After a far from impressive spell under Fabio Capello left the Russian national team in a dismal state, CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky has stepped in and almost steadied the ship.
However, a once settled squad has been decimated by injuries to star players including Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov and Alan Dzagoev. The Russian starting XI is now an odd assembly of ageing defenders, second string midfielders and a strike force that would not exist if Zenit St. Petersburg refused their players to go on international duty.
And yet, any of us who have experienced the agonising trauma of watching England in an international tournament will tell you never to write the opposition off. While Russia may not have their most talented men on the pitch come Saturday in Marseille, they still have the nous to compete with England in every department.
Here are the FIVE Russian stars that England must watch out for this Saturday.
Arguably the best player in Russia’s ageing defensive line, Igor Smolnikov has endured a hard-fought battle to become one of his nation’s best defenders. Only emerging in the Russian Premier League three years ago, the 27-year-old is now the starting right-back for both his club, Zenit, and country.
With decent pace going forward and, perhaps more importantly for the clash against England, an astute defensive brain, Smolnikov may prove a tough nut to crack on Saturday evening.
At just 20, Aleksandr Golovin is the youngest player in the Russian squad, but is also one of the most naturally gifted.
Likely to start on Saturday, after injuries decimated much of Russia’s first choice midfield, Golovin will provide the most obvious attacking threat for his team, offering the link between defence and attack. Expect the youngster to see a lot of the ball against England… when Russia have any possession, that is.
One of three men set to lead the line for Russia come Saturday, Aleksandr Kokorin will likely be employed on the right of the three-pronged attack.
Despite being one of Russia’s most significant goal threats, Kokorin has struggled for form since moving to Zenit from Dynamo Moscow in January. However, his instinctive eye for goal and directness may prove a challenge for the English defence.
The second of the three men set to start in Russia’s attack in Marseille, Oleg Shatov is one of the form men in his national team.
The Zenit star will start on the left and provide an exciting match up with Kyle Walker, who will likely begin at right-back for England. The little winger is fast, skilful and dynamic and will look to get on the ball as often as possible.
The man set to complete the Zenit trio of Russia’s frontline, the performances of Artem Dzyuba will likely determine how Russia fare in France.
A man mountain at 6ft 5, Dzyuba is an obvious aerial threat and will be employed to hold the ball up for his more agile team-mates, while also providing a powerful presence at set pieces.
England will need to base their entire defensive structure around Dzyuba, who has recorded a goal every two games during his international career.