How did they qualify?
The capital-side came second in the Russian Premier League last season, seven points behind champions Zenit St Petersburg. This earned them entry to the third qualifying round of the Champions League, in which they beat Sparta Prague 5-4 on aggregate. At 2-0 down in the second-leg it looked like they were heading out, but they turned it round in the second half to claim a 3-2 win. CSKA then defeated Sporting Lisbon 4-3 on aggregate in the play-offs, overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit with a 3-1 victory at the Arena Khimki; Ahmed Musa’s goal five minutes from time sealing group stage entry for the Russians.
Record in Europe:
This will be CSKA’s third consecutive season in the Champions League group stage and their eighth in the past 11 campaigns. The most successful season they have had in the competition was in 2009/10 when they beat Sevilla on their way to the quarter-finals, where eventual winners Inter Milan knocked them out. Their European highlight came when they won the UEFA Cup in 2004/05, beating Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in the final. CSKA are no strangers to English opposition, having played Manchester United in 2009/10 and their cross-town rivals Manchester City in each of the past two seasons.
Who’s the boss?
Leonid Slutsky has been in charge at CSKA since 2009, and this year will combine that role with his new job in charge of the Russian national team. His playing career was ended when he was just 19 as he suffered a knee injury from falling out of a tree trying to rescue a neighbour’s cat, but he has enjoyed more luck in the dugout. The 44-year-old managed FC Moscow and Krylia Sovetov before replacing former Spurs boss Juande Ramos at CSKA. Since taking the job he has led the club to two Russian league titles.
How they’ll play:
CSKA’s domestic success has been built upon a solid defence combined with an effective counter-attack, and that will be evident in their Champions League campaign. They conceded 27 goals in their 30 league games last season and scored a league-high 67, meaning United’s defence, which has conceded three in the first two matches, will have to be watchful in their two ties against the Russian side. Domestically, they try to dominate possession and are usually successful in doing so, however they will find this more difficult against the superior opposition they will face in Europe.
Ahmed Musa came to the world’s attention when he scored twice for Nigeria against Argentina at the World Cup last summer, but he has been terrorising defenders in Russia since 2012 and is a key part of CSKA’s success. A small winger who stands at just 5ft 7in, Musa relies upon his speed and trickery on the left flank as well as his ability to cut inside on to his favoured right foot. The 22-year-old scored ten goals in the league last season and will certainly be one to watch in this campaign.