The long hard Yekaterinburg winter of 2042 had given Russian manager Vladimir Latunov plenty to think about as his FC Ural side led the Russian Premier League going into a mid-season break.
He knew that if his Ural boys held onto their narrow lead over Zenit, then not only would be their first-ever title but also his last. That’s because Latunov had lifted titles in 12 of the 13 nations on his Soviet Surge mission of winning every available top tier division in Eastern Europe. The only prize alluding him was that of the Motherland.
The winter break saw striker Petr Janousek, who’d struggled this season and been replaced by Oleg Malygin, attract the attention of various Chinese clubs. He eventually moved to SIPG for a huge £18 million.
Latunov replaced Janousek with 2-year-old Bulgarian striker Ivan Hristov, who’d scored 31 goals in two season for Botev Plovdiv and cost £4million. He also loaned in Napoli midfielder/winger Anass Saidi to offer a little more support to a fairly weak midfield.
European Conference League knockouts
2042 began with a European Conference League first knockout round clash with French side Nice. They went behind early in the home leg but new boy hristov came on as a sub and scored within three minutes of his debut to grab an equaliser. But they dominated the away leg and eventually got a deserved win as Hristov tucked home a late penalty.
But Latunov rested first-team players for the next round against Vitoria Guimaraes and they were a little unlucky to lose 2-0 on aggregate.
Title battle resumes
A three-month winter break ended with an absolutely huge game at the top of the table as leaders Ural hosted second-place Zenit. They got off to a flyer as summer signing Yury Yarygin struck from 20 yards after five minutes. Zenit threatened in spells but Urral held firm and eventually made certain of it with two late strikes by the league’s top scorer Enes Vrbnjak. Ural deserved the win and, while 3-0 was a little harsh on Zenit, it put them in a great position in the league, stretching their lead to five points.
However, Ural immediately threw away that advantage with a 3-2 defeat at Krylja Sovetov, which ended a 14-game unbeaten record. They then travelled to Rubin with nine players ridiculously on international duty for friendlies with Russia Under 23s and three suspensions, meaning just 13 first-team players were available. It turned out to be a belter, in which Rubin led three times but Ural battled to equalise each time, including a 93rd-minute equaliser by Vrbnjak. But suddenly Zenit were back level on points again and there were just six points between first and eighth place!
They got back to winning ways in style as a Vrbnjak hat-trick and a late Yarygin strike sealed a 4-0 thumping of Dinamo Moscow. A 0-0 draw with fourth-place Rostov came the day that Zenit lost at Akhmat. An opportunity to bounce back saw Chernabinsk, who’d lost 14 in a row!, come to town. Ural started well and Hristov got his first league goals for the club with a first-half brace. The visitors responded with a penalty but Vrbnjak bagged a brace of his own before his replacement Malygin wrapped up a 5-1 thrashing.
A huge game took Ural to seventh-place Krasnodar, which looked to be drifting to a 0-0 that Krasnodar had the best of with 25 shots to 10. However, substitute Malygin stepped up to score a dramatic 90th-minute winner.
Five games from glory
With five games remaining, the Russian Premier League had served up an epic title battle. Ural led the way, one point clear of Zenit, six ahead of CSKA, eight ahead of Krylja Sovetov and nine clear of Spartak.
Game 1 – Yenisey (away): The run-in began at mid-table Yenisey. Ural came out and dominated the first half with 14 shots to two and Vasev made that domination count with a goal and an assist for Malygin. Vrbnjak’s 25th goal of the season wrapped up a comfortable 3-0 win.
Game 2 – Torpedo Moscow (home): Torpedo still only had four points from 26 matches. A great start saw Vasev slam home from 30 yards inside a minute and Vrbnjak doubled the lead before half-time. Hristov came off the bench to score a penalty and seal an easy 3-0 win, in which Ural had 27 shots to three. Zenit came from behind to beat Krasnodar 2-1 but have a game in hand.
Game 3 – CSKA Moscow (away): A much tougher test followed at third-place CSKA, who scored in the first minute of both halves. However, Ural equalised both times with a penalty, surprisingly taken by right-back Simon Pettersson, and Malygin. But, despite 25 shots to eight, Ural couldn’t find a winner. However, that point confirmed at least second place and, for the second season in a row, the highest-ever finish in Ural’s history.
Zenit won 3-0 to close the gap to two points but only drew their game in hand at fifth-place Rostov, meaning just one point separating the top two heading into the final two games.
Game 4 – Anji (away): The penultimate game of the season took Ural to relegation-threatened Anji. A bright start saw Vrbnjak tuck home a brilliant Yarygin through ball in the second minute. Ural controlled the game and eventually doubled their lead through Pettersson, again assisted by Yarygin. Zenit also won 2-0 at dismal Torpedo to take it to the final day with one point still separating the two sides.
Game 5 – Spartak Moscow (home): The final day saw Ural entertain fourth-place Spartak while Zenit entertained ninth-place Yenisey. The combative Yordan Syurdzhiev didn’t help the cause as he got sent off for a two-footed lunge from behind after just seven minutes. Latunov went to a 4-4-1 and Ural held firm, until Vrbnjak was sent through on goal and coolly converted after half an hour. Spartak probably had the better of the game but found goalkeeper Anders Hansen in player of the match form. And they couldn’t get through him, as he inspired his team to a 1-0 win and the Russian title.
Ural Yekaterinburg won the Russian Premier League for the first time in its history!!
That huge final day win ensured Ural won the Russian title buy just one point from Zenit. They won 20 of their 30 games, drawing seven and losing three times. They also had the best attack in the league with 67 goals scored and only Zenit and, strangely, 10th-place Akhmat conceded less than their 28.
Vrbnjak’s title-deciding goal took him to a league-high 25 goals, nine more than Arsenal Tula’s Yuval Asis. The striker also had the second-best average rating of 7.35, while Yarygin topped the assists chart with 11 followed by midfielder Victor Gavrilin with nine. And final day hero Hansen had a league-high 16 clean sheets.
Yarygin’s efforts won him the Russian Premier League rookie of the year award, along with goal of the season for a strike against Anji in November. Ural players accounted 10 players in the league’s team of the season!
Vrbnjak was Ural’s main man this season, scoring 28 goals in 38 games in all competitions, which won him the fans’ player and young player of the season. But the impact of summer signing Yarygin can’t be underestimated as he scored 14 and assisted 11 in 30 games with a club-high average rating of 7.30.
Malygin also impressed with 12 goals and seven assists while Vasev got nine goals and nine assists and Gavrilin got ten assists and two goals.
Soviet Surge comes to an end
Vladimir Latunov’s title success with FC Ural sees him wrap up his 13th national title. That means he’s now won all of the Eastern European titles available on Football Manager 2021, with title successes in Poland, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia, Belarus, Bulgaria and Russia.
An epic 22-year journey across 13 countries saw Latunov win 16 titles and a total of 21 trophies, including two promotions. He managed 928 games, of which he won 610, drew 167 and lost 151. His sides scored 1,921 goals and conceded 853.
Join us next time as we review this Soviet Surge, look at some of the standout players from the save, and look at where Latunov’s former clubs are now.