Spartak Moscow 0-1 Rubin Kazan: Rubin’s early strike and brilliant defence gets them the win

July 22, 2010

The starting line-ups

You thought football had stopped for a month, didn’t you?

Well, not in the Russian Premier League, which has restarted after a brief break over the World Cup. This match between Spartak and Rubin is something of a glamour tie – 2nd v 1st from last season, and these two clubs have therefore both qualified for the group stages of the 2010/11 Champions League.

Both sides set out in 4-2-3-1 shapes, and both had made changes. Spartak were without Welliton and had to move Ari into an unfamiliar lone striking role, supported by an interchangeable line of three, with Jano Ananidze and Alex taking it in turns to drift from the left.

Rubin welcomed back Cristian Ansaldi after injury, and also had to change their left-back, where Lasha Salukvadze came in for Evgeni Balyaikin.

It seems strange to say that a game was ruined by a goal, but Cristian Noboa’s fortunate strike after just three minutes was the worst thing that could have happened for the game as a spectacle. His cross-shot following a corner evaded everyone and sneaked inside the near post to give Rubin the advantage before the game had even settled down. Rubin immediately sat back, defended and looked to play on the break – they do that anyway, but here they had even less attacking intent than usual for the vast majority of the game.

That’s not to say that this wasn’t an interesting game, but it became a situation we’ve seen so regularly in recent months – one side attacks but has no penetration, the other defends deep and narrow with eight players in two banks of four.

Spartak show sparks

The most interesting battle was in the inside-left position for Spartak, where Alex and Ananidze were causing problems, and getting into positions for long-range shots. Alex was drifting all over the pitch, even popping up at left-back to get things going, whilst Ananidze looked threatening but his final delivery was often poor. They were tempting Lasha Salukvadze high up the pitch and forcing Rubin’s otherwise positionally perfect defence to shuffle across, creating gaps, but they couldn’t exploit this enough to create many significant chances.

Rubin were quiet going forward. Their main tactic was to play long balls towards Bukharov, who either held it up or flicked it on for the onrushing veteran Sergei Semak, and their only other shot of the first half was through this approach – but Semak’s shot when one-on-one with Soslan Dyharayev was pitifully weak. Those two essentially played as a front two despite playing in a 4-2-3-1 – think Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres at Liverpool.

Rubin defend brilliantly – as usual

Defensively, however, they are fantastic. With only three goals conceded in their thirteen league games so far, they are superbly organised, defending from the front – the forward two started by closing down quite aggressively, but in the intense heat they ended up dropping into their own half and making it difficult for Spartak to play through them. The two banks of four play reasonably narrow and keep it tight between the lines.

The Rubin centre-backs and central midfielders play particularly close together, creating that impenetrable defensive ’square’ that has made the 4-2-3-1 so popular. Every time Spartak got the ball into the final third, the player in possession generally found themselves up against two Rubin players, as the situation was often 8 v 4 in Rubin’s favour in that area of the pitch.

Spartak send others forward

Spartak only threatened when they tried to address this numerical disadvantage. Their better chances came when the full-backs provided overlaps, stretching the defence (who were set up to play against four rather central Spartak attackers) and providing crosses into the box. The other route of attack was when Ibson got himself forward, as one of Rubin’s midfielders were forced to move out of position and come towards the Brazilian, breaking the two banks of four.

It was no surprise that the closest Spartak got to scoring was when these two approaches combined. Sergei Parshivlyuk motored forward down the right and chipped in an excellent cross towards the near post, where Ibson glanced a header across goal, and off the crossbar. That, towards the end of the first half, demonstrated how Spartak might break through in the second.

Despite the full-backs increasingly getting forward, however, they couldn’t manage a goal. Semak dropped deeper and deeper until the system became more like a 4-5-1, and Ibson’s runs forward were less effective. Little changed tactically until Spartak brought on their bright young winger Aleksandr Kozlov, who started from the right and provided a direct threat with his pace and trickery – he had an effort that was narrowly deflected over the bar.

No further goals

In truth, what they lacked was a real goal-poacher, in the absence of their main striker. Ari failed to convince as a lone striker – seemingly not sure whether he was meant to drop deep as a false nine, drift to the wings to draw the centre-backs out of position, or stay central and look for goals. He missed his one chance.

Despite seeing little of the ball, Rubin looked equally likely to score on a counter-attack. It was one of these moves that resulted in Spartak’s Fedor Kudryashov getting a second yellow card for a cynical shirt pull in the final moments, but it mattered little.


Valery Karpin remains under huge pressure, and may well not be in a job by the time Spartak kick off their Champions League campaign. The basic ingredients for success are there – they keep creating chances and dominating games, but seventh place in the league tells its own story.

The major story from Rubin’s point of view was not the win, but the fact it was the last game before Alexander Bukharov leaves for Zenit St Petersburg. Losing your main forward is not advisable when you play with a lone striker system that uses him as the focal point, and it will be interesting to see how Gurban Berdiyew adapts. The signing of Obafemi Martins could be seen as a straight replacement, but they are completely different players, and the Nigerian’s arrival will surely see Rubin forced to change the way they play.

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