It feels like only yesterday when Euro 2016 was brought to a crushing, functional conclusion as Portugal squeezed past France in a final that will be remembered more for its moths than its majesty. But, football is the sport that never sleeps.
The brief offseason that the Czechs have had has been extremely newsworthy. To start things off, we had the soap opera that was Pavel Vrba’s departure from the national team. And to top that sorry state of affairs off, there was an equally drawn out affair that culminated in Karel Jarolim, the current Mlada Boleslav coach, being announced as his successor.
Away from the international arena, there was plenty of transfer gossip, mainly surrounding Patrik Schick, Ladislav Krejci and Milan Skoda. Schick and Krejci eventually left Prague, swapping their cushy lives in the Czech Republic for new starts in Genoa (Sampdoria) and Bologna respectively, but Skoda, in spite of press reports and media statements to the contrary, failed to secure a lucrative move away.
But anyway, enough of that frivolity. Let’s get down to business.
We are a couple of days away from the start of the 2016-17 Prvni Liga and there are a couple of burning questions that need answering: Who’ll be fighting for the title and who are the favourites for relegation?
Last season promised to deliver a three-way title race yet delivered very little in the way of excitement. Whilst Jablonec underachieved and underperformed and Sparta enjoyed making history in Europe, it was up to Viktoria Plzen to methodically pick up their third league trophy in six years.
This time around, though, we should get a memorable three-way dance.
Sparta Prague look to be the strongest side in the country. Their biggest (and only real) capture over the summer has been that of Michal Kadlec. But aside from Kadlec, Sparta have also benefitted from being able to count upon the services of a swathe of returning loanees, with Ales Cermak, Herolind Shala and Tomas Koubek all set to start the season in Sparta red.
Ladislav Krejci has gone – and so too has Patrik Schick – but given Scasny’s disposition to a 3-5-2, Sparta shouldn’t miss their likeable left winger too much. A plus side for his departure is that they now have a few extra million Euros in the bank…
Over in Plzen, there’s a new man in charge at the Doosan Arena, Roman Pivarnik. The highly-rated Slovak will be tasked with enhancing the players at his disposal and early signs suggest that he is working towards giving Viktoria a Plan B, something they haven’t really had in previous seasons.
From a squad point of view, nothing has really changed. Some dead wood has been shipped out and some backup players acquired. Crucially, there have been no significant departures and the club can count on the services of Jan Baranek and Patrik Hrosovsky…..for the time being.
The third club that will likely be jousting for silverware is Slavia Prague. Now, it’s been a long time since we could legitimately say that the Vrsovice club were title contenders but thanks to Dusan Uhrin’s smarts and a whole heap of Chinese cash, we can safely say Slavia are back among the Czech elite.
It has been another busy transfer window for the former three-time Czech champions who seemed to announce marquee signing after marquee signing.
With Dusan Svento returning to the club after seven years away and Jasmin Suck, Ruslan Mingazow and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui joining, Slavia already looked to be far stronger than they were at the end of last season. And then they went out and bought Gino van Kessel for £850,000, making the Curacaoan forward one of the most expensive players ever in the Czech Republic.
With both Plzen and Sparta harbouring Champions League dreams, could Slavia capitalise on the formers’ midweek excursions and pip them both? Well, if they fall in Europa League qualifying, don’t bet against it….
We’re talking so far outside that they’re down at the bottom of the garden, way past the compost heap and greenhouse levels of outside – but they’re ‘outside bets’ nonetheless.
Mlada Boleslav and Slovan Liberec will likely be the best of the rest and scrap it out between themselves over fourth and fifth. But with Jaroslav Silhavy in charge, keep an eye on Dukla Prague, who might just flirt with a Europa League spot.
It has been seventeen years since Karvina last played in the Czech Republic’s top flight. Unfortunately, their return is likely not to last too long.
The club has been working hard to prepare for promotion: In Jozef Weber, they have a strong coach, and in the likes of Lukas Budinsky, Erik Puchel and Branislav Pindroch they have some exciting players on their books. They even have a brand new stadium to show off.
However, over the summer Karvina main sponsor, OKD, went bust. In the aftermath, there was talk that the club might not have to decline promotion in order to consolidate their finances. They made it, though, and their presence is welcome, but don’t expect them to stick around long.
Promoted alongside Karvina were Hradec Kralove, who will be looking to shake off their reputation for being the Czech Republic’s version of West Brom, circa the mid-2000s. Will they be successful? Probably not. Libor Zondra looks to be a canny acquisition, but his arrival aside, the squad doesn’t look any better than the one that finished 15th back in 2014-15.
Aside from the two newbies, Pribram, Zlin and Bohemians look like they could become embroiled in a relegation scrap rather easily.
It’s been a tough offseason for Bohemians who have lost their coach (Roman Pivarnik to Plzen) and their three most creative players; Rafael Acosta, Jhon Mosquera and Patrik Schick. With a lack of spark in the final third and the absence of a striker capable of getting into double figures, Bohemka could well struggle.
Pribram were woeful last year and only stayed up thanks to:
- Banik Ostrava being absolutely terrible
- A rather suspicious goalless draw with Jablonec on the final day of the season
This time around they’ve made plenty of changes and look set to battle against the drop with a strange mix of talented but inexperienced youngsters and bargain basement signings. A poor start and they could quickly plummet.
Finally, there’s Zlin. It’s strange to think that at Christmas, Zlin were riding high on a wave of surprising momentum. The Moravian club were tough to beat, capable of scoring and outperforming all expectations. And then they fell off a cliff, going half a season without picking up a victory. Obviously, if last season’s form carries over, they’ll be down.
- Sparta Prague
- Slavia Prague
- Viktoria Plzen
- Mlada Boleslav
- Slovan Liberec
- Dukla Prague
- Zbrojovka Brno
- Bohemians 1905
- Hradec Kralove
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd