Following last weekend’s poor showing at home against Anzhi Makhachkala, Zenit will try to redeem themselves at home against FC Ural this weekend at the opening fixture of the brand new Stadium St. Petersburg.
Ural however, are no easy opponent. The Ekaterinburg based club, have been one of the best performing teams this spring, where they have won seven out of eight games. This has not only steered them away from the relegation battle in the bottom of the league, but also to Sochi and the first cup final in the club’s history, which will be played next month against Lokomotiv Moscow.
The man Ural have to thank for their impressive form is Head Coach Aleksandr Tarkhanov. He replaced Vadim Skripchenko at the end of last year and the Bumblebees, as Ural are known, have been steadily improving ever since. The now 62-year-old Tarkhanov played six national team games for the Soviet Union between 1976 and 1983, and spent the most successful part of his career at CSKA Moscow, where he played nine seasons, four of them as captain.
Since retiring in 1987, Tarkhanov has coached a long range of clubs, including CSKA, Torpedo, Krylia Sovetov, FC Khimki, and Terek Grozny while he was a part of the coaching staff at both Oleg Romantsev’s all-dominating Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team. However, despite all his experience, Tarkhanov is yet to win a title as head coach.
Like many other Russian teams, Tarkhanov’s Ural side is built on a strong defensive foundation, proved by the fact that they have four clean sheets in their previous seven games, but unlike the teams surrounding them in the league, they are also strong when going forward.
In offensive midfielder Eric Bicfalvi, they have one of the most underrated players in the RFPL, and since joining Ural during the winter break, the 29-year-old Romanian has already established himself as an absolute key player. Seven games into his Ural career, he has found the back of the net four times, while also contributing with number of assists.
Another important signing made by Ural this winter was striker Vladimir Ilyin. The 24-year-old target-man joined the Orange-Blacks from Kuban Krasnodar, and it has proved to be a match made in heaven. Just like Bicfalvi, Ilyin has been tremendous since moving to Ekaterinburg, and has scored five goals in his first seven games. Ilyin’s start to his Ural-career is surprising considering he only managed two goals in 20 games for Kuban in the autumn, but Tarkhanov has clearly managed to get the most out of him.
Being 187 centimeters tall, Ilyin is a powerful target-man, who is, obviously, strong in the air and composed in front of goal. That’s not all he is though. He is also good with the ball at his feet, and the future seems bright for the young man, who iscurrently deputized by former Sbornaya striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, meaning that he is able to learn from one of Russia’s finest striker of the last decade.
Another player worth keeping an eye on is central midfielder Roman Emelyanov. The 24-year-old started his career at the famous Konoplyov academy, which has also fostered players such as Alan Dzagoev, Stanislav Kritsyuk, Ilya Kutepov and Roman Zobnin, but later moved to Ukraine and Shakhtar Donetsk. After several loan-spells, he moved to Ural in 2015, and these days the Ukrainians must regret letting him go. Emelyanov looks better and better for each game he plays, and Stanislav Cherchesov has already called him up to the Russian national team, although without giving him his debut yet.
Emelyanov has his strengths in the defensive part of the game, where his superior vision and football intelligence allows him both tackle opponents and intercept loose balls.
While Ural might not be the most famous team, the cup finalists obviously shouldn’t be underestimated, and Zenit are unlucky to meet such a skilled team at their big day. Especially since Ural are travelling to St. Petersburg with almost their full squad, as Georgian winger Giorgi Chanturia seems to be the only player certain to miss the game.