To Russia – with AVB


And so we head off into the wilds of deepest Russia – well we would if FC Anzhi were playing at their home ground as the club is based in Makhachkala, capital of the Republic of Dagestan, and Dagestan – as we all know – is on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and is even further away than Tblisi – our last away day in Europe.

But Anzhi don´t play their European games at home – they prefer to travel thousands of miles to Ramenskoye, a small town on the outskirts of and to the south east of Moscow, and stage the games at the Saturn Stadium – home of FC Saturn Moscow Oblast – but it is still quite a trek. The ground is quite new – built in the late 1990s – but also quite small, just over 16,000 capacity, so if you haven´t got a ticket don´t bother going as it is probably sold out.

Founded in 1991, Anzhi currently play in the Russian Premier League, but are something of a yo-yo team having been up and down twice in the last decade. In January 2011, they were purchased by billionaire oligarch, politician and friend of Roman the Blue – Suleyman Kerimov. He went on a massive spending spree, which seriously put his mate´s efforts into the shade, with every player and his agent being linked with a high profile and highly profitable move east. These included Roberto Carlos, Diego Tardelli, Lassana Diarra, Samuel Eto`o, Christopher Samba, Willian Borges de Silva (yes him) Lacina Traore and the managerial appointment of Guus Hiddink in February 2012. All but Traore have since left the club as the owner decided to throw all his expensive toys out of his pram when they failed to win him the title in his first season – sound familiar?

Which, of course, is good news for us in one sense as I would much prefer facing the likes of Vadim Demidov and Gia Grigalava than any of those named previously. No disrespect to the two, who are both internationals, but Norwegians and Georgians do not fill us with as much dread as a whole host of Brazilians and Africans.

So it will be easier than it could have been but we still need to turn up and perform. With the first team stuttering into life only in patches, it is time for the “fringe” players to once again step up and prove what they are capable of. So far this season the midweek team have outperformed their more illustrious weekend team-mates with four wins out of four, 15 goals and none against. More of that and these guys will be knocking on AVB´s door insisting they start in the Premiership.

The squad will be rotated – that is for sure – but with only one further game (at home to WetSpam) before the next International break, who will be in and who will be out? Unless AVB is intent on starting Lamela and Holtby on Sunday both will feature tomorrow, with Defoe up front. Chadli will surely make up the rest of the attacking quartet so who to partner the unfortunate Sandro in midfield.

I say unfortunate because he was everyone´s favourite this time last season and now he languishes in the depths of the “second team” when he should have been on for the majority of the second half against Chelski as they overan our midfield. Paulinho was looking very weary towards the end of that match and Dembele has the habit of not lasting a full 90 minutes and with Capoue not fully fit we suddenly do not have the strength in depth we thought we had. I would expect to see both play one half each.

Defence does not appear to be such a problem – unless Scarface Vertonghen has not recovered from his ordeal at the hand of the bull – as either he or Dawson alongside Naughton, Chiriches and Fryers should all be strong enough to cope. Of course, if Kaboul and Rose are now fit – which is a possibility – they will come into the reckoning.

Whichever team is put out, it will be more than strong enough to beat a weakened Russian team. Despite winning all our midweek fixtures quite handsomely I will go with a less than convincing 2-0 victory.

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