RFN Top 50 2018: 10-4

As 2018 has turned into 2019, it is time for an annual tradition on Russian Football News: The RFN Top 50. We rank the 50 best players in the Russian Premier Liga (RPL) in 2018 by their performances throughout the year, think of it as the RFN Ballon d’Or, and we start with the players ranked 10-4 (movement compared to last year’s ranking is shown in brackets). 

This is the fourth year in our annual tradition, and definitely, the hardest yet, let us know who you would have picked, and we hope you enjoy it.

READ MORE: RFN TOP 50 2017

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10. Manuel Fernandes (Midfielder, Lokomotiv Moscow) -7

Manu is just about to reach his fifth anniversary of playing for Loko, since moving in 2014 – and the last two calendar years have been among the greatest of his career in Russia. Despite leading Lokomotiv Moscow to the league title in 2018, his form has dipped slightly since his incredible 2017 – in which he amassed 19 goals or assists in 30 games – resulting in him dropping down in this year’s Top 50, but his position in the top ten is well-earned.

Though he did enough to lead Loko to the title, in 2018 his figures have been dwarfed – just eight goals and assists in 39 games (including a hat-trick against Nice in his very first game of 2018.

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9. Fedor Chalov (Forward, CSKA Moscow) NEW ENTRY

Despite scoring his first goal for the Army Men way back in 2016, the young Russian made his big break last year. Currently the top scorer in the RPL, Chalov plundered 22 goals in 2018 and led CSKA’s rebuild at the end of last season. Most impressively, he has scored 21 goals in just 32 senior starts for CSKA in general and is developing at an incredible rate.

His understanding of space, movement off the ball and ever-increasing ability off the ball is perfectly complimenting his decent pace in behind and natural goalscoring instincts.

It is testament to Chalov’s character and development over the last few years that he has improved upon nearly every weakness inherent in his early days. Our own David Sansun pointed out his lack of physicality in 2017 – and Chalov is getting bigger, more physical and dominant on a week-by-week basis.

READ MORE: Ones to Watch – Fedor Chalov

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8. Branislav Ivanovic (Defender, Zenit St Petersburg) +8

Having starred for Lokomotiv Moscow over a decade ago, Ivanovic returned to Russia last year and has been a rock-at-the-back since. Although he is definitively in the twilight of his career, the Serb is a vital leader at Zenit.

Although at times exposed for pace, Ivanovic organises the defence and even pops up with the odd vital goal at the other end. Every time he was absent from Zenit’s side in the league in 2018, they lost.

READ MORE: Branislav Ivanovic – Serbia’s Silent Hero & the Big Brother I Never Had

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7. Aleksei Miranchuk (Forward, Lokomotiv Moscow) -3

Alike to Manu Fernandes, Aleksei Miranchuk is a player who transformed Loko in 2017, yet has slightly flattered to deceive compared to his glittering form then. However, he is not averse to setbacks – both Aleksei and his twin brother Anton were rejected by Spartak’s famed academy at Tarasovka due to their lack of physicality and small stature – yet both fought on and are playing alongside each other for Loko’s title-winning team.

The pair may be identical twins, but they play in completely differing styles. Anton relies upon pace and power on his favoured right foot whereas Aleksei is a left-footed attacking playmaker blessed with incredible vision, close-control and line-breaking acceleration. Ironically, the elder Miranchuk has developed physically into a relatively imposing specimen and uses his body well in defensive situations.

READ MORE: Ones to Watch – Aleksei Miranchuk

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6. Nikola Vlasic (Midfielder, CSKA Moscow) NEW ENTRY

Vlasic was one of the more high profile signings in Viktor Gonchenko’s summer rebuild, joining on a season-long loan from EPL side Everton. Pressure was on for the young Croat to replace the departed Aleksandr Golovin, but he imediately grasped his chance and never looked back.

Despite being at CSKA for just six months and having only played 21 competitive games for the Army Men, Vlasic was a no-brainer on this list. He has started every game for CSKA this season and has picked up seven goals, five assists and six MOTM awards in this time. His style of play fits perfectly into CSKA’s progressive, fast-paced style predicated upon layoffs, keen movement into the channels and overloading the attacking third of the pitch. Vlasic can score from anywhere; the penalty spot, tap-ins, gloriously Nhà Cái Trực Tuyến Hàng Đầu Châu Á́́side-foot placed shots, screamers from outside the box and even historically opened the scoring v Reaal Madrid in the UCL.

READ MORE: CSKA Moscow – You Can’t Win Anything With Kids?

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5. Viktor Claesson (Midfielder, FC Krasnodar) +9

Viktor Claesson is not a usual winger. He isn’t blessed with blistering pace and nor does he really hug the touchline – but he will be the man head coach Murad Musaev looks to unlock the opposition defence, whether it is by playmaking from deep or clinically finishing in attack. This attack, his is the fulcrum and formed an uncanny partnership with Wanderson and Ari, contributing to 61% of all Krasnodar goals in the league this season.

Krasnodar’s system predicates upon being high in the opposition territory for the majority of the game, and thus a player who can unlock a defence is much more important than a dynamic dribbler with bags of pace. Of course, Wanderson does have the latter on the opposing side but he operates in a much wider role. Claesson is not a typical winger but very much an old-school inside forward who possesses the perfect technical ability to move between the lines of a packed defence. As a result, he already has an impressive eight goals and five assists from 21 games in all competitions this season – and has been one of the most consistently brilliant performers since he joined the Bulls two years ago.

Nhà Cái Trực Tuyến Hàng Đầu Châu Á́́READ MORE: Viktor Claesson – Krasnodar’s latest Scandinavian Import

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4. Igor Akinfeev (Goalkeeper, CSKA Moscow) +9

I bet you thought we missed him off. Igor is the only man included who’s artwork is not in his club kit – and for good reason. Akinfeev has always been a stellar goalkeeper in Russia. We all know what he is capable of and how brilliantly consistent he is. However, ask anyone who casually watched CSKA in Europe or Russia in a major tournament over the last decade and they’d consider him error-prone.

To this casual observer, I can understand why. But they have always been wrong. Maybe the pressure and limelight got to him? In each and every opportunity, Akinfeev had been blighted by high-profile mistakes (see the matches against BOTH Korea and Algeria in the 2014 WC) or simply couldn’t keep a clean sheet – going almost 12 years without keeping one in Europe. However, he managed to get both off his back in the last calendar year (right, the clean sheet v Benfica was in late November 2017, but we had already cast our votes by then so I’m including it here!).

With that monkey off his back, he led CSKA to European qualification, still captains the side amidst a massively important rebuild and famously led the Sbornaya to achieving a historic best-ever result in a major tournament since the fall of the Berlin Wall – in front of a baying, hoping nation by saving Iago Aspas’ penalty at the Luzhniki to send the side into the Quarter Finals, and the rest of the country absolutely into meltdown for over a month.

Let’s all enjoy this commentary together:

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Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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