sports blog by andy shenk

Anzhi Makhachkala Season Preview

In Anzhi, Dagestan, Russian Football on July 11, 2013 at 2:21 PM

Posted at Russian Football News, my thoughts on Anzhi Makhachkala’s upcoming Premier League campaign.  Third in the league last season has only whet Guus Hiddink’s appetite. Anzhi are on the march for gold this season. Click here or at the end of this excerpt to read the entire article.

INTRO: Looking back, Anzhi enjoyed plenty of success last season. The club advanced to the round of 16 in the Europa League, after starting the competition in mid July in the 2nd qualifying round. Guus Hiddink’s men finished 3rd in the league, Anzhi’s first medal, and redemption for 2000, when Torpedo Moscow converted a penalty in added time on the last day of the season to deny Anzhi the bronze medal. Plus, Makhachkala reached the Russian Cup Final, dispatching Dynamo and Zenit in the process.

But Samuel Eto’o and co. could have had more. They trailed CSKA by just two points with 11 matches to play, before inexplicably taking just 2 points combined from Krasnodar, Mordovia, Alania, Krylia Sovetov and Terek in the spring. CSKA finished with 64 points to Anzhi’s 53, while Zenit cruised into second with 62 to snag the second Champion’s League place. Adding insult to injury, Anzhi crashed out of the Europa League on a last-gasp goal from Newcastle United and fell to CSKA in the Russian Cup Final on penalties.

Coming into the new season, Anzhi’s sights are set on Champions League qualification. Injuries to several wing players, Andrei Eschenko, Yuri Zhirkov and Arseni Logashov, leave the team a bit short-handed, particularly on defense, but several key additions – Igor Denisov, Aleksandr Kokorin, Aleksei Ionov and Chris Samba – mean that once healthy, Anzhi will have one of the deepest and most talented squads in the RPL.

GREATEST STRENGTH: Depth, outside of the back line. Anzhi have six top-notch options on offense – Samuel Eto’o, Lacina Traore, Aleksandr Kokorin, Willian, Yuri Zhirkov and Mbarak Boussoufa – plus talented youngsters Aleksei Ionov, Oleg Shatov and Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez. There’s a chance Carcela-Gonzalez will leave this summer, but Anzhi certainly have the tools to score in bunches and compete on three fronts (domestic league, Europa League and Russian Cup).

The center and defensive midfield positions are loaded, too, featuring Jucilei, Odil Akhmedov, Igor Denisov and Lassana Diarra.

GREATEST WEAKNESS: It’s on the back line that Anzhi will struggle the most. Left back Andrei Eschenko, who started for the Russian national team last fall and winter, is out until at least December. Right back Arseni Logashov, who’s earned several call-ups from Fabio Capello, is also returning from injury, though he should be ready to play within a few weeks. In the meantime, Anzhi veterans Rasim Tagirbekov and Ali Gadzhibekov will likely see significant time at the wide-back position. Ewerton, Joao Carlos and Chris Samba will anchor the defense in front of goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov.

Joao Carlos and Chris Samba were Hiddink’s favorite combination last fall, before the Congolese’s unexpected flight to England, and will likely play together often this season. But Anzhi need 24-year-old Ewerton, or perhaps Tagirbekov or Gadzhibekov, both familiar with the center back position, to improve. It appears 31-year-old Joao Carlos’s best years are behind him and there’s no guarantee that Samba will return to the form he was in last fall or that he’ll stick around forever. The best bet is that Anzhi will bring in another defensive player or two, either this summer or during the winter, but until then they’ll need a mix of good health and improved performances to allow Anzhi to mount a serious title challenge.

Continue reading at Russian Football News.

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