After seven years without a championship, PFC CSKA Moskva finally returned to the pinnacle in Russia, edging out FC Zenit St Petersburg by two points. As in their last glorious campaign of 2006, the Army Men secured the title in their penultimate game, and will play UEFA Champions League football again next term. UEFA.com looks at seven reasons for CSKA's success.
1. Transfer market savvy
CSKA comfortably got the most out of the transfer market in terms of quality-to-price ratio. Signings like Brazilian right-back Mário Fernandes and Sweden duo Rasmus Elm and Pontus Wernbloom did not just add strength-in-depth; they became integral players, with the latter particularly impressing throughout the campaign. All arrived with sensible price tags and made far greater impacts than some of the big-money buys elsewhere in the Premier-Liga.
2. Consistency of selection
The backbone of the team has remained constant for many years, with the defence, especially, undergoing minimal changes over recent campaigns. Their ability to keep the likes of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and playmakers Keisuke Honda and Alan Dzagoev meant there was no major reshuffling – and that trio's consistency was key to title glory.
3. Failure of opponents
CSKA were seven points ahead of Zenit at one stage last season, only to finish third. Lessons learned this year, the Army Men did not falter and took full advantage when Zenit lost crucial ground with away draws against FC Kuban Krasnodar and FC Rostov. FC Anji Makhachkala also ended weakly to come in third.
4. Beating the bottom half
The championship was not won in games against direct rivals – for instance, CSKA took just a point from matches against Zenit – but thanks to an ability to put away weaker opponents without mercy. The Muscovites' only defeats by those in the depths came on the second day of term at FC Amkar Perm and on the final day at FC Rostov, with the title already theirs.
5. Vágner Love's return
Many people doubted the wisdom of re-signing the tempestuous Brazilian in January, yet the 28-year-old forward demonstrated what a top player he is. Scoring five times after the mid-season break, he supplemented an attack already boasting the talents of Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia.
6. Elimination from Europe
Without the biggest squad, CSKA's painful August departure from the UEFA Europa League play-offs proved a blessing in disguise. With just domestic matters to concentrate on, Leonid Slutski's men refocused and fought successfully on two fronts – they face Anji in Saturday's Russian Cup final with the double at stake.
7. Patience with the coach
"I have asked to leave several times already," Slutski said after CSKA's loss to Swedish side AIK in those UEFA Europa League play-offs. However, his resignation was refused and the 42-year-old coach has vindicated the club's decision. The title is the first of his career, debunking earlier criticism that he didn't have what it takes to win a championship; he has proved his detractors wrong. "There is the huge role of the coach in this success," CSKA adviser Valeri Nepomnyaschi told UEFA.com. "Slutski is a clever person, he learns from his and others' mistakes. CSKA were close to winning the title last year but the team were not good enough in the end. Now everything's worked out."
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.