Blood on the carpet, fans are revolting – and now no Ramos

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On the plus side, there are no expectations. Still, Leonid Slutsky would probably have preferred it if his first game as manager of a Champions' League side did not involve taking a demoralised squad to Old Trafford with the blood of his two predecessors still damp on the boardroom carpet and the fans in open revolt.

The 38-year-old has acquired an impressive reputation in the nine years since he coached Olimpia Volgograd in the south zone of the Russian third flight, but guiding CSKA through to the end of the season will be a real test.

Sunday's 3-1 defeat by FK Moskva brought the end for Juande Ramos after a 46-day reign. Fans demonstrated outside the Luzhniki, chanting obscenities and blocking in the team bus until the club captain, Igor Akinfeev, emerged to address them. They received him warmly but urged him to act against other squad members who, as they see it, haven't been giving their all.

"I've been at the club since I was four years old," Akinfeev told them. "The situation is very unpleasant for me. If you think that I'm happy to concede three goals – and there could have been 10 goals – then you are mistaken." Recent events, though, may have made the goalkeeper rather keener than he might have been to listen to offers from Manchester United, who reportedly see him as a candidate to replace Edwin van der Sar when the latter retires.

It's not hard to pinpoint when it all went wrong for CSKA. There had been difficulties before, of course, not least the withdrawal of Sibneft's shirt sponsorship, but the moment at which it all tipped into crisis was a year ago last July when, with CSKA hovering in mid-table, it was decided that Valery Gazzaev should stand down at the end of the season.

By November, CSKA had climbed to second, and a departure that had carried an unusual air of dignity suddenly seemed misguided. After all, they had dispensed with Gazzaev once before, turning to the experienced Portuguese coach Artur Jorge, with disastrous consequences. Repeating the error, CSKA turned to another Portuguese speaker, Zico.

The Brazilian's pre-season preparations focused largely on ballwork rather than fitness, something that seemed popular at the time. "Show me a player who would not like it," said Yuri Zhirkov, who has since joined Chelsea. "Football is a game played with a ball, and everybody who plays in our sport likes it for that. It's not just boring, monotonous work." Boring, monotonous work, though, has its place, and not doing it seems to have left the players unfit, which perhaps explains the accusations of laziness.

As Gazzaev has led his new club, Dynamo Kiev, to the top of the Ukrainian league, his reign now seems like a golden age. "So you didn't like Gazzaev?" one fan screamed at the defender Sergei Ignashevich as he was buffeted on his way to the bus on Sunday. "Was he too tough for you?"

Zico was sacked at the beginning of September, with Ramos being appointed to replace him. Obeying the rule that the only foreign coaches to succeed in Russian football are Dutch, and hamstrung by the problems that Zico had left behind, he couldn't halt the decline, which was only worsened by the striker Vagner Love's insistence on returning to Brazil.

"We need to build a new team, which only a Russian manager can do," said the club's owner, Evgeny Giner. "Our trust in Slutsky is as big as our enthusiasm about the club's prospects." Realistically, though, those prospects now entail nothing more than finishing third in the group and making sure they are involved in the Europa League come the spring.

Champions' League games


Atletico Madrid v Chelsea

Familiar and successful visitors to Spain, Chelsea (9pts) should have few worries about this trip if the 4-0 win over Atletico (1pt) at Stamford Bridge is anything to go by. It left them three points clear of Porto (6pts), the only realistic challengers in the group, and cost Atletico's coach Abel Resina his job.

Manchester United v CSKA Moscow

The other British side with a 100 per cent record, after winning 1-0 in Moscow, United (9pts) are due at the Bridge next Sunday and will pick a team for this game with one eye on the weekend. Sir Alex Ferguson always targets 10 points to come through a group and he should soon have them.


Arsenal v AZ Alkmaar

Arsenal (7pts) received a rude surprise when AZ (2pts) equalised in the final minute in Alkmaar, but they remain top of the table and on course to reach the second stage of the competition for the 10th season in a row. Helpfully, second-placed Olympiacos (6pts) may drop points away to Standard Liège (1pt).

Lyon v Liverpool

Less rosy prospects for the other Premier League contenders Liverpool (3pts), whose home defeat by Lyon (9pts) in the last minute dropped them to third place. Second-placed Fiorentina (6pts) will be expected to win at home to Debrecen (0pts), which makes a revenge win here almost essential.

Unirea Urziceni v Rangers

Losing 4-1 at home to Sevilla (9pts) was one thing; an identical result and worse performance at home to Dan Petrescu's little-known Romanians (4pts) was something else. Rangers (1pt) have been in turmoil subsequently and badly need to claw something back here.

Steve Tongue