June 12, 2017

Massimo Carrera’s Russian Revolution: how Spartak Moscow won the league

How Spartak Moscow won their first title in sixteen years with the help of Italian grit and a new lease of confidence


Having won 12 Soviet titles, 10 Russian league titles, 10 Soviet cups and 3 Russian cups, Spartak Moscow are Russia’s most successful club. Spartak have also reached the semi-finals of all three European club competitions, and the Red-Whites are country’s most supported club. With a capacity of 45,000, the club never struggles to fulfill the stadium; think of them as the Manchester United of the country.

Also rather like United, Spartak have been going through a title-winning drought, though this one is a little longer. Before this year, Spartak last won the league in 2001: that’s a longer period of time than any “most successful club” of any country in any of Europe’s top five leagues.

Who is Massimo Carrera?

Massimo is currently their manager. A former football player, every Juventus fan should know him, as Carrera was a key player in Bianconeri’s 1995-96 Champions League winning side; he also won Serie A and the Italian Cup in the 1994-95 season playing as a defender.

The Italian coach was Antonio Conte’s assistant at Euro 2016. After the tournament, he was hired as a technical assistant for Dmitri Alenichev, Spartak’s previous manager.

Dmitri Alenichev resigned from his post after Spartak failed to qualify to the Europa League in August and so the club decided to appoint Carrera as Spartak’s manager on a permanent basis. Massimo’s debut as head coach took place in August against FC Krasnodar where his team beat them 2-0, and this continued, as no Spartak manager had such a successuful start as Carrera: he collected 28 points in 12 matches.

During the whole season, they only lost 5 times. 14 victories and 1 defeat at home is an impressive result. Their record against top 4 is even more impressive, with 13 points in 6 matches. Spartak overperformed xG a lot too, but they showed some great character by scoring a lot of late match-winning goals. They became far more confident and more mentally strong, as Carrera brought into the team an Italian mentality.

He changed our tactics and gave us character.

Spartak Moscow captain Denis Glushakov on Massimo Carrera.

It’s clear to see how Carrera brought character to the side, too.

On 7 May 2017, Spartak secured their first league title since 2001, after their rivals Zenit St. Petersburg lost to the 5th placed Terek Grozny at home.

In Russia, there is a limit of 5 foreigners for each team. That’s why for example Bochetti and Tasci, their best centre backs, usually never play together.

Tactically, Carrera is similar to Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, who he previously worked with at Juventus. He prioritises a well-organised defence, building the play out from the back and man-marking.

Spartak are also impressing with their style of play though. They are a team with clear ideas, an attacking mentality based on ball possession and high pressing, and some in Russia see them as a mix between Conte’s and Guardiola’s teams. They can press you as high as they can and 10 minutes later defend with a deep block. In terms of formations, Spartak are usually using a 4-2-3-1.

To give you an idea about how they defend, it’s a man-oriented 4-4-2, the attacking midfielder becomes a ”forward” in the first line of pressing. They conceded 27 goals this season which isn’t great compared to their rivals CSKA and Zenit. But as we all know, the man-oriented system requires more individual defending skills: every player is responsible for whoever enters his zone, following and tracking them until they are out of their zone. I’m sure if they had better Russian defenders, they wouldn’t concede that much. Carrera tried to fix this by bringing a new young defender Giorgi Jikia in January.

Spartak defender Georgi Dzhikiya with Quincy Promes

Their ”Gioco Di Posizione” is even more interesting. Carrera has developed a dynamic game that aims to control the opponent’s lines. Their attacking players are often dropping deeper to create some play. The 4-2-3-1 becomes a 4-3-3 with the left attacking midfielder (Usually it’s Roman Zobnin) becoming a 3rd CM. Here is their passmap against their neighbours CSKA Moscow:

Spartak overload one side to switch to another, full backs make diagonal runs into the space behind an opponent’s defensive line, and the team attack the half-spaces through wingers, generating third-man runs. It’s been a hugely effective system for the club, and Spartak had an unbelievable season, achieving something they weren’t even expected to do. This is their first title since 2001, so I’m sure fans will always remember Massimo and the job he has done.

Next year Spartak are going to play in the Champions League. There is no limit for foreigners in Europe, so they can put their best team and show us what they really can do. Unfortunately, they won’t get Chelsea or Juventus in group stage because they are also in pot 1, but they will be there, playing against top sides they haven’t played since 2013. This is a great chance for the players to prove themselves on a bigger stage, but it’s also an opportunity for the rest of Europe to witness the Carrera revolution.

About this author

Kamran Asadov

Manchester United fan. Born in Switzerland, from Azerbaijan.