Back-to-back titles, the end of an era, some midweek fun in Europe and officials ‘enjoying’ one too many shots of Slivovice.
Sixteen league games played, sixteen league games won.
Sixteen league games played, thirty-three goals scored, four conceded, and forty-eight points gained.
It was a record-breaking run; a run that would see Viktoria Plzen be crowned the champions of the Czech Republic for the fourth time in six seasons.
It all started in November with a 2-1 victory over Sparta Prague. But for the next six months, nobody in the Synot Liga could hold a candle to Plzen. They shut out free-scoring Mlada Boleslav, matched Slovan Liberec blow for blow, and did the double over Sparta Prague.
Yes, like with all long runs such as this, there were hiccups along the way. They were fortunate to beat Zlin and scraped past mediocre opposition on other occasions.
But sixteen successive victories?
That sort of run does not come about due to good fortune: This was a truly dominant and comprehensive title defence that you are likely to see, even if they did tail off once the champagne corks popped.
It was not all straightforward, though. In the early stages of the season, the emphasis was clearly on qualifying for the Champions League Group Stages at any cost, and as a result, their domestic form suffered terribly.
Yet when they crashed out of the Champions League at the hands of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Plzen found themselves in a quandary and the management decided that revolution was the only solution.
Miroslav Koubek was sacked with the team struggling domestically due to the decision to prioritise their European ambitions and the club’s hierarchy decided to bring some familiar faces back to the Doosan Arena to ‘get things back on track’.
After being Pavel Vrba’s long-standing number two, Karel Krejci was given the chance to become a number one for the first time in his career. Moreover, there was a second welcome return as Pavel Horvath, the rotund former club captain, was unveiled as his assistant.
Krejci did not have to do much in order to sculpture a side capable of fighting for domestic glory. Thanks to successive abject displays against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League, he was able to focus his and his players’ efforts into defending their league crown. Michal Duris responded with a potentially career-defining season up front, whilst Ales Mateju and Jan Baranek came of age in and ousted a couple of established internationals from their starting berths.
Without a serious challenge and lucky enough to go through the season without any of their key players suffering a serious injury, it was all a little bit too easy for Plzen. The title was wrapped up fairly early and many of their players metaphorically went on holiday before the season officially ended, hence their eyebrow-raising final few results.
Something tells me that they won’t have it all their own way next season…
On paper, a (relatively distant) second place finish in the league and a tame exit in the MOL Cup semi-finals would represent a terrible season for Sparta Prague. But, a frankly wonderful showing in Europe heals all wounds and their journey to the Europa League quarter-final will ensure that 2015-16 is remembered for all the right reasons.
Initially, though, results were all over the place. Elimination from the Champions League at the hands of CSKA Moscow might not have been surprising but the manner of the defeat was borderline farcical: After racing into a two-goal lead at home, the players collectively capitulated and proceeded to lose 3-2.
That bizarre display against CSKA was, unfortunately for them, not a unique occurrence. Throughout the autumn, nobody appeared to know what the hell they were doing. A scattergun transfer policy was exposed, as was the side’s inability to grasp the art of the three-man defence and as a result performances fluctuated, culminating in a tame and embarrassing defeat to cross-town rivals Slavia.
After the winter break, Sparta seemed to be a club reborn. Everything that had failed in the autumn was now working seamlessly. They had bought smartly and their players had grasped the art of switching between formations at a moment’s notice.
Displays on domestic soil picked up, but it was in Europe were they truly stole the headlines. Krasnodar and Lazio (yes, that Lazio!) were brushed aside with ease as Sparta made a historic run into the latter stages of the Europa League, drawing praise from around Europe in the process.
This brilliant run did take it out of the club, though. As injuries and suspensions mounted up, results dipped. But, as witnessed by their 3-0 demolition of Slovan Liberec, when they’re close to full strength and playing with confidence, they’re probably the best team in the country.
Arguably the most enjoyable team to watch this season was Mlada Boleslav. With their triumvirate of Jiri Skalak, Ales Cermak and Lukas Magera in superlative form in the autumn, the Stredocesky club racked up goal after goal as they put most of their peers to the sword in a wonderfully breathtaking fashion.
Yet, despite ending the season as the Synot Liga’s most prolific side, they ultimately finished well off the pace, thanks to a string of defensive misdemeanours. If only ‘fun to watch’ won points.
For most of the year, Boleslav were locked in a tussle with Slovan Liberec over third, a fight that Liberec would eventually win on the last day of the season.
As has become the norm, Liberec had to rebuild their entire house from the ground up over the summer. The likeable and baseball cap-wearing Jindrich Trpisovsky arrived from Viktoria Zizkov and quickly introduced his slightly cynical version of ‘heavy metal football’ to the Czech northeast. Throughout the season key players left and throughout the season key players were replaced – and they not only finished third, they enjoyed a modicum of European success too.
And come this summer, it’s likely that Slovan will have to rebuild and renovate once more.
The more things change….
Last summer, many people – myself included – touted Jablonec for league glory. How wrong we were.
Aside from a remarkable scrap with Ajax in the Europa League qualifiers, Jablonec disappointed.
For once, Jaroslav Silhavy looked to be devoid of ideas. His summer signings, albeit smart on paper failed to truly deliver and with Miroslav Pelta’s patience and enthusiasm wearing thin, he was sacked over Christmas. His replacement, the former Varnsdorf boss Zdenko Frtala, failed to do much better. After entering the campaign with expectations of a top four finish, seventh represents a massive underachievement.
Speaking of underachievement, what about the perennially prodigal Slavia Prague? Is this the year that the three-time Czech champions finally turned the corner?
Admittedly, the new union between China and Vrsovice has helped, but to explain away Slavia’s recent revival solely in a context of yen and koruna would be too simplistic.
