Early July 2021, it has been almost 13 years since Russia last invaded Georgia and took military control of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. The time had come to finish the job, the reintegration of Georgia was the next phase of operation Yellow Hammer.
While the world’s gaze was on the World Athletics Championships in the United States, Russia had other plans. The starting gun for the 100m final signalled the largest movement of Russian troops since World War Two. Tanks based in South Ossetia advanced on Tbilisi overrunning the capital before the gold medal ceremony was even completed. The next morning, tanks from Abkhazia, backed by sea support from the Russian navy, who had blockaded the Georgian naval base at Poti, rolled into the undefended state of Adzharia. The capital Batumi was taken without a shot being fired, hundreds of western holiday makers were given 24 hours to leave. Day three saw the arrival of reinforcements crossing the mountains from Dagestan; Comrade Chepiga among them.
Western countries, as expected, condemned the move, but did little. With oil and gas in short supply after Ruslan closed the pipelines, western countries were in no position to resist. Indeed, by the fourth day the closing ceremony of the Athletics had prime slot across western news outlets The invasion only trended on twitter after President Trump wrongly tweeted that Russia had invaded mainland U.S.A. thinking his generals had been briefing him about the U.S. state of Georgia. The fact remained that the people of Georgia didn’t matter enough to the western allies to risk all out war with Russia. The Kremlin was banking on this, and the continued appeasement of the Russia Bear gave its generals even more confidence, that the ultimate aim of operation Yellow Hammer could succeed. On day five Ruslan drove a tank through the centre of Tibilisi declaring full Russian sovereignty over Georgia. He was disappointed in a way, it had been too easy.
Upon his return from duty, Ruslan had to act fast in the transfer window. The club’s finances were boosted by a 2nd place finish in the league, and a run to the Europa League knockouts. As a result, we were handed a £8million transfer kitty from the £12million Anzhi now had in the bank. To take the side to the next level all of it was spent on five players who would improve the first team. As mentioned in the opening post of the save, signings are limited to players from the former Eastern Bloc, and the wider Comecon countries.
First to join the club was Petr Malakov, a young Defensive Midfielder, who had a £475k relegation release clause in his Ruban Kazan contract, which we activated. I really like him, and think he will grow into a decent player for us.
One of the most important positions for my system is the Left Back. I need him to be equally good going forward, as he is in defence. He needs tremendous work-rate and a good engine to get up and down the flank. I struggled to find anyone to replace Eduard Sobol who wouldn’t sign for us after his loan finished. Mikhail Lysov was transfer listed by champions Lokomotiv for £2.6m, and I decided to bring him in. I don’t think he will be the long term solution, due to his below average technical ability, but he will certainly help us now.
If you read my earlier updates from last season, you’ll notice we conceded a lot of goals from free-kicks and corners. It was clear we were lacking a commanding centre back. I drew up a shortlist of three players I felt could improve us. I was unable to get my number one target from Ukrainian side, Olexandriya but, I was able to do a deal for his team mate Glib Bukhal. Bukhal cost £3m making him the most expensive player I have signed, but I am sure he will improve us defensively.
Next on my target list was someone who could bring a bit of creativity to the side. One player kept appearing on my positional shortlists, Cristian Ponde. My scouts believed he could be acquired relatively cheaply, and we did a deal for £1.4m. Now, the eagle eyed among you may have noticed he is Portuguese, and therefore not from the former Eastern Bloc. I have taken a Stat App view here, in that, his second nationality is Romanian. He represents a vast improvement to the side in the forward positions, although I am not 100% sure where to best use him.
Finally, and fairly late in the window, my Ukrainian agents reported that Goalkeeper, Maxym Koval was transfer listed, for £3m, by Dynamo Kiev. By this stage we had no money left, so I got creative. I offered to pay the transfer over 24 months meaning some of the fee counted against next years transfer budget. I also noticed that Kiev were “looking for a centre back”, so on a whim, I offered them my now third choice centre back, Vitaly Stezhko. I can’t recall the last time the AI accepted a part exchange deal, I was surprised, and pleased, when Kiev agreed to the deal.
