Golovin is a true central midfielder of the textbook box-to-box variety. He’s best when on the run, either while charging at an opponent who has the ball and trying to snatch it away with his ever-churning and -nipping legs, or while galloping down the pitch with the ball at his feet, commanding the thing with firm and precise touches that are the hallmarks of his quite impressive dribbling ability.


Like all good all-around midfielders, Golovin has an equal passion for throwing himself into his defensive work in front of his own penalty area and for stampeding forward toward the opponent’s. It helps that his two best skills are probably his tackling and his silky dribbling. He’s always a threat to steal the ball away when a player within leg’s reach of him has it, and it’s exceptionally difficult to take the ball off of him when he’s picked it up. Combined with his rifle of a shot—which he can pop off with both feet—and his solid vision, he’s probably the most well-rounded attack-minded player in the Russian squad.

The CSKA Moscow man is already rumored to have caught the eye of some big Premier League teams. With a good showing this summer, he could very well convince Arsenal or Manchester United or any of his other admirers to snap him up. If any Russian is primed to make a name for himself at the World Cup for the things they do on the pitch, it’s probably Golovin. Best to check him out now, since you might be seeing a lot more of him in the near future.


Aleksey and Anton Miranchuk

Joining the aforementioned Golovin as Russia’s young contingent of exciting attacking prospects are Aleksey and Anton Miranchuk. The Miranchuks are cool because they are versatile, tricky with the ball at their feet, adept at slicing open defenses with incisive passes, and, best of all, they’re twins! The following video isn’t the best collection of highlights of either Aleksey’s or Anton’s skills, but it is a video that includes both brother-teammates and is set to an exquisitely bad dance track, so it’s the one we’ve chosen to show you:

The brothers Miranchuk both play for Lokomotiv Moscow, and both can feature pretty much anywhere in midfield or attack. Aleksey is the better of the two and saw his career blossom much quicker than his brother’s. Anton, though, has also emerged in his own right over the past season or so and is now seen as one of Russia’s better young talents. The two 22-year-olds aren’t likely to get many shared minutes out on the pitch together during the tournament, but the presence of either one will ever so slightly increase the chances that Russia put together a series of passes or a run or a shot that quickens your pulse a little. In this largely anemic Russian squad, that’s about as much as you can hope for.


How They Play

Not very well. The one constant in manager Stanislav Cherchesov’s setup has been his three-at-the-back formations. Besides that, the rest of the formation, the style of play, and even the personnel are almost completely up for grabs. There have been wild shifts in who plays, where those who play line up, and how the team performs over recent matches, so it’s pretty hard to predict much of anything with these guys. All you can really bank on is that goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, defender Fyodor Kudryashov, and striker Fyodor Smolov will start, some combination of Golovin, the Miranchuk twins, and Dzagoev will support them in the other midfield and attack positions, and that the Russians will attempt to hang on for dear life so their porous defensive line doesn’t get run through too often.


Still, this isn’t necessarily a terrible thing for Russia’s chances to advance. Uruguay are the clear favorites of this group, and Saudi Arabia should be the punching bags. A win in the opener against the eminently beatable Saudis combined with a positive result against Egypt in the following match and Russia will be sitting pretty. It’s perfectly possible that Russia will secure the four or five points needed to get smashed up in the Round of 16, but the specifics of how they go about doing so probably won’t be of much particular interest.

Group A Fixtures

All times Eastern

June 14, 11 a.m.: Russia vs. Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium

June 19, 2 p.m.: Russia vs. Egypt at Saint Petersburg Stadium

June 25, 10 a.m.: Uruguay vs. Russia at Samara Arena