Euro 2020 preview, Group B – Russia: Artur Petrosyan thinks Russia could find it tough
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, Artur Petrosyan gives us his take on Russia…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
There’s a lot of optimism among Russian fans after arguably the national team’s best-ever result at a major tournament when they reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup 2018 and beat mighty Spain along the way. Now, another quarter-final is the minimum the majority of fans demand at Euro 2020.
Reality bites though, with the team being far from what it could be over the past six months or so. A six-game winless streak at the end of 2020 with 11 goals conceded and just four scored exposed quite a few of the problems Russia have.
If Stanislav Cherchesov manages to solve them, there is a hope of another place in the knock-out stages with a slim chance of meeting the fans’ expectations and getting to the last eight.
Having to play what could prove to be the vital last game of the group stage against Denmark at the opponents’ ground in Copenhagen, and then a possible match-up with one of Germany, France, Portugal or Spain obviously reduces that level of optimism, though.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
If you look at the players’ market value, just one of them is worth more than 20 million euros, according to Transfermarkt [Monaco’s Aleksandr Golovin].
Obviously, any team that lacks individual quality and is short of attacking talent, have to focus on something else. That’s exactly the case here. Russia under Cherchesov have impressed with their organisation, tireless working, pressing and the ability of squeezing the maximum out of their limited forward options. Another thing is the tactical flexibility with the team able to easily switch between different systems depending on the opponents.
And any weaknesses?
With the vast majority of the team plying their trade in the Russian Premier League, you can guess there is not much quality in this team at both ends of the pitch.
There is not enough speed and individual skills at the heart of defence, 37-year-old Yuri Zhirkov is still preferred to his younger teammates on the wing.
Playing on to the big man – Artem Dzyuba – still seems to be one of the few potentially successful ways to start off attacks. Russia lacks creativity in possession with Aleksandr Golovin, the team’s brightest star at the moment, still trying to become its leader and transform his huge potential into success on international level.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
Russia have Aleksandr Golovin playing for Monaco and Alexei Miranchuk trying to prove his worth at Atalanta, but the national team’s star player is still the one who’s never got the chance to play in Europe – Artem Dzyuba.
The 6ft6 forward is not just a captain, he is the leader of this team, on and off the pitch. He may now be 32 years of age but neither his club side Zenit nor Russia would feel comfortable in his absence.
Dzyuba has just become Russian Premier League’s best goalscorer for the second straight season, scoring 20 goals in 27 appearances in 2020/21. He is not just a target man – Dzyuba is unselfish when creating chances for teammates, tactically astute, good at pressing, holding on to the ball and his presence is always felt in both boxes at set pieces.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
It is sad the biggest sensation of the season in Russia, Arsen Zakharyan, who’s just turned 18, had tonsillitis symptoms and could not make it in the final squad. But the only other teenager in the team, Maksim Mukhin, could be a breakthrough star.
Not many heard about the boy just a few months ago, but really mature, solid and consistent performances of the then Lokomotiv player drew the attention of everyone, including Stanislav Cherchesov. Mukhin, who just moved to CSKA last week, is a mobile holding midfielder with great vision, he is tactically astute, positions himself well, wins a lot of second balls and starts the attacks. He’ll unlikely start Russia’s first two games but look out for him whenever he gets a chance from the bench.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
I’m pretty skeptical about Russia’s chances this summer, to be honest. I don’t think Russia stand much chance against Belgium – the Sbornaya lost both games against the FIFA’s highest ranked team in the Euro qualification in 2019, conceding seven goals.
Finland are the team to beat on paper and it seems to be the only game where Russia could guarantee themselves three points. Denmark in Copenhagen is the game that will be the real test. There are similarities between the two teams in terms of tactical approach but the Danes’s seemingly better physical shape and more quality in possession could give them the edge.
There is no guarantee Russia can qualify with three points and if it is four, then the next match against one of the big boys will likely be their last in the tournament.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
I will not be original here. Have to go with France – to me, they are the best national team in the world right now. And the top scorer – Kylian Mbappe, who else?