Alan Dzagoev showed exactly why he is Russia’s brightest new hope with a masterful display on how to use operational space.
I was first alerted to the dazzling talents of Alan Dzagoev during a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa in last year’s Europa Cup campaign and it is noticeable to see just how far he has come since then. Still only 19 but Dzagoev plays with an ice cool head and seems to relish the creative responsibilities given to him by new coach Leonid Slutsky.
It was only February since that game at Villa and CSKA Moscow have since moved on to their third coach – Slutsky given quite a baptism of fire at Old Trafford. And indeed, things have also changed for Dzagoev as his then partner in crime, Vagner Love, has departed on loan which is a great shame as their telepathic understanding mirrored that of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
But one could still see remnants of that understanding with new striker partner Tomáš Necid in the 3-3 draw against Manchester United as the Czech constantly looked to get into the spaces he hoped Dzagoev will find. The Russian’s ability to thread an eye of the needle passes is particularly impressive but it can at times be his downfall as this can see him ignore the simpler option.
However it’s this recognition of operational space that sets him apart and his movement and passes into such areas caused the Manchester United defence problems no end. Always on the move and looking for spaces to exploit he was the first man on the ball to initiate attacks while his tracking back also had a lot to admire. Making sure he stationed himself in the area where the deep-lying playmaker, in this case Paul Scholes would operate, stopping the United midfielder exerting much influence on the game and ready to pounce on the ball once it became loose.
And for his goal and CSKA’s first, he combined both power and pace to match his ingenuity and skill on the ball. Dropping deep to get the ball, Dzagoev dragged Wes Brown out of position which created the space for Necid to fantastically weighted a chested pass into his path. His first touch looked to have taken him too far to the left but his close control and quick change of pace meant Jonny Evans was always unsure of the next action. And as quick as a flash, Dzagoev thrashed in a vicious left-footed shot which left Van Der Sar with no chance from the acutest of angles.
The warning signs were clear of Dzagoev’s danger but United continued to give the Russian much room. There was lessons to be learnt for rivals from watching this game as it highlighted the amount of space one can exploit due to Manchester United’s expansive style. And Dzagoev was at it again, as he gradually dragged Evans out of position for CSKA’s second, dummying the ball for Necid to play in the ever-troublesome Krasic and the Serb finished off a flowing move. At times he was reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp, his awareness and anticipation only paralleled on the pitch by Micheal Own surprisingly enough and his dummy especially bringing into mind the fantastic goal scored by Bergkamp against Newcastle, knowing the only free area was behind him to his right before flicking the ball past Nikolas Dabizas.
His understanding of danger areas wasn’t just limited to a creative sense as he also made sure to position himself for rebounds and in one instance his positioning was so perfect, he nearly blocked a shot from his own team-mate.
Dzagoev’s night came to a premature end on seventy-two minutes, being replaced by Daniel Carvalho but it wasn’t before he was involved in the third. His devilishly whipped free-kick found Vasili Berezutski unmarked at the back post and the defender obliged with a strong header to put CSKA 3-1 up. The Russian’s certainly missed Dzagoev’s opportunism as they failed to handle United’s late pressure and in the end succumbed to a draw.
It was also interesting to note the tactical context of Alan Dzagoev’s substitution for Carvalho. His previous manager Zico, was reluctant to play him behind the main striker for balance sake, preferring instead the Brazilian midfielder in an attempt to achieve the self-conscious symmetry that the 4-2-3-1 gives. He has been linked to Real Madrid and Pelligrini’s insistence on playing two forwards will ensure he will fit in well for the neo-galacticos but he has previously admitted to being a fan of Chelsea. But seeing as the Blues are currently in a transfer embargo, Dzagoev’s best bet would be to remain at CSKA and hone his skills as a world-class striker he so promises to become before moving to Western Europe.
Scout Report Card:
Position Second Striker
Height 1.79 m (5 ft 10+1⁄2 in)
Weight 11st 9lbs (74 kg)
Vision and Awareness 10
Team responsibility 9