RFN Top 50 2018: 35-21

Russian Football News

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, next up are the players ranked 35-21. 

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.



35. Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov (Forward, FC Krasnodar) NEW ENTRY

2018/19 is the first season where Krasnodar have begun bring their homegrown academy youngsters into their first-team en-masse. Arguably, the most highly-rated of these youngsters is 19-year-old winger Magomed Shapi-Suleymanov. Despite only often entering the game as an impact substitute, Shapi contributed three goals and six assists in 14 RPL games in the first half of the 2018/19 season and his main attributes are his superb touch, pace and dribbling. This season he has scored a total of ten goals in just 283 minutes of football and zero starts. Shapi is also developing a strong reputation with free-kicks as demonstrated when his superb free-kick advanced Krasnodar through to the Europa League Last 16 at Bayer Leverkusen’s expense.

READ MORE: Ones to Watch – Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov


34. Kristijan Bistrovic (Midfielder, CSKA Moscow) NEW ENTRY

Twenty-year-old Bistrovic is one of Croatia’s new emerging young talents. Capable of playing in both defensive and box-to-box midfield roles, Bistrovic has blossomed and developed his talent considerably since signing for CSKA Moscow from Slaven Belupo in the winter transfer window of 2017/18. With the likes of midfield heroes Bibras Nahkto and Pontus Wernbloom having departed CSKA last summer, Bistrovic is emerging as a more than capable replacement and a real fan favourite. Only inury has prevented him from appearing higher on this list, such is his impact.


33. Cesar Navas (Defender, Rubin Kazan – now retired) NEW ENTRY

When he arrived at Rubin Kazan aged 29 in February 2009, Cesar Navas was a solid if unspectacular central defender who had spent a few seasons as a regular with La Liga sides Malaga and Racing Santander. Ten years on, Navas leaves Rubin and Russian football and heads into retirement with a reputation as one of the best defenders in the competition. Even aged 38 throughout the second half of the 2017/18 and the first half of the 2018/19 season, Navas’ performances remained at a high and composed level. It is a testament to the former Real Madrid youth player’s ability and reputation that prior to his retirement, Navas played every minute so far of the current season up until his retirement during the winter break.


32. Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Defender, FC Rostov – now PAOK Salonika) NEW ENTRY

Rostov’s emergence as one of the best teams below the elite of Russian football in recent seasons has been built on the foundation of a solid defence. 25-year-old Sverrir Ingason has over the last two seasons been an integral part of Rostov’s recent success. Composure, concentration and a good ability to play out of defence, Ingason emerged as one of the best RPL defenders. It was no surprise that his form attracted admirers and prompted Greek outfit PAOK Salonika to spend €4m on the Icelandic.

READ MORE: Rostov Rejuvenated – Smart Transfer Recruitment Pays Dividends


31. Igor Denisov (Midfielder, Lokomotiv Moscow) -1

Lokomotiv’s championship triumph in 2017/18 was seen as a huge surprise given pre-season the club was only expected to fight for a top five position. A key player in that triumph was veteran 34-year-old defensive midfielder Igor Denisov. Last season saw Denisov roll back the years and become the leading midfield enforcer in the division. His ability at marking and dispossessing opponents to restart Lokomotiv attacks was fundamental in only the third RPL triumph by the Railroaders.

READ MORE: The Troubled Mind of Igor Denisov


30. Vedran Corluka (Defender, Lokomotiv Moscow) +2

The second half of the 2017/18 and Lokomotiv’s shock triumph at its conclusion saw a veteran and familiar defender who in recent seasons has been plagued with injury reminded everyone of his talent. That defender, of course, is Vedran Corluka. The 33-year-old, once of both Tottenham and Manchester City came back into the side in the second half of last season and his calmness and composure helped deliver Lokomotiv a deserved Championship. Even in a challenging 2018/19 season so far for the Railroaders, Corluka has demonstrated why he is one of the best defenders in the league with his consistently good performances.

READ MORE: Vedran Corluka and the Return to the Biggest Stage


29. Charles Kabore (Midfielder, FC Krasnodar) NEW ENTRY

Like the aforementioned Denisov at Lokomotiv last season, this season is seeing veteran Burkina Faso midfielder Charles Kabore emerge as the driving force for the Bulls in midfield as they chase a first-ever RPL title. The 31-year-old’s consistency, stamina, defensive screening and ball-winning capacities in midfield make him an underrated cog in Krasnodar’s machine. He has played every minute of Krasnodar’s so far very successful Europa League run, in the process defeating European giants Sevilla and Bayer Leverkusen.


28. Alan Dzagoev (Midfielder, CSKA Moscow) -21

Since debuting for CSKA Moscow in 2008, Beslan born midfielder Alan Dzagoev has been one of the best players in the RPL. Capable equally in an attacking or a deeper central midfield role, Dzagoev is not as mercurial as he once was for CSKA due to recent injuries hampering his progress, nonetheless, when he is unavailable the Red-Blues do miss Dzagoev’s excellent ability to link up CSKA’s midfield and attack in transitional phases.

On talent alone the most-famous graduate of the Yu. Konoplyov football academy is easily among the highest names on this list, yet constant injury setbacks resulting in wild fluctuations in form has saw the CSKA legend struggle massively.

