Vladimir Latunov’s first season managing in his Motherland hadn’t exactly started superbly as a stuttering campaign saw his Ural Yekaterinburg side languishing eighth in the Russian Premier League. However, the Russian manager had his sights well and truly set on the long-term as he looked to complete the final leg on his Soviet Surge.
Moving into 2041, his first action in the transfer window was to recall 19-year-old striker Oleg Malygin, who Ural had bizarrely sent out on loan to Yenisey before Latunov joined the club in the summer. Not only had Malygin scored 12 goals and lifted Yenisey above Ural in the league, he also won Russian Young Player of the Year.
He then set about flogging some of the many poor performers thus far this season, taking his player sales at Ural to 25 for a total of £35 million in six months! He quickly invested some of that money into finally getting a half decent goalkeeper in Anders Hansen, who cost £3 million from Kobenhavn, and exciting centre-back Simon Pettersson, who cost £2.9 million from Malmo.
Russian Premier League resumes
A three-month winter break ended with a tough trip to fourth-place Rostov. The hosts led early on with a stunning free-kick but Ural came flying back with a Malygin tap-in and Hansen launched a ball over the top for Petr Janousek to put them ahead. But another set-piece saw Ural nick a late equaliser from a corner.
The games came thick and fast, beginning with right-winger Yanislav Vasev scoring late to seal a deserved 1-0 win over strugglers Akhmat. They then went to Spartak Moscow and got a very much undeserved 2-1 win thanks to a brace from striker Enes Vrbnjak.
Another tough away day took them to leaders Zenit. But Vrbnjak was at it again with a stunning hat-trick along with Janousek tucking away a very lucky penalty to crown a shock 4-0 thumping of Zenit. And that has to be up there as the best victory of Latunov’s 21-year career.
The winning streak ended with a 3-3 draw at home to Krylja Sovetov, who scored twice in the last six minutes to nick a draw. Another big away win saw a 3-1 success at fifth-place Yenisey thanks to goals from Vrbnjak, Vasev and a Janousek penalty. That moved Ural to nine games without defeat and seven points clear of their opponents. A late goal of their own saw Vrbnjak nick a 1-0 win at Lokomotiv Moscow in the 92nd-minute.
Finishing the season strongly
Two massive games followed as Ural welcomed two title challengers to Yekaterinburg. First up was third-place CSKA Moscow and Ural started brightly with 10 shots in the first 20 minutes. They made one of those count as Vrbnjak set up Janousek on 10 minutes, and that proved to be enough for a 1-0 win that moved them level with CSKA, who offered very little. Next up was leaders Zenit, who scored three set piece goals to get undeserved payback.
A messy late Janousek goal nicked a 1-0 win in a scrappy match at Arsenal Tula. They then had a poor start at Rubin but doubles from both Janousek and Vrbnjak put them 4-1 up at half-time from just six shots. A second half of 11 shots delivered one more goal from young midfielder Victor Gavrilin to seal an impressive 5-1 thumping.
They backed that up with a terrible performance at relegation-threatened Akhmat but managed to salvage a 1-1 draw on Latunov’s 57th birthday. But that point did confirm the best-ever finish in Ural’s history, which was previously 4th in 2038/39.
The campaign concluded with a cracking match at home to Anji. Both sides traded direct free-kicks in the first half and Vrbnjak restored Ural’s lead after the break only for Anji to immediately equalise. But just as it looked to be ending in a draw, substitute Malygin hit an absolute stunner from 25 yards to nick it 3-2.
That ensured Ural finished third in the Russian Premier League on 60 points, level on points with second-place Krasnodar. They were 13 points back from champions Zenit and seven clear of CSKA in fourth. Ural had the fourth-best attack with 56 goals and fifth-best defence with 34 conceded.
A huge uptick in form after the winter break had seen Ural surge from seventh, and Latunov being at risk of the sack, to finish third. Indeed, after 17 games they only had 30 points and 28 goals. But they doubled that points and goals tally in the final 13 games of the campaign.
Vrbnjak and Janousek came joint-fourth in the top goalscorer race with 15 league goals apiece and midfielder Valery Tereschenko got the third-most assists (9), fourth-most key passes (79) and created the most clear cut chances (9). While Hansen had the third-best save ratio of 81%, which is a major reason for the side’s improved form at the end of the season.
Ural enjoyed a record-breaking season that culminated in their highest-ever league finish. Vrbnjak broke the club record for most goals in a season with 17 and most goals in a match with a hat-trick, while Janousek set a new club record of 11 assists. Yordan Syurdzhiev set the worst discipline record in the club’s history with his 17 bookings and Ruslan Kudrayvtsev became its youngest-ever player aged 16 years and 43 days.
The key men this season were the strikeforce of Vrbnjak and Janousek. Vrbnjak scored 17 and got four assists, which won him the fans’ player and young player of the season, signing of the season and goal of the season. Janousek got 15 goals and 11 assists along with the most player of the match awards.
Vasev chipped in with nine goals and three assists, Tereschenko got five goals and nine assists and Syrudzhiev popped up with two goals and four assists.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov looks to further strengthen and rebuild his Ural Yekaterinburg side to try and move closer to the dominant Zenit.