CSKA Moscow Dmitri Torbinski

The Best and Worst of the 2012/13 Russian Premier League

11:49 PMGoalChatter

"...it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." Unbeknownst to himself, Charles Dickens was describing the Russian Premier League. This past season of the RPL has proved to be stunning, dramatic, and, at times, a tear-jerker. More important, the season reinforced Fabio Capello's recent observation that the Russian League is teeming with young, talented players. It's important to point out the managers that brought these players together as well, and to highlight some of the best (and worst) plays of the season.
CSKA win the 2012/13 Russian Cup. Photo: pfc-cska.com

Best Overall Performance:
CSKA Moscow
(Runners-Up: Rubin Kazan,
Terek Grozny)

Looking back at a rather stable, victorious season, it's no surprise that CSKA was presented with the Premier League trophy one week ahead of the last fixtures. A scoreless tie was enough for the Army Men to secure their 4th championship win in the modern era and their 11th overall domestic title. CSKA remains one of the most consistent teams in both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. Even in the absence of such key players as Keisuke Honda, Seydou Doumbia and Vagner Love, the Army Men did not lose their luster.

Rubin may have the best defense in the league, something that may come in handy in their Europa League campaign. The team from Kazan conceded only 8 goals at home, less than any other team this season.

Terek Grozny scored almost as many goals as CSKA and had many opportunities to finish in the top 5. Instead, the ever-ambitious club finished 8th, and, like Dynamo, failed to qualify for the Europa League. That last part may have been the reason behind head coach Stanislav Cherchesov's sacking.

Best Manager: Leonid Slutsky (CSKA Moscow)
(Runners-up: Dan Petrescu, Stanislav Cherchesov, Miodrag Bozovic)

Photo: Dmitry Korotayev/Getty Images Europe
In his four years at the club, Slutsky has been piling on the victories, much to the chagrin of his skeptics. This season, he's added a golden double to his growing list of accomplishments. Just two months after being appointed, Slutsky brought CSKA to the knock-out stage of the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League for the very first time and led the team all the way to the quarter-finals, where the Army Men suffered a 1-0 defeat to Mourinho's Inter Milan. The 42-year-old coach has not failed to win some form of silverware with the team every season. Two Russian Cups, a second-place finish in the league as well as this season's championship win stand as the coach's prime accomplishments. Slutsky is without a doubt the best coach in the Russian Premier League.

Credit should be given where credit is due, however: Dan Petrescu proved to be the phoenix the Dynamo were looking for. He not only resurrected the Moscovites, but led them to an historic 5:1 victory in the oldest Russian derby against Spartak (Dynamo hadn't scored 5 goals against the Meat in 64 years). His first win as manager was a Moscow derby as well, 3:2 away at Lokomotiv. On top of that, the club nearly finished 3rd in a season that began with 5 consecutive losses. The team's impressive 14-match unbeaten series came to an end in the last fixture, however. The relegated Alania proved to be an unlucky opponent for the Moscovites, who both began and ended their unbeaten streak against the dark horse team. Yet next season holds much in store for the club that continues to celebrate its 90th anniversary.

Stanislav Cherchesov. Photo: Epsilon/Getty Images Europe
Cherchesov, who was unfortunately sacked following the season's end, was also one of the best managers. He managed to produce a side that competed well against all of this season's top teams. Like Dynamo, however, Cherchesov's men fell short of Europa League qualification.

Bozovic is perhaps an unlikely contender. Rostov had some of the most impressive plays throughout the season, however, and held their own against CSKA in the Cup semi-finals.

Most-Improved Team: Dynamo Moscow
Dynamo reach an 8-game unbeaten streak after their game against Rostov. Photo: championat.com

Biggest Disappointment: Lokomotiv Moscow
(Runners-Up: Rostov)

Slaven Bilic is pointing at the road to victory. Photo: Epsilon/Getty Images Europe

This category was almost a tie between Loko and Rostov; in the end, it is the Railroaders who really missed their mark. There's no denying that Lokomotiv is the side that has neglected its chances at a better finish this season more so than almost any other team. Although manager Slaven Bilic did create an interesting 14-point gap between his team and 11th-place Amkar, many fans were expecting the Croatian expert to catapult the Railroaders to the very top. Bilic, who became a sought-after manager after his success with the Croatian national team, has brought a new dynamic to the team. Here's hoping the rumors about his resignation are just that.

