Red Review: Kazan’s Ruby fails to sparkle

If goals are a source of joy, spare a thought for the poor folk of Kazan, where their side, defending champions, Rubin, have scored just five times in the opening seven fixtures – with only two of those coming in their last five games. Pretty poor fare.

However, this chronic lack of firepower has not prevented the Ruby from occupying their customary spot at the business end of the table, because the miserly Tatarstanians have let just one goal in all season. As Jose Mourinho will smugly point out, if you do not concede you do not lose. It is not the purists view but Rubin have held a not dissimilar philosophy during the last two campaigns in which they have won the league. Never the most aesthetically pleasing of outfits, Rubin’s titles have been signatured with a strong team ethic with no passengers, good organisation and mentality, but enough individual quality and spark on hand to win games. This season not a great deal has changed, yet Gurban Berdyaev’s gameplan only seems to be working at one end of the field.

Firing four blanks from seven games suggests something is wrong at the cutting edge of the team, and a large part of the side’s creative gene was lost and not replaced when Alejandro Dominguez was sold to Valencia during pre-season. As well as notching sixteen league goals last term, the Argentinean playmaker possessed the flair and ingenuity to make and create the play and thus chances and goals. By trade, Rubin are an industrious side packed with artisans but lacking an artist, and that much is evident in their play. Too much of the goalscoring emphasis is lumbered on the promising but relatively inexperienced shoulders of Aleksandr Bukharov, who, after scoring sixteen times last season, has been ploughing a lone furrow behind the hustlers and harriers of the Rubin midfield. Bukharov pulled up with an injury on Saturday as Rubin laboured to another goalless draw against Anzhi, thus leaving the champions with a worrying lack of attacking options as they seek to resolve their goal drought. One thing which may help their cause is they will be no longer playing their home games on the treacherous surface at their Central Stadium. For weeks now the pitch has resembled the Somme, ruined from the harsh weather and heavy schedule it has endured of late. The Russian football federation have had enough at the sub-standard state of the baize and ordered them to play home games elsewhere whilst the pitch is fixed, but do not hold your breath waiting on a glut of goals.

Compared to Rubin, Zenit St. Petersburg have an embarrassment of attacking riches and appear an altogether more stylish vehicle. They now find themselves joint top of the table despite drawing 0-0 with Terek Grozny at the weekend. Zenit improved greatly on that effort and impressed during Wednesday’s re-arranged fixture at CSKA Moscow where they dominated proceedings from start to finish, winning 2-0 at the Khimki Arena. Zenit’s decisive second goal was indicative of the firepower in the final third they posses, which will make them a real force this season. After a swift break out, Aleksandr Kerzhakov picked up the ball on the left channel and loped goalwards. When on the edge of the box he was faced up by two defenders but cleverly shimmied and then shaped a lovely finish into the far corner. It was a clinical and classy dispatch from a proven scorer. Kerzhakov had earlier in his career earned a move to Sevilla after a number of prolific seasons in his first spell at Zenit but did not get going in Spain. Returning in 2008 and spending two years with Dinamo Moscow, he adds considerable penalty box prowess to Luciano Spalletti’s arsenal.

The ominous signs from Spalletti’s gun cabinet is that he is not just restricted to the sniper rifle that is Kerzhakov. Behind him Zenit boast Portuguese schemer Danny, the busy Italian winger Alessandro Rosina and Serbian striker Danko Lazovic. The who’s who continues with the national trio of Vladimir Bystrov, Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Denisov. It’s a handy gathering and Spalletti is a shrewd operator. If he can gel the forward threat with a good base, Zenit will take some stopping.

Prior to being dismantled by Zenit, the Army Men had hit four in a strong showing at basement boys Sibir. Dinamo ended their winless streak by nicking past Saturn 1-0, whilst the league’s top scorer Aleksandr Aliev, added his sixth of the campaign in a 2-1 win over Siberian’s Tom Tomsk. Spartak are still stuttering and were involved in another frequently recurring 0-0 draw with Nalchik, a result which kept the Caucasusians top of the pile.

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