Intro: Last season was full of ups and downs for Kuban Krasnodar, and unfortunately for the club and their fans there were more downs then there were ups. Off the field issues seemed to have an effect on the field and it sparked two managerial changes during the season. After a surprisingly brilliant start to the season Viktor Goncharenko was sacked after fifteen games, much to the shock of the fans. The former Kuban coach Leonid Kuchuk took charge, after he had been sacked by Lokomotiv Moscow earlier in the season, and form quickly dipped. The ‘Toads’ from Kuban did however have a great cup run, which saw them lose in extra time to Lokomotiv in the final, but this wasn’t enough to make the season memorable for the Yellow-Greens. Leonid Kuchuk resigned after the final loss, which left Kuban without a head coach for the last two games.
In June Kuban appointed their former youth team product and former Russian national team midfielder Dmitry Khokhlov as the new head coach. Khokhlov represented CSKA Moscow, Torpedo Moscow, PSV Eindhoven, Real Sociedad, Lokomotiv Moscow, and Dinamo Moscow before he retired in 2010, when he began to work as a youth coach at Dinamo. Khokhlov was quick to elevate through Dinamo’s setup, and in August 2013, he was caretaker at the first team for two weeks. In May Khokhlov announced that he would leave Dinamo to pursue a head coaching job, which he later found at Kuban.
Khokhlov was a success as a player, but he is still a relatively inexperienced coach at the highest level. Despite the fact that he led Dinamo’s youth team to two consecutive championships he is a gamble.
Greatest strength: One of the strengths in the past season for Kuban was their ability in the air, only Rubin Kazan won more aerial duels according to WhoScored’s statistics. With Ibrahima Baldé’s height and heading ability he causes plenty of problems for the opposing defence, and in the central defence Igor Armas averaged 4.1 won aerials per game last season, which was third most of all players in the Russian Premier League.
Greatest weakness: The weakness as a team is the amount of draws they achieve. Last season they picked up the most draws in the league with twelve. One of Khokhlov’s first tasks is to solve Kuban’s problem with keeping possession. Their pass success rate of 72.3% was one of the lowest in the league, and the loss of possession due to poor touches was the second worst in the league after Ufa. Another area that needs improvement is the amount of goals coming from the strikers. Ibrahima Baldé was the top scorer last season with just five league goals. The strikers only managed a combined twelve goals last season, with Almeida and Danilo grabbing two each, while Bucur netted three times and as previously mentioned Baldé scored five.
Key player: With the winger Ivelin Popov now a Spartak Moscow player someone has to step up to fill his boots. However the key man will once more be the man between the sticks, Aleksandr Belenov. Belenov has been linked with a move away on numerous occasions and with good reason. Belenov has constantly performed well for Kuban, and he certainly gives his defenders and team confidence from the goal. If Kuban is to push for a higher finish this term they’ll need Belenov to continue his consistency and inspire the team mates around him.
Transfers/departures review: Kuban will need to strengthen their midfield, considering that the two midfielders Anton Sosnin and Ivelin Popov have both chased their luck in the capital with Dinamo and Spartak, while Vladislav Kulik has returned to Rubin Kazan after his loan ended. Furthermore, the Portuguese journeyman striker Hugo Almeida has left the club and is currently a free agent, while Andrey Eshchenko and Evgeni Pomazan have both returned to Anzhi after their season on loan.
The club has only brought in two players so far. The young striker Konstantin Bazelyuk has been loaned from CSKA Moscow and Sergey Tkachev was signed permanently from Lokomotiv Moscow after showing the club enough quality during his loan spell. Bazelyuk was once a highly praised and promising striker, but after only playing 18 minutes for Torpedo Moscow in the spring, his stock has plummeted. Meanwhile Gonzalo Bueno has returned from a loan spell at Nacional, and Eduard Baychora has been promoted from the second team.
Kuban is currently struggling financially after Oleg Mkrtchyan withdrew his funds, and it is highly doubtful if the regional government of the Krasnodar region can keep the club at the same financial level as earlier.
Best case scenario for the season: Kuban will hope to be challenging for Europe sooner rather than later. The best case scenario for Kuban would to finish in those European spots; they will however most likely settle for a top eight finish. With a couple more additions to the side Kuban should be able to achieve those aims.
Worst case scenario for the season: Khokhlov isn’t given time and is quickly sacked, which makes things go in the same direction as last season, and they finish below tenth. Relegation is every team’s nightmare, but Kuban should have enough quality to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle, at least if the administration keeps a cool head.
Key early season fixture: Kuban has a good opportunity to start the season strongly with their first matches being Ural, Terek Grozny and Ufa. The early crunch games are in week four and five when they face rivals FC Krasnodarbefore hosting Rubin Kazan. Kuban is a club that should be aiming for European football and both these games are vital in the early stages to challenge for those places. The Krasnodar match has more importance, and although it’s hardly a fierce derby, bragging rights will still be a nice touch to a season, especially as Krasnodar could well challenge for the title.
Season prediction: New head coach Dmitry Khokhlov will need to be given time, and if the club gives him that the future may look promising once more. It’s going to be another tough season for Kuban and after achieving their lowest position since promotion they should improve on that this term. A top eight finish should be on the cards.
This article was for RussianFootballNews.com.