Daniil was coming into this pre-season knowing he had a job on his hands. Baltika was struggling at both ends of the park, and that was telling in their performances during the season and their final position. With both Carlos António and Denis Lipkin coming into his plans, Daniil knew that he had improved the defence slightly, but this was no good unless he had a potent attack force.
Joining António and Lipkin in the summer were three players that Daniil managed to tie down on the cheap:
Labus was the biggest signing of the season for Daniil, and he was holding out that the young Serbian would be able to form a formidable partnership with Delgado and Dyulgerov. Signing from Spartak Zdrepčeva KRV Subotica for £875,000, Daniil knew that if he played his cards right he could get a move of his suiting in the next couple of years. Both Zakharchuk and Vlasov were younger goalkeepers that Daniil was hoping to become cover within the next season or two. Vlasov had more potential, but Daniil knew how precious goalkeepers were in Russia’s market.
Daniil did make a couple of signings in the winter window, one coming in immediately and another two to come in at the end of the season:
Daniil elected to bring in Askew from Glentoran as a backup in case Clifford Mubili attracted unwanted bids. A more traditional old-fashioned CB, Daniil knew that he could rely on the Englishman should the time arise. Suárez and Mohamad would arrive at the end of the season, and Daniil would be looking to them to hit the ground running in the new season as he begins his journey to the summit of Russian football.
Russian Premier League
With survival secured in the last couple of the games, Daniil was hoping to ensure his side would not be dragged into any sort of relegation dog fight this season. The board also backed Daniil in this vision, demanding that the club avoids relegation and Daniil could not have preempted a better start to the 2034/35 campaign.
4 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats in the opening 10 games, with 15 goals scored and 14 conceded, was a marked improvement compared to the same run of games the previous season. There was still plenty of work to be done on the park, especially from the defensive side of the game, but Daniil could see early signs of encouragement.
The real test was yet to come for Daniil and Baltika, as they faced a gruesome end to the fixture list – Rubin, Zenit and Krasnodar all to be played within 2 weeks of each other. Another famous victory recorded over Rubin was a major pass-mark, and remaining competitive against Zenit & Krasnodar was a positive for the future, and with a bit of luck, Baltika’s day would come. However, the stalemates with both Lokomotiv Moscow and Rostov were missed opportunities in Daniil’s eyes and the heavy 5-2 defeat to CSKA was inexcusable; the players could count themselves fortunate they were going on a squad break the following day and didn’t need to endure the immediate fallout from Daniil. The only flaws on what would have been a perfect run of fixtures.
After feeling invigorated after the winter break and a training camp, Daniil set about pushing Baltika further up the table in his first full season and looked on course to ensure the highest-ever placed finish in the club’s history going into the game with former employers Rubin. Victory snatched with a minute left on the clock opened up the door for Rostov to close the gap going into their massive 6-pointer in 11 days time. Unfortunately, the inexperience of being in a battle for Europe was too much for the players to handle in Daniil’s first season, and back-to-back defeats were rounded off with a famous victory against Zenit. Daniil was delighted with his side’s strong performance over the course of the season. Yes, there was still work to be done, and with another transfer window, Daniil was confident in his abilities to push on for that European spot and the financial rewards that it brings.
Certainly, offensive improvements were made in the course of a season, but that defence still needed another couple of bodies in to try and solidify it. Daniil was hoping that Fábio Suárez would certainly play a part down the right-hand side.
For the second year running, the board were expecting a Fifth Round appearance, and quite rightly so given the gulf in quality between the Premier League and the lower divisions. Baltika ensured that the gulf was there to be seen, even with two heavily rotated teams for the group stage:
SKA Khabarovsk went into the final game with a slim chance of qualifying, but Daniil wasn’t going to allow his former side to spoil the atmosphere around the club and was delighted his players booked their place in to the Fifth Round.
Coming back from the winter break to play Akhmat not once but twice, was going to be a strange start to the football campaign once again, but after winning 4-0 away from home, confidence was at an all-time high. Akhmat were out for revenge after being embarrassed in front of their own fans, and they made sure Baltika were going to work hard to progress.
Akhmat really tested the nerve of Daniil’s Baltika side after being gifted an early penalty, but the efforts of both Dyulgerov and Delgado were enough to setup Baltika with an away day to St Petersburg for a Quarter-Final show-down with Zenit.
It was Zenit that crushed Baltika last season and was the beginning of a mid-season breakdown, so there was still a lot of opportunities for Baltika to prove their worth. It may not seem like much to many, but a victory here would be a massive psychological boost to the side from Kaliningrad and would send a statement of intent out to the rest of the league. However, it was not to be as Zenit controlled the game after going down to 10 men, and picked Baltika off on the counter as they pressed for a way back into the tie.
Daniil managed to take Baltika to the Quarter Finals this season, which was proof that the Murayvoy effect was beginning to rub off onto the club. With the right tweaks to the team, Daniil felt that he could go places with this Baltika side.
As much as Daniil had looked to turn round the fortunes of Baltika Kaliningrad inside one season, he wasn’t ready to stop there. More hard work was required from himself, his backroom staff and the players to take this team to new heights. More data analysis was required to try and strike the perfect balance to make further improvements.
Defensively & Offensively
Daniil could see small improvements from a defensive point of view, and put that down to the efforts of Brazilian Carlos António. Crucial games without him were telling, as in the first half of the season Baltika shipped 8 goals in a three-game spell against Yenisey, Dinamo and Lokomotiv.
From an attacking sense, Daniil was delighted with the efforts of Ivaylo Dyulgerov, Amado Delgado and Želimir Labusthroughout the season. Whilst it did take some time for the two natural strikers to get going, they certainly pushed Dyulgerov to the end in terms of goals. Perhaps the only concern Daniil had with these stats is taking fewer dribbles per game – it isn’t a feature of his playstyle but the board insist on a direct style of football and are still not happy with the style of play on the park.
There was still some re-shaping to be carried out on the team, as Daniil knew he did not have quality throughout the squad in positions. Still trying to get game-time into Oleg Yakovlev was going to be a feature for the next season, along with some promising talent in the shape of Nikita Malakhov to give him some thought. Baltika’s infrastructure was not of the highest quality, and that was telling in the facilities and crop of youth players season-on-season; yet another season has gone past where Daniil hasn’t been made to sit up and take notice of a player. However, Daniil could only moan about the situation the club was in, there was no way to improve on any of the facilities due to the current finances. And the next couple of years were not looking much more promising. European football has now become a necessity.
Daniil was suddenly optimistic about his chances in the new season. The right transfer activity could really settle some scores in Russia and provide Baltika with some much-needed funding in the shape of European football.