Rostov managed to win only one away game this season, making them almost as unsuccessful as the two bottom teams that were relegated. Bozovic led his team to the Semi-Finals of the Russian Cup, only to have his chances at silverware cruelly snatched away as questionable refereeing gave the match to CSKA. Despite the result, the 37-point gap between the teams was virtually invisible throughout the match, proving that under different circumstances, Rostov could have been higher up in the league table as well.

Most Overrated Team: Zenit
(Runners-up: Anzhi)

Zenit St Petersburg may have gotten silver, but the lack of cooperation between the players and the coach often got in the way, and may be the reason why rumors have circulated about Spalletti's possible replacement. Anzhi almost lived up to the hype, but fell short of a championship win, conceding goals against teams they should have been beating 10-0. The team also lost the Russian Cup to CSKA in penalties. With no other silverware this season, Hiddink's side will have to settle for the bronze.

Game of the Season: Spartak Moscow 1-5 Dynamo Moscow

The oldest Russian derby, the Russian Clasico...call it what you will, but Dynamo's annihilation of their age-old rivals was by far the most exciting game of the 2012/13 season. Petrescu's side hadn't scored 5 goals against Spartak in 64 years. The loss prompted the sacking of Unai Emery, whose previous record at Valencia failed to translate to the RPL in his first few months as Spartak manager.

Assist of the Season: Dmitri Torbinski (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Torbinski provided an excellent back-heel pass for Maicon's finish against Terek Grozny in the season's first leg.

(Runner-up: Spartak's Artyom Dzyuba, whose subtle assist provided the starting point for Movsisyan's hat-trick against Terek)

Season MVP: Yura Movsisyan (Spartak Moscow)
(Runner-up: Anzhi's Samuel Eto'O)

The striker began the season with a brilliant performance for Krasnodar before moving to Spartak in the winter transfer window. He scored 13 goals this season, making him the second best goalscorer after Krasnodar's Wanderson.

Samuel Eto'O was recently named Premier League Player of the Year. The former Barcelona star was Player of the Week for 11 out of 30 games this season, scoring 12 goals in all competitions.

Best Goalkeeper: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA)
(Runners-up: Kuban's Aleksandr Belenov, Rostov's Stipe Pletikosa)

CSKA's Akinfeev started and played every game in the regular season except the last. His team conceded only 9 goals at home and 16 goals away. The 27-year-old keeper is a youth product of the Army Men, leading to a successful decade-long career with the First Team.

Europa League participants Kuban have Aleksandr Belenov to thank for their success. The 26-year-old goalkeeper started every game, conceding 13 goals at home and 15 away. Belenov is also the only player to play every game this season without being substituted. No wonder manager Leonid Kuchuk made it clear the keeper isn't for sale!

Stipe Pletikosa had another great season. He may have conceded significantly more goals than either Akinfeev or Belenov, but that didn't stop Rostov supporters from naming him the best player of the season.

Worst Refereeing: Vladislav Bezborodov
(Runners-up: Maksim Layushkin, Mikhail Vilkov)

Of the 24 officials who refereed the 2012/13 RPL, Bezborodov administered the most second yellows and red cards combined, in addition to having given out the most penalties. He gave out 131 yellow cards in 25 matches, just 4 cards below this season's record. Bezborodov came under scrutiny in October of last year for questionable refereeing during a Europa League match between Levante and Twente.

Referee Maksim Layushkin is not too far behind. Whether failing to give a penalty at all and thrusting out a number of bookings for dissent at his own poor decisions (Dynamo vs Spartak, Week 3) or wrongfully administering a penalty and failing to notice a handball (Zenit vs Krylya, Week 23), Layushkin made it known that if there's anything he can't do, it's referee a football game.

(Watch Vilkov's refereeing blunder above.)

Week 10 saw a scandalous draw between Zenit and Lokomotiv. Vilkov showed Roman Shishkin a second yellow instead of booking Vedran Corluca, leaving the Moscovites a man down. The ref was the center of attention once again when he administered a yellow and then a red to Terek's Utsiev for a reckless challenge. Although the decision is indisputable Terek's honorary president Ramzan Kadyrov thought otherwise, calling the ref a "sell-out goat" and adding that the ref failed to give a penalty.

Best Refereeing: Aleksandr Egorov

Photo: fc-anji.ru
Egorov recently refereed the Russian Cup final. The most sought-after referee this season, the official from Saransk received more call-ups than 7 other RPL refs combined. He was also the least scandalous official. I cannot recall his name being mentioned in a post-match interview.

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