Dzagoev pulling up with an injury in the WC 2018 opening match against Saudi Arabia. A microcosm of his season | Eurosport


27. Sardar Azmoun (Forward, Zenit St Petersburg) +14

A man who has been waiting for his big-money move in what seems an age (as have Rubin Kazan), Azmoun finally got his well-earned transfer to Zenit for a reported €12m. This is after a stellar 2018, featuring in both the World Cup and Asian Cup, scoring 11 goals and grabbing five assists for club and country this season alone.

Given the un-wise nickname of “Iranian Messi” as a youngster, his talent has always been clear. However, over the course of the last year, he has developed into a prolific finisher and scored twice for Zenit against Fenerbahce on his home debut for the Blue-White-Sky Blues.

READ MORE: Ones to Watch – Sardar Azmoun

Azmoun celerates scoring against Fener in Piter last week | Sport-Express


26. Anton Miranchuk (Forward, Lokomotiv Moscow) -1

The lesser-known brother of Aleksei, Anton has been forced into the shadows for much of his youth career.

Truth be told, many had written Anton off, and even once after Aleksei had scored the third goal in the Russian Cup final victory over Kuban Krasnodar, then Loko owner Olga Smordskaya forced her way into the Loko dressing room to congratulate the elder twin, however, mistakenly spent numerous minutes congratulating Anton for his brothers’ achievement.

The event struck a raw nerve in the winger. Previously he looked on as Slaven Bilic and Leonid Slutsky put faith in Aleksei as a 17-year-old for club and country, but now he took the gesture between his teeth. Since being given a chance by Yuri Semin not long after his return, the pacey, aggressive and consistent winger has transformed his own game and plays an entirely differing style to his brother, and is equally as talented if less experienced.

READ MORE: Anton Miranchuk: An Eternal Runner-up or the New Russian Football Star?

Anton (Left) with his twin brother in a pre-WC promotional shoot |
FIFA via Getty Images


25. Alyaksandr Martynovich (Defender, FC Krasnodar) NEW ENTRY

The Belarusian has been a staple at Krasnodar since he joined from Dinamo Minsk as a bright-eyed 22-year-old in 2010. He has spent much of his career drifting between starting regular alongside Andreas Granqvist or on the fringes of the first-team and was even sent out on loan to Ural in 2015/16.

This past year, he has stepped up to a vital cog in the team, especially since the departure of former captain Granqvist. Martynovich has taken over the role superbly, and is now the moral and physical leader at the back.


24. Fernando (Midfielder, Spartak Moscow) -11

Brazilian midfielder Fernando is still one of the most talented in the RPL in his position, and features a keen set-piece, ability to dictate play from deep and dominate opponents in the middle of the pitch.

Under former manager Carrera, Fernando dropped deep to provide vertical, penetrative passing lanes. Georgi Dzhikiya is particularly impressive at progressing the ball up the pitch by advancing with the ball at feet through the half-spaces, and shifting the ball to the Brazilian. Fernando dictates Spartak’s style of play and tempo with his keen ball retention and physical abilities but his role has lessened somewhat since Oleg Kononov came in and has changed Spartak’s style of play.

As a result he has inevitably dropped from his excellent performance in 2017, sealing the title from Spartak.


23. Ari (Forward, FC Krasnodar) +13

Ari is a player who is genuinely maturing with age. Brazillian-born but has now gained Russian citizenship after living and playing in the country since moving in 2010. He is the third Brazilian and fourth player to naturalise.

Always in the headlines, he has matured over the years and at the age of 33 is arguably playing some of the best football since the early days at Spartak. Krasnodar were willing to part with then-talisman Fedor Smolov largely due to the emergence of wonder-kid striker Ivan Ignatiev, but Ari’s contribution is absolutely vital. He is a mentor to the young Russian while also scores crucial goals against big sides and his game experience, know-how and uncanny physicality are different talents to Ignatiev’s own armoury.


22. Rodrigo Becao (Defender, CSKA Moscow) NEW ENTRY

Another new recruit from the summer, and another at CSKA Moscow. Rodrigo Becao was deservedly selected in both the RFN Team of the Autumn and Sport-Express best eleven so far. On loan from Bahia, he shows incredible maturity and ability to read the game considering he had only ten starts to his name before moving to CSKA. Highlights include the double-victory over Real Madrid and the Army Men are already looking into making the transfer permanent.

READ MORE: RPL 2018/19 – Team of the Autumn


21. Andrey Lunev (Goalkeeper, Zenit St Petersburg) +3

Another graduate of Ufa, Lunev finally solved Zenit’s goalkeeping crisis in December 2016, one which had been long-held since the retirement of club legend Vyacheslav Malafeev. He has second-to-none shot-stopping abilities and over the last two years has even emerged surprisingly competent at plying the ball out from the back.



Author: Richard Pike

Wigan Athletic season ticket holder whose first memories of Russian football were TV highlights of Spartak’s 4-1 victory against Arsenal in the 2000-01 Champions League. Huge fan of the Russian Premier League, other mid-ranking European leagues and the English Football League

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