CSKA Moscow beat Manchester City away from home? Really? Yes, even I couldn’t have imagined that. You don’t become Russian champions by being a bad team, but CSKA really have had a rough time of it at Europe’s top table of late. Six defeats out of your past seven UEFA Champions League games is nothing to write home about, and everyone was expecting the Russians to get rolled over in England. Just how wrong we were.
The Muscovites did come into this game with a bit of confidence though. Despite falling to Zenit 0-1 in a Russian top of the table clash on the weekend they have been in pretty decent form, scrapping to a 2-2 draw against Manchester City in Khimki, and progressing to the Russian Cup quarter finals, defeating Torpedo 2-0. Their biggest boost however came with the return of star forward Seydou Doumbia to the lineup.
The 26 year old Ivorian is a true goal machine in Russian football, and CSKA head coach Leonid Slutskiy was only happy to reinstall him into the team following a lengthy injury. And just how he made a difference. Right from the off CSKA rather surprisingly grabbed the initiative, and only seconds in their number 88 headed in a pinpoint Bibras Natcho set piece to give them the perfect start.
The perfect start that soon looked as though it was going to turn into another European nightmare. The hosts earned their own dangerous looking free kick six minutes later, and attacking midfielder Yaya Toure whipped it beautifully past despairing CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Incidentally it was an unbelievable 25th Champions League match in a row in which the Russian international had conceded, a tournament record. Nevertheless CSKA didn’t let that setback rock them at all, and set about taking full control of the game.
Handing the initiative to their opponents the Russians expertly picked out every hole in the Manchester defence when counterattacking, and just moments after missing a glorious opportunity, Seydou Doumbia made it two. Taking in a clever sliding pass from again Bibras Natcho, he made no mistake when clear in the penalty box.
It was always set up to be a nervy second half, but just how CSKA played so calmly. Browsing over social media after the game I came across a comment stating that it was the most assured and confident passing performance from a Russian club that this particular fan had ever seen, and it’s hard to disagree with him. They were simply outstanding.
Fearless one twos in midfield when surrounded, short snappy passes when breaking out of defence instead of hacking the ball clear, winning almost all second balls. If anyone had thought that Russian football was dead, then they need to take a look at a rerun of this match.
But of course, it’s hard to ignore the referee’s performance. Tasos Sidiopoulos, a Greek, certainly won’t be wanting to make any more trips to Manchester soon. The two red card decisions against the hosts he got right, but he made a huge mistake when booking CSKA defender Vasiliy Berezutskiy instead of Pontus Wernbloom, who himself was already on a booking.
He shouldn’t overshadow however what was just about the perfect game from CSKA. It takes guts to come to Manchester and play with such confidence and class, but they pulled it off spectacularly, and such a show of flowing passing football brought back memories of Zenit Saint Petersburg’s run to the UEFA Cup all the way back in 2008.
CSKA though have every hope of making the last 16 of the Champions League, as they are level on four points with second placed AS Roma. The next matchday happens to pitch the two clubs against each other in Moscow, but that can wait as we enjoy a day to remember for Russian football.