After a rollercoaster of emotions in November, Daniil made it to the end of the season with SKA Khabarovsk and was looking forward to switching off over the summer break. It had been a tough 6 months for everyone involved at the club, but Daniil was really feeling the pressures of being in a bigger job.

Immediately, Daniil made little plans to sign anyone in the winter window, as he trusted the squad he had inherited; they were on a run of 5 games unbeaten, and confidence was on the up. But he knew he had to bring someone in that understands his way of working and would then improve the team in due time:

Relying on his knowledge of players from Vladivostok, Daniil could see potential in Pershin and wanted to make him part of the team. A bit of a pricey deal, could reach the highs of £2,300,000, it is a high-risk deal but Daniil is sure that Pershin will come good – the board, however, were not best pleased with this deal.

Daniil was not around for the initial youth intake review, but when the youth candidates came to town, Daniil ensured he was available to watch the game. Still learning his squad, Daniil was unsure of what he was looking for from the prospects, but he knew himself that any potential standout talent would present themselves.

From overseeing the players train, it was apparent that Daniil had three elite talents at his disposal. With better facilities than that of Vladivostok, Daniil was optimistic that these youngsters could develop and find a pathway to the first team:

A defender and two wide attacking players, all of which would fit into the first team tactic seamlessly. A lot of work to be done on the training ground, but with a push in the right direction, the club could financially benefit from these three in the future.

Sticking to the tactic he knows best, SKA Khabarovsk adopted Daniil’s 4231 with a slightly off central striker to try and throw defences off:

Daniil had in his head that the left inside forward would fill a bit of the void left on the left-hand side of the box, whilst the shadow striker would then get a bit closer to the advanced forward to offer support and lay-offs. A wide advanced playmaker was an experiment that Daniil was unsure of, but knowing his left side of the attack was going to be supporting the striker, the deep-lying playmaker on the left would need balanced assistance on the right. 

It would be fair to say that the experiment paid dividends for Daniil and SKA Khabarovsk.

First Division

Daniil took the job whilst SKA Khabarovsk was flirting with the relegation spots. A couple of positive results saw a gap open up between themselves and Metallurg Lipetsk, but Daniil knew that he had to hit the ground running in his first game; a tricky home game against 9th placed Textilschik Ivanovo.

Not only did Daniil see off the challenge of Textilschik Ivanovo, but Daniil also lay down the gauntlet to the rest of the division. 13 games played, 1 defeat and 2 draws. The tremendous form left the board questioning what could have been had the squad lived up to its expectations at the start of the season. Daniil was receiving plaudits for turning it around in Khabarovsk, but he knew that this was just the beginning, and his successful 6-month spell meant the pressure was going to be on after the summer.

The league comparison was worrying, and Daniil knew that if he had landed the job a couple of weeks earlier, the outcome of the season could have been very different. Since Daniil’s introduction, SKA Khabarovsk pursued a late play-off push, but the draw at home to Baltika, along with a narrow defeat to UFA and final day share of the spoils with Rotor, SKA Khabarovsk had to settle for a 6th place finish which seemed impossible prior to Christmas.

Russian Cup

Daniil had to thank his predecessor for the cup results to this point. SKA Khabarovsk had navigated a tricky tie against league opponents KamAZ, before topping a group with Anzhi Makhachkala and Neftekhimik – albeit thanks to penalties.

Rotor then awaited Khabarovsk in the fifth round, and a very cagey away game saw Daniil overcome a tricky low block side. And then it was the minnows against the big boys, SKA Khabarovsk was out of their depth in the quarter-finals; all teams remaining were Russian Premier League sides, and it was always going to be one tricky tie, no matter who was drawn.

Daniil refused to back down from his trusty 4231, especially with the home advantage, he knew that this was his best chance of causing a shock upset in this competition.

It was not to be for Daniil’s side, as Ruben Loftus-Cheek ensured there was heartbreak late on in the game. However, Daniil knew there was a lot of positives to take from this performance, both in his team and his own limited managerial experience. They had pushed Krasnodar, who often compete on the European stage, right to the bitter death; whilst giving them a couple of scares along the way. Daniil felt that extra time was deserved in the end, but was delighted that Khabarovsk gave a good account of themselves. It bodes well for after the summer and Daniil was optimistic for next season already.

Kubok FNL Cup

A cup tournament that kicked off shortly after the winter break, and Danil used it for getting players back up to match fitness and in shape for a big 2nd half of the season. However, Daniil was a bit disappointed with the collapse against Textilschik Ivanovo as this then cost them qualifying into the finals as group winners – potentially a shot at Europe.

A competition not worth dwelling on now, Daniil was happy as it gave him the perfect opportunity to sound out his starting eleven for the league – that was always going to be the bigger focus.

Daniil knew he could enjoy his summer break knowing that he exceeded the board’s expectations at the point of appointment; after all, he was only instructed to avoid relegation, not push for an unlikely playoff spot. He now knew a system that suited his players, and what ones he could get the best out of:

Arkhipov was not firing on all cylinders until Daniil’s arrival, he then went on to become the team’s top goal-scorer which was a problem prior to Daniil’s arrival. He was going to massive for the team after the summer, and Daniil wanted to keep a hold of him for as long as possible.

At the other end of the park, CSKA Moscow loanee Dmitry Kaptilovich was showing real maturity and putting in masterclass performances in defence. A loan spell that certainly worked in the young man’s favour Daniil was already on the phone to Moscow about potentially extending it for another season – he was going to be vital in any promotion push.

Finally, Vasily Aleinikov broke up play and kept things simple in the middle of the park. Daniil always had a keen eye for attacking flair players, but Aleinikov was a breath of fresh air. Deployed as the ball-winning midfielder in the two, he was always going to be that player who recovered the ball and gave it straight to the more technical players. Aleinikov was not graced with many talents himself, but he certainly put in a talented set of performances for Daniil over the final 6 months.

Daniil was glad to get away from the football for a few weeks before the chaos started again. He had set the standard quite high in his first 6 months of a bigger job, and he knew that there was going to be a sense of expectancy surrounding everything he would do throughout the summer and going into the new season.

The board had already called a meeting to discuss their new 5-year plan following how quickly Daniil turned their fortunes around. They wanted that playoff spot sooner rather than later. It was up to Daniil to restructure the team in a way that the new players can live up to the demands set by those before them.

Daniil had finally found his calling in life. He was finally content.

Last year’s success is today’s expectation

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