needed significant improvements especially considering that European football was on the horizon.
More dynamism was needed in midfield, a box to box midfielder, and a mezzala are fairly demanding roles physically and mentally. Two important signings were made over the summer to address this weakness. Firstly, 23-year-old Astemir Gordyushenko comes in on a Bosman from CSKA Moscow. Secondly, much later in the window, Denis Glusakov approached the club and no time was wasted agreeing to a deal. He becomes Anzhi’s top earner on £10.5k/week.
The departure of South American strikers Juan Lescano and Andrés Ponce left a gaping hole up front. Two players were signed to provide adequate cover and competition. First up, Timur Zhamaletdinov arrived on a free, again from CSKA Moscow. A few weeks later, agents from Ukraine secured the signature of team leader Taras Puchkovskyiv from Poltava. Puchkovskyi became one of Ruslan’s key Ukrainian agent provocateurs.
On deadline day the club managed to secure the loan, with an option to buy, model citizen, Eduard Sobol. Sobol became integral to the side in the Left Back position, so often a problem area for Anzhi. He was also the final Ukrainian piece in Ruslan’s puzzle, operation hammer and sickle was now in full swing.
Nine matches across five weeks put a strain on the squad right from the start. A regulation win against Orenburg was followed by a regulation defeat to Krasnodar. Then we were drawn to play FC Zürich in the Champions League Best Placed Third Qualifying round. One fly in the ointment was the news that the Anzhi Arena could not be used for home European ties due to health and safety concerns. Anzhi would have to play their home games in the much smaller, but safer, Central Astrakhan Gazprom stadium, on the banks of the Volga River. Given Ruslan’s background in the Swiss league, confidence was high Anzhi could progress. It was not to be, Zürich scored two goals from corners while Anzhi offered nothing in return. Only one-half chance being created in the 90 minutes despite having 63% of the possession. The return leg wasn’t any better, another lacklustre performance and 1-0 defeat ended Anzhi’s champions league hopes before the Summer sun had set.
The remaining five matches in the League yielded five wins, five clean sheets, and seven goals scored. Anzhi were dominating the ball and taking their chances when they arrived.
September saw the start of a little ‘wobble’ in form, a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Krylja Sovetov (a poor side who I have struggled to beat) was followed up in the league by a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal Tula. In between these games, Anzhi produced potentially the best performance of the save so far beating Sparta Prague 5-1 away from home, sending the 33 intrepid away supporters home happy. A hat trick of assists from right winger Konstantin Savichev a particular highlight. Onto the Kubok Rossii 5th round. The board expected the club to reach the 6th round, but after sacrificing the cup competitions during his tenure so far, Ruslan was aiming much higher this season. Drawing CSKA Moscow put a major dent in those aspirations, a 4-4-1-1 was trialled and it performed fairly well. A penalty shoot-out defeat after a 1-1 draw was, however, ultimately disappointing. The final game of the month against Rostov was drifting towards a boring 0-0 until Ruslan pushed his wide midfielders up to the AM strata. Two late goals from Zhamaletdinov sealed a precious 2-0 win.
The month started with a fantastic 2-0 win at the Central Astrakhan Gazprom stadium against Italian giants Roma. Two goals from corners and a red card for Lorenzo Pelligrini rather masked the backs to the wall nature of the game. Next up was a top of the table clash with unbeaten Lokomotiv Moscow. An early free-kick from Eduard Sobol was cancelled out late on by a fantastic bicycle kick from Oleg Shatov.
A draw was a fair result despite the lateness of the equaliser. Next up a trip to Moscow to take on CSKA, despite dominating proceedings Anzhi found themselves on the end of a 1-0 defeat thanks to a last minute goal from a corner. To add insult to injury Novoseltsev had just missed a penalty to put the Yellow-Greens ahead.
Swiss giants Young Boys were welcomed to Russia on matchday 3 of the Europa League. A 32nd-minute red card for Young Boys Central Midfielder Sékou Sanogo, along with an Anzhi goal from the resulting free-kick, had the home fans in raptures. It wasn’t to last as Anzhi, for the third game running, conceded in the last minute from a set piece. Extra training was arranged immediately, while Ruslan studied set piece routines from world-renowned expert Keysie Rensie. The 6th and final game of the month was a 1-0 win against Ufa in a game nobody will remember.
A great month yielding 4 wins out of 5. Starting with back to back 3-1 victories against Young Boys and Orenburg respectively. Zenit were defeated 1-0 in St Petersburg in a dominating performance during which Zenit only managed one solitary shot off target. Sparta Prague were dispatched 3-0 meaning Anzhi secured qualification from the group with a game to spare. The month finished off with a visit from Krasnodar, who had recently sacked Olé Gunnar Solskjær. What followed, can only be described as a disgraceful, and equally inexplicable, crushing 5-2 defeat during which Anzhi found themselves 5-0 down with two of the goals being own goals from goalkeeper Kvaskhvadze; something which was to become a theme.
The month started with two, now regulation wins against Ural and Akhmet. Anzhi’s last Europa league game was a shoot out for top spot against Roma. Given that head to head was the deciding factor between teams on equal points, Anzhi could afford a 2-0 defeat and still top the group. Ruslan decided to give some minutes to players who, as yet, had not really featured this season. This proved to be a disastrous decision. Already 1-0 down when Centre Back Stezhko was sent off, Anzhi proceeded to concede another four goals, one of which was another own goal from goalkeeper Kvaskhvadze. A final score of 5-1 consigned Anzhi to second place.
In the final game before the winter break, Tambov were dispatched 5-0 in a game that included a hattrick of long shots from Denis Glushakov. All in all a fantastic start to the season, sitting second in the league with European knock-out football to look forward to during the long Russian winter break. I don’t think we can mount a title challenge but the aim for the second half of the season is certainly to hold onto second spot and qualify for the champions league again (Russia lost a champions league place just this season so third won’t be enough.). As for the Europa League, Ajax await in the knockout rounds during our winter break. It will be a big ask of the players to be ready for such a difficult game.
During the winter break, Ruslan has been on operations and been generally very busy with all things dark. This has been documented on the brilliant FM Grasshopper blog. Please check it out. A match in focus was also completed against according to FM, of one more game podcast fame, and was analysed by FM Grasshopper, this will serve as this editions “match in focus”.
Comrade! If you have made it this far thanks very much for reading. If you haven’t a clue what is going on you can read earlier posts here.
You can also follow Ruslan Chepiga on twitter.
Over and out FMEadster!