Armed with these new faces, I was very confident we could maintain our position in the league, and challenge for the Champions League places again. I also hoped for some cup success, and a run in Europe lasting past the winter break. Read on to find out how we fared in the first part of the season.
Just the ten games to start the season, and what a start it was. Six league games, four wins, a draw, and the one, now familiar, defeat to Krasnodar. The main focus this month was Champions League Qualification. First up, Turkish giants, Beşiktaş. A thrilling 3-3 draw away from home left us in a nice position going into the home leg. Another 1-0 win, limiting Beşiktaş to two shots on target, was very welcome. Next up, we faced Feyenoord who were billed as heavy favourites. The Caspian Lads had other ideas, in the best performance of the save, we roared out of the traps putting Feyenoord under relentless pressure, scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes. Of course an away goal would undo all this, so at half time the players were told to not get complacent. We managed to score a third through Centre Back Likhachev, whilst also keeping Feyenoord out at the other end. Just over a week later we travelled to the Netherlands with a healthy three goal advantage. Denis Glushakov all but finished the tie in Anzhi’s favour, scoring after three minutes. Feyenoord did equalise but we held them at arm’s length really well after that to win 4-1 on aggregate, and qualify for the Champions League group stages. The money from this will be a game changer for Anzhi. Hopefully we get a decent group, and can at least finish third to keep our European adventure going after the winter break….
September was another decent month. Three league games, two wins, and a draw. We were dominating the ball and taking our chances when they came along. It was disappointing to narrowly lose both Champions League games, especially against the two ‘weaker’ teams in the group. There were encouraging signs in both games, and I remained confident we could nick third place. Once again, the cup draw has been terrible for us. Top division sides don’t enter until the 5th round, and we have never played a team from the lower divisions, indeed, we have never played a team outside Moscow. After all the games we’d played recently, we rotated heavily against Spartak and paid the price, going down 4-0.
A much quieter month, just three matches. League form was still fantastic, two wins from two, and Anzhi supporters were starting to think a title challenge could be on the cards. We travelled to the Camp Nou full of excitement. Word reached us that Messi was out for four months with a Hip injury, could Anzhi do it?
In short, no, we could not. I watched the comprehensive highlights from behind the sofa. Every time Dembélé got the ball, he beat our Full Back. His pace, power, and skill proved far too much for us. He had the most touches of anyone on the night, and provided both assists for Barcelona’s goals. In reality it was a routine 2-0 win for the Catalan giants.
November started by welcoming Barcelona to Russia. Slight changes were made, we decided to tackle Dembélé hard, and show him onto his right foot (down the line). Secondly, we went more direct, Goalkeeper Koval was instructed to distribute ‘over opposition defence’. This paid dividends after only two minutes with this delightful goal from Complete Forward, Puchkovskyi.
It wasn’t to last, as our nemises Dembélé equalised with Barcelona’s first chance nine minutes later. We kept Barcelona out for the rest of the game to register our first points, and keep alive our hopes of finishing third.
In the league we registered two wins, and one draw. We were flying, although only sitting fourth as we had played three games less than our rivals ahead of us. We faced Porto in a ‘do or die’ Champions League tie. Once again we played well, but offered little threat going forward and succumbed 1-0, ending our European adventure this season. Before the match against Khabarovsk it hadn’t gone unnoticed that Anzhi had only scored two goals in four games. Moreover, we weren’t creating much at all, and it was starting to trend on the FM Social tab. A move to a Positive mentality seemed to do the trick and Khabarovsk were comfortably dispatched 3-1.
December is always a short month in Russia ahead of the winter break. Three defeats across the month and only two goals scored. Creating good chances was certainly becoming an issue. We rotated the squad against Lazio, and despite taking the lead we fell to another defeat. We finished fourth with only a solitary point to our name. Five defeats, and a goal difference of only minus six was, somewhat, commendable.
The 3-1 defeat to Ufa, in the last game prior to the break, was easily the worst performance of the season. We were, however, still in good shape going into the second part of the season. Perhaps, with some January additions, a title challenge could be mounted…..Tune in next time to find out.
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.
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Over and out FMEadster!