Eighth in the table as they entered Russia's long winter break, on paper not much has changed for FC Lokomotiv Moskva, who finished in the same position last season.
However, if results have not been revelatory, the arrival of coach Slaven Bilić – fresh from leading Croatia at UEFA EURO 2012 – has brought vitality back to a club who have had some lean years since winning the second of their Russian titles in 2004. A positive, clever side with a good team ethic, they are just one point off fourth place in a busy chasing pack in this term's Premier League.
"When I arrived, we wrote a plan for the future, and the main aim was to win the league," said Bilić, who ended a six-year spell with Croatia to return to club coaching. "As for this season, the main aim is to qualify for Europe, which means finishing in the top five. If we get a chance for more – to win the league or qualify for the UEFA Champions League – we will do everything to do that, we never give up."
Decisive words, but one famous Lokomotiv name feels that is a tall order. "It is impossible to create a new team from nothing in just half a year," Sergei Gurenko – who spent 11 years as a Loko player – told UEFA.com. "I would be happy if Loko qualified for Europe but also won't be surprised if they finish outside the top eight. For me, Bilić has done all he can. Whatever happens, they should give him at least until the end of this year."
Former Belarus captain Gurenko has seen the 44-year-old Croat make wholesale changes at his old side, with marquee summer signings including defenders Vedran Ćorluka and Reto Ziegler, Russian international Aleksandr Samedov and Senegal striker Dame N'Doye. "None of them have disgraced themselves," said the 40-year-old. "Ćorluka is a good defender, N'Doye bolstered the attack, but it is not the right time to draw conclusions. It is very difficult to assess performances in a team that have so many newcomers."
Despite the reinforcements, Gurenko can still see gaps to be filled. "They still need a central defender to partner Ćorluka – there are too many goals conceded in that area," he said. "Denis Glushakov in midfield is very strong and has improved a lot recently, but the team still need a maestro in there – an Andrea Pirlo figure."
Such players, of course, are hard to come by, yet Bilić is hoping what he has already will be enough to help him achieve his primary objective, concluding: "We have to improve in many departments – to play more tight, to play calmer without the ball and to be more purposeful – but in general I am more than satisifed with this side's character."
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