Prior to splurging £400,000 on Josef Husbauer, signing a crop of highly-rated youngsters and mopping up talent from the lower ranks of the Synot Liga, Slavia were actually doing very well for themselves. For the first time in ages, Eden was a place of positivity.
Dusan Urhin’s appointment last summer might not have set pulses racing, but, even without the welcome investment he had instilled a sense of self-belief and determination at the club that hasn’t been visible for a number of years. With Simon Deli bullying forwards, Milan Skoda performing heroics up front once more and Tomas Soucek taking the league by storm, everything was looking up.
Post-takeover and post-spending spree, results did suffer as new players assimilated but in the final few weeks of the campaign, they were producing scintillating displays that hint at something special next season.
For once, things are looking up in Prague 10.
The same cannot be said for Banik Ostrava, though, who said hello to a new home in Vitkovice and then said goodbye to the Synot Liga for the first time in their history. As Aston Villa and Newcastle have found out on these shores, years of mismanagement can only end in disaster.
From the get-go, everybody associated with the famous Silesian club spoke in a resigned manner, as if they had accepted that relegation was an inevitable occurrence. So, after a wretched year, Banik will line up next season in the second tier, the first time they have done so since the late 1960s.
Still, at least they will have local derbies with Trinec and Opava to look forward to….
Joining Banik in the FNL next time will be Sigma Olomouc, who drop straight down to the National League after one terrible season back in the top tier.
Pretty much everybody else had a season to forget. Teplice were wretched, Dukla were predictably inconsistent, Pribram were dire all season and Slovacko were wonderfully average. Out of all the teams that finished below sixth, only Bohemians can lay claim to surpassing expectations thanks to some stellar work from Roman Pivarnik and an industrious squad sprinkled with Latin American flair.
CZEFooball’s Best XI
David Bicik (Sparta); Ales Mateju (Plzen), Roman Hubnik (Plzen), Simon Deli (Slavia), Miroslav Kerestes (Brno); Lukas Marecek (Sparta), Tomas Soucek (Slavia); Borek Dockal (Sparta), Lukas Magera (Ml. Boleslav), Ladislav Krejci (Sparta); Michal Duris (Plzen)
Substitutes: Zdenek Zlamal (Bohemians); Jan Baranek (Plzen), Jakub Brabec (Sparta), Jan Kovarik (Plzen), Ondrej Zahustel (Ml. Boleslav/Sparta), Ales Cermak (Ml. Boleslav), David Lafata (Sparta)
Player of the Year
3rd – Lukas Marecek (Sparta) | Surprisingly brilliant when asked to deputise as a right-back and cool, calm and composed when deployed in his more natural midfield positions. The former Anderlecht man has barely put a foot wrong all season and bar a fleeting return to the Czech national team he has failed to win any plaudits. Criminally underrated.
2nd – Michal Duris (Plzen) | For so long, Michal Duris has been a functional forward/auxiliary winger who hasn’t quite been good enough to be the focal point of Plzen’s attack. That, however, changed this season. With Aidin Mahmutovic failing to make an impact, Duris stepped up and scored recorded a career high sixteen goals as he became an irreplaceable cog in the Plzen machine.
1st – Borek Dockal (Sparta) | There’s no need to explain this decision.
Young Player of the Year
3rd – Patrik Schick (Bohemians) | Eight goals in twenty-seven league games, plus eight in seven for the Czech Under-21s, has seen the Sparta contracted forward become one of the hottest commodities in the Synot Liga. His loan spell at Dolicek benefitted all parties involved, but the question now turns to where he’ll play his football next season. Will it be at Letna or will it be somewhere else? The rumour is that Roma are keeping tabs…
Here are some highlights of his season in glorious technicolor.
2nd – Ales Mateju (Plzen) | Personally speaking, it’s baffling that Mateju’s achievements haven’t been recognised in his home country. He’s now a mainstay in a title-winning side and has improved week-on-week. A consistent ‘seven out of ten’ performer, it won’t be too long until he’s gracing a bigger (and better) league, mark my words.
1st – Tomas Soucek (Slavia) | Prior to the start of this season, Tomas Soucek had played 0 minutes of football for Slavia’s first team. Twelve months later he’s arguably the club’s most important player after a fantastic do-it-all campaign. He’s statistically one of the best in the country at the defensive aspects of the game but he’s much more than a bruising defensive midfielder as his seven goals and near 80% pass completion rate showcases. It’s no wonder that he’s already been discussed by some as being ready to represent the Czech Republic in the senior international arena.
Hero of the Year
Villains of the Year
How about the trio of Miroslav Pelta, Jaroslav Starka and Ivan Hornik, who were photographed schmoozing on the Jablonec pitch prior to the final game of the season. ‘What’s the problem?’, you ask. Well, when Jablonec and Pribram play out a dull 0-0 draw immediately after, thereby guaranteeing Pribram’s survival, questions tend to be asked.
Or how about the pair of Marek Pilny and Jiri Jech who, tasked with spending an afternoon in Pribram, decided to get drunk. The only problem was that they were due to officiate a match between Pribram and Slavia Prague, not that their morning session in the pub stopped them from giving it a go…
Synot Liga 2015-16 Table
|1.||Viktoria Plzen (C)(UCL)||30||23||2||5||+32||71|
|2.||Sparta Prague (UCL)||30||20||4||6||+37||64|
|3.||Slovan Liberec (UEL)||30||17||7||6||+16||58|
|4.||Mlada Boleslav (UEL)||30||16||9||5||+26||57|
|15.||Sigma Olomouc (R)||30||6||9||15||-14||27|
|16.||Banik Ostrava (R)||30||4||2||24||-38||14|
header: original by Helen Goodchild (adapted under Creative Commons)
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 15th May 2016