There was a time when the Italian league was regarded as the ultimate bastion of defensive football, but even at its peak Serie A never had statistics quite like the new domestic season in Kazakhstan.
After six rounds of fixtures, there has been an average of only 0.82 goals per game; just two of the Kazakh Premier League's 12 teams have scored at an average of more than one goal a match, and leaders FC Astana boast the brilliant record P6 W4 D2 L0 F4 A0 – and it does not take a genius to work out the results of all their games so far from that. However, a shortage of early-season goals is not necessarily a freak outcome.
Kazakhstan has always had a focus on physical strength as opposed to skilful attacking football, with that tendency for caution having become more ingrained since Kazakhstan became a UEFA member nation. When Kazakh sides play in UEFA competition there is a marked tendency to play defensive football – to sit back and soak up pressure rather than, to use the local idiom, push forward and "die a hero's death".
However, former FC Kairat Almaty, Astana, FC Atyrau and Kazakhstan Under-21 coach Kairat Aymanov told UEFA.com that the national league is not bereft of creativity. "I would not say that all our sides rely purely on physical power," he noted. "The FC Aktobe attacking line is creative. FC Ordabasy Shymkent are quick going forward. FC Kaysar Kyzylorda know how to put their rivals under pressure. In Europe, our teams can also be bold."
Bravery, however, counts for little without goals, and consistent goalscorers can be hard to come by in Kazakhstan. Arsen Tlekhugov's haul of 30 for FC Zhenis Astana in 2001 was an extraordinary total by national standards, and Tlekhugov, Ulugbek Bakaev and Murat Tleshev are the only strikers who have made it to 20 goals in a season in the last decade.
"Obviously not everyone can match the strike rate of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez, but a decent forward has to aim for a minimum 15 goals a season," said Aymanov. "Our leading strikers are out of form at the moment. Bakaev has stopped scoring while FC Shakhter Karagandy captain Andrei Finonchenko has not been as sharp as an out-and-out striker as he can be."
That could all be down to pressure. Kazakh clubs are ambitious; almost every team in the division has set a target of a top-three or top-six finish, an atmosphere in which coaches may prefer to avoid defeats rather than strive for victories. "There are no easy matches, which means there is no time and space to experiment and search for the new," admitted Aymanov. "You have to produce results no matter what."
It may well be that the pressure ends up being a positive force, toughening Kazakh defences up for the next UEFA club competition campaigns. Shakhter achieved a notable local first by playing in last season's UEFA Europa League group stage, and the harder attackers are made to work at home, the sharper they will be come the summer.
Moreover, Aymanov says that – as winter subsides – he expects a thaw in goalscoring terms too. "The weather is a factor sometimes – there was a gale blowing during one of Shakhter's home games," he said. "I believe that as the weather gets warmer, the goals follow."
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