Though the championship went down to the final day, it did so with a bit of a whimper rather than the “bang!” we were all hoping for.
Viktoria Plzen entered the final day of the season needing a victory to secure their second title in three years. And with already relegated Hradec Kralove their opposition, the league championship was as good as theirs.
The slim chance of an upset was extinguished inside sixty seconds when Vladimir Darida opened the scoring. When Vaclav Prochazka doubled Plzen’s advantage minutes later, champagne corks popped.
On reflection, Viktoria Plzen were deserved Gambrinus Liga winners, though in other years they might have surrendered the title after suffering a loss of form after their Europa League elimination at the hands of Fenerbahce. However, they did benefit from Vitezslav Lavicka’s rebuilding project at Sparta Prague and the unfortunate (but predictable) fall of Slovan Liberec.
In a deviation from the precedent of the previous years, Plzen triumphed thanks to a solid rearguard instead of a free-scoring attack. The back four of Radim Reznik, Marian Cisovsky, Vaclav Prochazka and David Limbersky were all stoic in defence, and Matus Kozacik further cemented his position at the league’s best goalkeeper by some margin. Thankfully for Plzen, when the strikers lost their goalscoring boots and the midfield pivot of Vladimir Darida and Pavel Horvath ran out of legs, the defence continuously stood up to ensure that games were drawn instead of lost.
For the third successive year, Sparta finished the Gambrinus Liga season in second. At the culmination of previous campaigns, such a position would leave both management and players wondering about their futures. But, thankfully, times are starting to change of the Czech Republic’s most successful club.
No longer the dominant force they once were, Sparta still showcased their financial clout when they swooped for both David Lafata and Lukas Vacha during the winter transfer. With these big money buys and a desire to introduce a new generation at Letna, the improvements have been clear to see. Quite rightly, they will probably enter the 2013-14 season as favourites – even if key names depart.
Whilst Plzen and Sparta suffered occasional blips, defending champions Slovan Liberec were not at the races for the first half of the season. With their best players cherry-picked for loose change and a spate of injuries that left a thin squad threadbare, Jaroslav Silhavy struggled and even considered his position at one point. However, despite being pronounced dead in the water at Christmas, Silhavy regrouped and forged a phoenix that rose from the ashes of a miserable campaign to somehow finish a very impressive third.
Liberec’s resurgence saw them pip their local rivals Jablonec for third place. After mounting a credible – if outside – tilt at the title in the autumn, the club’s hierarchy signalled their intent by selling off the silverware. David Lafata departed to Sparta Prague and Jan Kovarik headed to Viktoria Plzen, and though the club’s bank account was boosted, their title credentials took a battering. Instead of league glory, European qualification became the aim. However with their best players gone, Jablonec stumbled along after Christmas and Vaclav Kotal was shown the door in May. One positive for the side was that they did win the Czech Cup. All’s well that ends well and all that.
The team of the season, however, was Sigma Olomouc, who massively over performed and kept pace with Plzen and Sparta for much of the autumn. Yes, they slipped away when the league resumed after its usual winter break, but they were a breath of fresh air. More on them later.
Once more Dukla Prague finished in sixth and once more the ex-army club continued to make remarkable progress both on and off the field of play. They retained their swashbuckling playing style and added a bit of Spanish flair with the acquisitions of Jose Romera and Nestor Albiach. It’s hard to see where Dukla go from here – finishing any higher seems impossible without a serious amount of investment – but then again, those statements were made last season.
Below Dukla, Slavia Prague managed to hurl themselves into a top half finish and – touch wood – they appear to have finally turned the corner. Mlada Boleslav ended up eighth but gave up early on after nearly all of their key players suffered serious knee injuries in the span of a few short weeks, and both Slovacko and Jihlava looked comfortably average all season, much to their delight.
Down at the bottom, things were relatively exciting for fans who enjoy a good old relegation scrap. Pribram kept their cool and appointed the charismatic Frantisek Straka to help heave them out of the mire, whilst Banik Ostrava relied upon the generosity of old heads and the City council to keep them safe. Also staying in the Gambrinus Liga are Teplice, who underperformed to the point of ridicule, and Brno, who stormed up the league table in the autumn only to decide that safety was far too boring.
Those departing us were Hradec Kralove and Ceske Budejovice who both had wretched years and frankly, both deserved their relegation.
They probably won’t be missed.
CZEFootball’s Best XI
Matus Kozacik (Plzen) – Radim Reznik (Plzen), Ondrej Svejdik (Sparta), Vaclav Prochazka (Plzen), Michal Veprek (Sigma) – Tomas Borek (Dukla), Pavel Horvath (Plzen) – Jan Kopic (Jablonec), Michal Ordos (Sigma), Vaclav Kadlec (Sparta) – David Lafata (Jablonec/Sparta)
Subs: Tomas Vaclik (Sparta); Jose Romera (Dukla), David Limbersky (Viktoria Plzen), Vladimir Darida (Plzen), , Jan Kovarik (Jablonec/Plzen), Michael Rabusic (Liberec), Martin Dolezal (Sigma)
CZEFootball’s Player of the Season
3rd – Tomas Borek – Borek quietly arrived from Bohemians Prague in the summer of 2012 and departed Dukla a year later after being snapped up by Turkish Super Lig club Konyaspor. In his solitary year at Juliska, he scored seven times, registered three assists and put in a number of lung-busting performances that saw him rightly viewed as one of the best midfielders outside of the big two.
2nd – Michal Ordos – After a handful of average seasons in both the Czech Republic and Austria, Ordos burst (back) into life, registering a career-high fourteen goals and three assists in the process. Whether or not the stars aligned perfectly, we’ll have to wait and see, but for the 2012-13 season, Michal Ordos was deservedly mentioned in the same breath as…
1st – David Lafata – It’s the measure of the man that he helped push two teams towards the title in a single season. His thirteen league goals for Jablonec helped the north-east club mount an unlikely challenge and his seven goals in twelve for Sparta helped the Prague club keep pace with Viktoria Plzen throughout the spring.
Manager of the Season
Jaroslav Silhavy – There is no denying that for the majority of the season Jaroslav Silhavy had his hands tied due to the club’s relatively weak financial position.
In the build up to the league campaign, he was powerless to stop the departures of Theo Gebre Selassie and Michal Breznanik, and then in the winter he could only watch as David Bicik, Milos Bosancic and Lukas Vacha also left via the exit doors. Throw in a bunch of injuries and an ageing squad, and it’s a minor miracle that he managed to get Liberec’s house in order and conjure up a top three finish.
Team of the season
They may have gradually slid down the table after Christmas, but Sigma Olomouc were a welcome breath of fresh air in what threatened to be a straight slugfest between Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen.
There was so much to like about this side: They had the experience of a rejuvenated Michal Ordos up front, a strong defensive core and two young, all-around dynamos in Tomas Horava and Martin Pospisil in centre-midfield. And youth was given a chance too as Roman Pivarnik handed senior debuts to Jakub Plsek, David Houska and others.
Yes, they did fall away, but Sigma defined predictions and made things interesting for large parts of the season. It has been a decade since the club finished in the top three of the Czech top flight, but on this form they won’t have to wait too long until they’re serious challengers once again.
|1.||Viktoria Plzen (C)(UCL)||30||20||5||5||+33||65|
|2.||Sparta Prague (UEL)||30||19||9||2||+32||63|
|3.||Slovan Liberec (UEL)||30||16||6||8||+12||54|
|15.||Dynamo Ceske Budejovice (R)||30||7||5||18||-25||26|
|16.||Hradec Kralove (R)||30||5||10||15||-17||25|
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 11th June 2015