Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge takes a close look at the strikers hitting the goal trail across the Russian Premier League.
The RPL has usually been a low-scoring one but, over the past two years, and particularly during this season's new winter-spring format, there has been a notable rise in the number of goals scored.
This is probably as much to do with a dearth in good defenders as it is in a glut of good strikers, which probably helped fuel rumours that Vidic might return to Russia and play for Anzhi. Currently, the Makhachkala side are the league leaders, with 26 points after 11 games, but have conceded 11, kept only three clean sheets, and have a worse goal difference than fourth-placed Zenit.
Moreover, the league's leading goalscorers aren't exactly household names across Europe. Top of the charts is currently Brazilian Danilo Neco, whose pedigree is the Korean K-League and who plays for 12th-placed Alania, followed by Armenian-American and former MLS forward Yura Movsisyan, who plays for Krasnodar. Even rock-bottom Volga's forward Aleksey Sapogov has bagged five goals in 11 games – the same as Anzhi's Lacina Traore – and his last came against perennial powerhouse CSKA.
This all makes for exciting neutral viewing but unnerves fans, frustrates managers, and doesn't bode well for those Russian teams in Europe, where porous defences are more ruthlessly exposed.
Among the lesser known strikers running around Russia is of course Anzhi superstar Samuel Eto'o.
His performances this season have probably helped inspire the 31-year-old to reverse his decision to retire from international football. Eto'o has scored seven League goals in 11 games so far, none of which were penalties, and this haul has helped Anzhi go top of the Russian Premier League for the first time in their history. They are also top of Group A in the Europa League.
The only thing that’s missing for Guus Hiddink’s high-flyers is a trophy, something which Eto’o is keen to provide.
"In my career, there have been great victories,” said the three-time Champions League winner. “If you're talking about the future, I would like to be in the group of people who bring the first cup to Anzhi. Gradually, we have created a good team, and we hope that the results will certainly come.”
Another player making waves is Bibras Natkho, a 24-year-old Israeli midfielder playing for Rubin. He joined the Kazan side from Hapoel Tel-Aviv on 10th March 2010, has so far scored an impressive 17 goals in 66 games, and is one of the side’s penalty takers.
Natkho has played for nearly every Israeli national team and was the first non-Jewish captain of an Israel youth team. He is of Circassian descent, from the small Adyghe community, which is well integrated into Israeli society, centred around two villages and moderately muslims. Circassians have their own unique culture, speak their native Adyghe and Russian, and learn Hebrew, Arabic and English at school. Natkho doesn't speak Russian but is a devout muslims, which might have influenced his decision to go to Kazan.
He had a cousin called Nili, who was a promising basketball player, but she tragically died in a car accident in 2004, and Natkho wears the number 66 on his shirt in memory of her as she also played under this number. His talent was discovered by his uncle and former player Adam Natkho, who was a coach at Israeli Second Division side, Hapoel Kfar Saba. He's now director general at Russian third tier side Druzhba Maikop.
While Natkho and other foreigners appear to be dominating the RPL's scorers' table, there are some young Russian forwards who are worth watching for the future. Despite Dynamo's poor start to the season, 21-year-old Aleksandr Kokorin has still managed to bag three goals and was called up by Russia coach Fabio Capello.
Also named was 22-year-old Fyodor Smolov, who is currently on loan from Dynamo at Anzhi, though is more of a winger than a striker. Last Friday, a goal in each half by Smolov ended the Czech Republic’s four-year unbeaten run in qualifying for the European Under-21 Championships, as Russia won 2-0 in the first leg of their play-off. The brace also took the 22-year-old’s tally to six in this qualifying campaign.
And finally, there's Denis Cheryshev. The 21-year-old son of former forward Dmitri can play as an attacking midfielder or up front, is part of Real Madrid's second team, and is on Real's list of players for the Champions League.