BELGRADE, SERBIA - OCTOBER 14: Klaus Priverschek (L) chairman of Unicredit Bank Serbia and Luis Figo (R) unveils the trophy during opening ceremony of the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour 2011 on October 14, 2011 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
As we all revel in Real Madrid's comfortable position at the summit of la Liga, I thought that I would take this opportunity to share some information and observations about CSKA Moscow before their upcoming UEFA Champions League clash with Madrid, which kicks off in Moscow next Tuesday, February 21.
CSKA Moscow's path to the Round of 16: CSKA finished second in UCL Group B with eight points, with perhaps their most impressive group stage result being a 2-2 draw away to reigning Ligue 1 champions Lille. CSKA did win 1-2 in the San Siro on December 7 against Inter Milan, but that result should be viewed cautiously and/or appended with an asterisk as the Italian giants had already clinched the group heading into the match. Interestingly, CSKA's home form in the group stage was actually rather poor and they lost two of the three matches held in Luzhniki Stadium, conceding five times in the process. They drew twice on their travels and ended-up with an overall goal differential of plus-one.
Recent Domestic Form: CSKA currently occupy the fourth spot in the Russian Premier League's table with 57 points. The quality of the Russian Premier League was somewhat surprising to me, as going into the 2011/12 club season it was ranked seventh in UEFA's country association coefficients (the league's ranking has slid a little during the current season). To put that in perspective, the Russian Premier League was rated one spot behind the Portuguese Superliga and two spots ahead of the once-mighty Dutch Eredivisie when the season began. CSKA mirrored Madrid's 2011 Copa del Rey triumph by winning last season's Russian Cup, while they haven't won their domestic league title since 2006.
Buzz: Two of CSKA's more notable players, midfielder Keisuke Honda and striker Seydou Doumbia, are rumored to be unsettled and unhappy in the Russian capital. Honda openly coveted a move to Lazio that collapsed in the waning hours of the January transfer window. The Japanese international has since indicated that he will take his time rehabbing a knee injury and his status is uncertain for the first leg match against Madrid. Meanwhile, Doumbia, Russia's 2011 Player of the Year, fresh off the Cote d' Ivorie's heartbreaking loss to Zambia on penalties in the final of the African Cup of Nations, figures to show at least some signs of physical and psychological fatigue after such emotional, grueling national team duty. The Russian side also lost Brazil international Vagner Love to Flamengo last month. It is interesting to note that February 24 is the date of the transfer deadline in Russia and various sources in the UK are reporting on CSKA's interest in budding Celtic star Gary Hooper, among other targets.
Conclusion: I know that Jose Mourinho will not allow his team to be overconfident and complacent in their approach to this tie with CSKA. My biggest fear is the match in Moscow (especially after we saw brutal weather slow Barcelona down last weekend), but I'm heartened by the evidence of CSKA's poor home form thus far in the tournament. I do expect los blancos to win emphatically in the Bernabeu to offset any shakiness in Russia.