After what was a rather convincing and gratifying performance at the Goodison Park, Manchester United do face a home encounter against Manchester City, but days before it, there’s an opposition that some would consider a tad easy to get rid of.
The side, who go by the name of CSKA Moscow, hardly seem to strike fear into the minds of United fans all over the world. Being a side hailing from Russia, people may consider them to belong to a nation where football isn’t as much prominent as it is in nations such as England, Spain or Germany. But Leonid Slutsky’s men aren’t pushovers, let me tell you.
CSKA Moscow currently top the Russian Premier League standings and have accumulated a total of 32 points, and are 5 points clear Locomotiv Moscow, who currently have 27 points. They have conceded 11 goals but have scored the most amount of goals in the division- 25, in a total of 12 games.
The Russian giants usually play a 4-2-3-1 formation, but let alone the playing style, it’s their stadium and the atmosphere in there that compliments Slutsky’s side in beating the opposition psychologically before the game kicks off. The hostile and unusually cold atmosphere gets on the nerves of the opposition, allowing CSKA to dominate them and beat them. Manchester City failed to beat the Horses in both of their encounters last season, home and away. And Bayern Munich had to play out of their skins to overcome them.
CSKA fielded a 4-4-1-1 shape during their last Champions League encounter, wherein they took on PSV Eindhoven and emerged 3-2 winners. At home, CSKA never back away from playing two up top and making two blocks of defending their goal, and breaking at the counter with both their wingers- former United flop Zoran Tosic and Ahmed Musa dropping in to support the two midfielders.
They have a lot of pace in wide areas, thanks to the presence of Ahmed Musa, who can be as quick as anybody on his day and Zoran Tosic on the right, who’s got pace and an eye for picking out a pass too. Musa has been in some form this season, having scored six times in the league and one in Europe. He’s quick and direct, in simple words. He currently leads the goalscoring charts with 6 goals, tied up there with Zenit star Hulk. The 28-year-old Tosic has a knack for springing a surprise against the powerhouse clubs and being a former United player himself, can’t be allowed to do his things. He has scored thrice in the Russian Premier League and has racked up as many assists.
A pivotal part of CSKA’s midfield foundation is 29-year-old Pontus Wernbloom. He’s been one of their standout performers this season and has chipped in with 2 goals too, having scored in their previous two encounters. He’s strong, physical and is a ball winning midfielder, who is very strong aerially and strong in the tackle. He’s won 62 percent of his aerial duels this season. Bibras Natkho, another important part of their midfield duo is an exactly opposite form of a midfielder. Unlike Wernbloom, Natkho happens to be attack minded and excels when it comes to passing attributes and finding the forward accompanying players. He supplies 1.3 key passes every game, which is dangerous indeed.
CSKA’s right full back- Mario Fernandes is known to be one of the best ones the world currently has, let alone the league itself. The 25-year-old is known to be a Borussia Dortmund target and is as complete a full back one can actually have. He always oozes with hunger, intent and determination and can perform defensive duties and attack just as well. He’s won 49 percent of his tackles and is 76 percent successful when it comes to winning headed battles.
The CSKA defense is known to act as if there’s a telepathic relationship between. Not just they, but the whole team has a good understanding and know each other almost inside out.
The experienced and well built Vasili Berezutski, who’s been a regular feature of the defense since 2002. A no-nonsense character, Berezutski has made 62 clearances so far, winning 60 percent of his average duels.
CSKA have a lot of pace on the break and against a side such as United, who have struggled against sides that pack a punch on counters since Louis van Gaal came in, have to be wary of the pace that they have in their ranks. Forward Seydou Doumbia, who has returned to the Khimki after a frustrating spell at Roma, is just as dangerous for the opposition. The Cote d’Ivoire man has scored 5 times and has assisted just as many times, and is one of the most deadliest finishers in the game. He is someone who’s quick and nippy and is also into playing others on goal.
All in all, CSKA are among the toughest draws one can actually get when playing them away from home. The atmosphere gets to you and you’re 1-0 down before the game has actually started. The weakness that they have that if they struggle against good movement and fluid football, that pertains to quick passing and good off the ball movement. More so, they sometimes outscore teams and don’t beat them as convincingly as they can.
United would’ve to be careful when playing them. Playing experienced players would be a key because the experience is what is required to play at such places. If CSKA do end up winning, I won’t refer to it as an upset at all.