For the Lokomotiv Moscow fan preview, Zach Lowy talks to Lokomotiv fan/Russian football expert Stefano Contorti on the Railroaders’ chances for the group stage.
ZL: Would you say that Lokomotiv have gotten worse or better after this summer?
SC: Definitely better. Lokomotiv have made some very good signings and of course got better than last season’s squad. We signed players in those positions that needed to be reinforced and that’s the most important thing to me. I also want to add that without a huge budget we managed to bring to Moscow players like Höwedes, Krychowiak and Smolov. It says a lot about the management and the health of the club.
ZL: What’s the player on Lokomotiv you’re most excited to see?
SC: Definitely Krychowiak. He’s a top player and he’ll prove it. Lokomotiv have already had one of the best central midfielders in RPL history in Lassana Diarra. He was a machine. I’m sure the Polish will do well. He’s the right mentality and the environment will certainly help him (close to Poland, Rybus, same culture).
ZL: What do you think is Lokomotiv’s biggest weakness this season?
SC: I’d say bench and mentality. If one of the starting XI players gets injured, it’d be very hard to replace them in the same way. Tarasov is not Krychowiak. Eder is not Smolov. Zhemaletdinov is not Fernandes. I also say mentality because it will be very tough to keep last season’s form and aggressiveness. Semin has a difficult job to keep high players’ attitide and willingness.
ZL: How well do you expect Lokomotiv to do in this group?
SC: Every game will be difficult for both teams involved. We won’t give up. I’d predict either a second or third place. I hope so. I think it’s one of the most entertaining groups in the whole CL.
ZL: What is one advantage Lokomotiv have over Porto, Gala and Schalke?
SC: All these teams will undervalue Lokomotiv. We’re strong on counters and we defend well. I don’t think Schalke, Gala and Porto have good defensive lines either.
ZL: What do you expect Lokomotiv’s first choice XI to be?
SC: 4-2-3-1: Guilherme, Ignatjev/Höwedes, Ćorluka, Kverkvelia, Rybus, Denisov, Krychowiak, Farfán, Al. Miranchuk, Fernandes, Smolov
3-5-2: Guilherme, Höwedes, Ćorluka, Kverkvelia, Farfán, Denisov, Krychowiak, Fernandes, Rybus/An. Miranchuk, Al. Miranchuk, Smolov.
ZL: Would you say the 4231 vs 352 depends on which team they face?
ZL: Tactically, what kind of football would you expect Lokomotiv to play in the CL?
SC: Defensive and relying on counters. Maybe we try something offensive if we suffer a goal, but I’m not sure. Semin is not for risky approaches.
ZL: Who is Lokomotiv’s most crucial player?
SC: At the moment I’d say Krychowiak. Fernandes and Kverkvelia very crucial too.
ZL: How good has Krychowiak been since arriving?
SC: Not yet at his best, but very cool. We feel the difference compared to last season’s midfield!
ZL: Who is the weakest link in Lokomotiv’s XI?
SC: Right-left defensive wings, Rybus and Ignatjev not at level of other players. We have great offensive wingers but the problems are the fullbacks.
ZL: How do you think Semin will work around fullback issues?
SC: Playing a defensive football with a defensive approach behind ball’s line. Maybe he could renounce to one between Al. Miranchuk and Farfán for a more defensive CM, but I doubt it. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to properly reinforce our wings this summer.
ZL: What is one player everyone should keep an eye on in Lokomotiv this season?
SC: One between Lysov and Barinov. Both are promising players, but it depends on how much playing time Semin gives them.
ZL: What do you think will be the key to making it out of the group?
SC: Being humble, fight like warriors and exploit the chances we are given during the match. I’m sure we won’t create as more dangerous opportunities as our opponents, so we must be good at scroring when possible. And then, of course, a little bit of luck.