Who is CSKA Moscow: Profiling AEK’s Champions’ League Opponents
AEK were handed a tough draw in the form of CSKA Moscow in the Champions’ League qualifiers. AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis takes a look at the historic Russian side and what AEK fans can expect.
Founded in 1911, CSKA Moscow have a rich history as one of Russia’s most successful football clubs. Even though Zenit has emerged as the new powerhouse in the Russian game, CSKA have still managed six league titles since 2003. In CSKA, AEK will face a formidable side who have managed to qualify for the Group Stage of the Champions’ League in nine of the last ten seasons. In fact, CSKA have never lost in the 3rd qualifying round of the competition, only failing to make the Group Stage once and that was at the Playoffs stage.
This current side is a strong unit who enjoy the fact that they the core of the team have played together for years. Many of the players within the squad have formed the spine of the Russian national side over the last decade. One question is whether the vast experience inherent in the squad is slowly turning into a negative. Many of the key players are approaching the end of their careers and AEK could exploit a backline that is old and error-prone.
Despite the older look to the team, this is a side that deserves vast respect and AEK surely begin as the underdogs. CSKA have shown they are experts at getting through to the Group Stage and have found success in Europe over the years, most notably in 2004/05 when the club managed to win the UEFA Cup, a feat which remains the high point in CSKA’s storied history.
Stadium: VEB Arena (Capacity 30,000)
Titles Won: 13 Russian Premier League Titles, 12 Russian Cups, 6 Russian Super Cups, 1 UEFA Cup
Coach: Viktor Goncharenko
40-year-old Viktor Goncharenko is the man charged with leading CSKA back to the Champions’ League. The Belarus manager succeeded Leonid Slutsky last December. Slutsky had managed the Moscow side for over seven years so his departure was the end of an era. Goncharenko was Slutsky’s assistant for a season so the club hired from within.
Goncharenko has coached in Russia before with Kuban Krasnodar, Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast, and FC Ufa. On all three occasions he hasn’t quite managed to find success, however he is still considered a promising young manager. Goncharenko began his career with a bang in a six-year spell with BATE Borisov. He led the club to five consecutive Belarusian Premier League titles and into the Champions’ League, becoming the youngest ever manager to coach a team in the Group Stage of the competition.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Russians have some recognizable names in the squad such as long-serving goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and Alan Dzagoev. Akinfeev has spent his entire 14-year career with the club amassing 371 appearances in the CSKA shirt. Dzagoev may have not ever lived up to his initial hype, but the 27-year-old is still capable of turning a match on its head with a moment of brilliance.
Attacking midfielder Vitinho has found form recently and is a key player in the side. Fellow Brazilian Mario Fernandes is a key player who can bomb up and down the flanks. In the midfield, Pontus Wernbloom, former PAOK player Bibras Natkho, and Aleksandr Golovin offer solidity, experience, and help protect the creaky defense.
LAST SEASON RECAP
CSKA finished in 2nd place in the Russian Premier League last season, seven points behind champions and city rivals Spartak Moscow and one point above Zenit. After an indifferent start to the season, CSKA really pulled it together in the second half of the campaign as the installment of Goncharenko seemed to improve the club’s form. In European competition, CSKA made it to the Group Stage of the Champions’ League, finishing last in a section that also included Monaco, Tottenham, and Bayer Leverkusen.
THIS YEAR IN EUROPE
CSKA begin their European campaign with this 3rd qualifying round encounter against AEK.
PRIOR HISTORY VERSUS GREEK CLUBS
CSKA have only faced Greek opponents once and that was in the 2011/12 season. CSKA met up against PAOK in the Europa League Round of 32, defeating the Thessaloniki side 2-1 on aggregate. CSKA won the away leg in Toumba 1-0 and settled for a 1-1 home draw.