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After 10 months of thrilling Russian Premier League action, finally, the season has come to a close. While it will always be remembered for the title returning to Moscow for the first time in 6 years with CSKA Moscow, there were plenty of other moments which will prove hard to forget.
Mordovia and Alania have gone back to where they came from, the First Division, and Moscow giants Dynamo failed to recover from their disastrous start quick enough to take a European slot for next season.
So many players managed to catch the headlines, but here is my own personal opinion, of which players deserve to be in the team of the season. 11 places doesn’t give enough space to include everyone who should be there, but here are the players, which were just too good to ignore.
Alexander Belenov- Kuban Krasnodar, goalkeeper; a Spartak Moscow reject, he has gone on to establish himself as one of the leading goalkeepers in Russia.
Standing at a commanding 1.95 meters, he’s got the ideal figure for a great goalkeeper, and has proven to be one of the key reasons why Kuban have been punching above their weight all season, finishing eventually in 5th place and gaining entry to the Europa League.
There’s a snag for Kuban though. The Krasnodar outfit seem to be resigned to losing their star keeper to giants Anzhi, and if he can prove his worth there, then just maybe Russia coach Fabio Capello will start to finally take more notice of him.
Alexander Anyukov- Zenit Saint Petersburg, defender; ever reliable, the right full back has been one of the star men for Zenit this season. One of the few players who very rarely makes any mistake of any kind, his solidness in defence and clever runs in behind opposing defenders on the attack have made him the most indispensable player in Saint Petersburg.
While Zenit may have lost their champions title to Moscow rivals CSKA and gone through many a crisis throughout the course of the season, the marauding right back managed to quietly get on with his business, and despite being in the wrong side of his 30’s, his reliability is showing no sign of letting up.
Nicolas Lombaerts- Zenit Saint Petersburg, defender; having gone 6 matches in a row at one point without conceding a goal, it’s no surprise that two Zenit men are present in my defence. And the lanky Belgian has been no less reliable than Anyukov, going on to reinforce his status as one of the best if not the best central defender in the Russian Premier League.
Lombaerts has charisma in abundance and has been a rock at the heart of the Saint Petersburg defence all season long, nullifying the threat of many a dangerous forward.
He may not be quite such a presence in the other half of the field that Anyukov, but he is no worse at the defensive business, and with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur rumoured to be on their radar, Zenit need to sign him up to a new contract sooner rather than later.
Sergey Ignashevich- CSKA Moscow, defender; already 33, he may be getting on a bit, but with age his game is getting no worse. Generally regarded as the leading central defender hailing from Russia, he has been almost error free in CSKA’s surge to a 11th Russian title.
While the Berezustkiy brothers who partner him in defence may not always look like the most gifted of footballers, Ignashevich is technically skilled, and as well as being an excellent defender he also has a powerful shot in his arsenal.
CSKA will one day in the next few years have to find an adequate replacement, but if he can play like he has done this season for a few more years at least, the Army men have nothing to worry about.
Dmitry Kombarov- Spartak Moscow, defender; the better half of the Kombarov double act, he has been one of the bright sparks in a pretty poor season for Spartak.
Already having managing to establish himself in the national set up for just over a year now, the 26 year old is just coming into the prime of his career, and without him Spartak would have been even lower than 4th place.
And just like Anyukov on the right flank, on the left Kombarov is a real threat in the attacking third with 7 goals and 6 assists to his name this season, and scoring a real contender for goal of the season with an unstoppable free kick against Volga early on in the season.
Ivelin Popov- Kuban Krasnodar, midfielder; the second Kuban player included in my team, and just like Belenov, Ivelin Popov has been one of the biggest reasons behind Kuban’s highly successful 2012/2013 season.
The 25 year old Bulgarian can play on the wing or as a supporting second striker, and he has been a real thorn in the side of many opposing defences.
He has been most effective on the left flank, finding gaps and taking advantage of them, in particular scoring a wonderful goal from a seemingly impossible angle against Anzhi on the final day of the season to guarantee European football next season.
Roman Eremenko- Rubin Kazan, midfielder; when speaking about Rubin’s midfield, Bibras Natcho may immediately spring to mind, but Roman Eremenko has proven this season in particular, that he is no less vital to the 2 time Russian champions.
With 6 goals and 8 assists to his name this season he has been a great weapon in Rubin’s effective if not thrilling attack, and possessing the ability to unleash a wonder strike, in particular scoring a fantastic long range effort early on in the season against Zenit.
Rubin on the last day of the season managed to secure a place in the Europa League for next season, and why it may not have been a headline making season for the Tatarstani club, Eremenko has managed to force a lot of the attention onto himself.
Rasmus Elm- CSKA Moscow, midfielder; in his first season with the Muscovites he has managed to be able to call himself a Russian champion, and at the same time cementing his place at the heart of the CSKA midfield.
His place may already be engraved in Swedish football history after scoring the equaliser in that incredible 4-4 draw against Germany. He has made a promising start to his CSKA career and has becoming one of the most reliable figures in the Army men’s midfield, with his most memorable moment: scoring one of the most important goals of the season in the 1-1 draw away to Zenit.
Yury Zhirkov- Anzhi Makhachkala, midfielder; only 29 years old although he seems to have been around forever, the Anzhi full back is still proving to be very dangerous to play against.
While he didn’t make the grade at Chelsea, and earning more enemies than friends when moving back to Russia with Anzhi, Zhirkov has been a key figure in Anzhi’s breakout season in the Russian Premier League.
He may not be able to quite rekindle his glory days with CSKA, but on his day he is still as technically gifted and as talented as ever.
Hulk- Zenit Saint Petersburg, striker; after making his jaw dropping £40 million pound move to Zenit big things were expected from the Brazilian superstar.
Things didn’t get off to a good start, with the infamous Igor Denisov incident, but the Brazilian has managed to find his feet and assert himself as the most powerful player currently playing in Russia.
His ability to easily shrug off defenders and having one of the most powerful shots in the world has just by itself taken Zenit to second place, and the Saint Petersburg club will just have to hope that he doesn’t get tempted with a move away to England or Spain this summer.
Ahmed Musa- CSKA Moscow, striker; the Army men have a long and successful association with black and African players, and Musa is living up to the legacy that his predecessors left.
His raw trickery and skill has been a key factor in CSKA’s title triumph, and with 11 goals he can certainly lay claim to that.
Living up to the high standards of fellow teammates Seydou Doumbia and Vagner Love was always going to be a hard thing to do, but Musa has pulled it off with relative ease.
These 11 players are but a few, that have been simply fantastic over the past 10 months. Dynamo’s Alexander Kokorin is turning into the next big Russian star, Yura Movsisyan has been outstanding for both Krasnodar and Spartak, and CSKA’s captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has been practically unbeatable at times.
Whatever way you look at it, this season has been exciting and enthralling to watch from beginning to end, and all that’s left to do is wait and see who’s going to be making all the headlines in next season, a season which commences in just a few weeks time. Time waits for no one.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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