It was the game that was almost lost. On Sunday afternoon Jablonec hosted Sparta Prague and yet despite it being the biggest fixture of the season so far, everything else seemed to supersede it in terms of billing. But then again, it has been a newsworthy couple of weeks in current affairs.
Last season Jablonec were the dark horses for the Synot Liga title. This year, they have to show that they are contenders that can last the distance and compete on an even footing with the ‘big two’. Ultimately, their outside hopes of crashing the Champions League party last year boiled down to their inability to take points off either Sparta Prague or Viktoria Plzen. So whilst Copenhagen and Ajax were wonderful barometers, the visit of Sparta would present a stern test for a club that is gunning for a top two finish.
And the same can be said of Sparta. Domestically – Vysocina Jihlava aside – they have been imperious, cruising to victory after victory without ever really looking like they forced to move out of third gear. Europe however, has turned out to be a different story: The collapse at home to CSKA Moscow was worrying, as was their inability to keep out a fairly average Thun attack. Which is the true Sparta – the team that is conquering all before them domestically or the side that has to travel away with sick bags?
So both sides entered the game with something to prove: Are Jablonec contenders and are Sparta as dominantly domestically as they’ve been? At the end of ninety minutes we had our answers and it was a yes on both accounts.
After a couple of games with a conventional approach to tactics and personnel, Zdenek Scasny decided that he’d had enough with that kind of nonsense and reverted back to a 3-5-2 with Martin Frydek as a centre-forward and Matej Hybs and Costa as two of the back three. Petr Jiracek, who has recently joined from Hamburg, made his debut at left-wingback. Jaroslav Silhavy on the other hand was a lot more conservative and stuck with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1, with the only real surprise being the inclusion of Stanislav Tecl ahead of Tomas Wagner up top.
To say that the first-half was all one way traffic in favour of Jablonec would be a downright lie but looking back the hosts did carry the bulk of the attacking threat and had the better chances on goal. Petr Jiracek was given a torrid time on the left by the industrious and creative pairing of Jose Romera and Lukas Masopust, whilst on the other flank Vyacheslav Karavaev and Ruslan Mingazov had Markus Steinhofer on the back foot from the opening whistle. But whilst the game ebbed and flowed and Jablonec tried their luck on the counter attack and from out wide, Sparta anchored play through the middle and like a rugby team managed to entrench themselves in promising positions.
The talking point (and given the subject of referees has been in the spotlight ever since Libor Kovarik made his displeasure at the Czech FA public a couple of weeks ago, it’s a major talking point) of the first forty-five minutes was the non-decision relating to Mario Holek’s push on Mingazov. Clean through, the Turkmen international got the wrong side of Holek and began to stutter. But as his footing began to subside, Holek, clear as day, shoved him to the floor.
We can only assume that Jan Jilek was under the impression Mingazov was going down under his own momentum – but that’s up for debate.
The two goalkeepers, Vlastimil Hruby and David Bicik, both had saves to make – crucial ones at that – but when the whistle went for the break it was Scasny that changed things around, and turned the game on its head too.
Sparta started the second-half a lot better and by the time Jakub Brabec was brought on the Prague club were shaped something, but not quite, akin to a 4-4-2. Chances were still being fashioned at both ends, but it seemed that the game was destined to play out until eternity with the score locked at 0-0.
But as is so often the case in the Synot Liga, if you give David Lafata the chance to put his name on the scoresheet he inevitably does. Despite being anonymous all game, Jablonec’s former crown jewel headed in the opening goal and seemingly condemned his previous employers to defeat.
There was to be one final twist in the tale, one that brought about a fair result for both sides. In the closing stages, with minutes left to play, substitute Nerman Crnkic befuddled Matej Hybs all ends up and was clipped in the box. Tomas Wagner stepped up and scored.
“I read that Bicik studies the records of penalty takers,” the Jablonec forward said post-match. “I’ve always [hit it] to the right, or down the middle….so I [sent] it to the left.” How very meta.
There may be a five point gap between the two sides, but that is surely to decrease over the next few weeks and months. With Jablonec out of Europe and Sparta still very much in, it’ll be interesting to see how Scasny copes fighting on two fronts whilst Silhavy gets to concentrate solely on domestic affairs.
No excuses for David Limbersky
It’s been a week to forget for David Limbersky, yet somehow he’s managed to escape from a pretty bleak period fresh-faced and scoring for fun – in his mind at least.
Always the pantomime villain whenever Viktoria Plzen play Sparta, Limbersky made national headlines when it was reported that he crashed his Bentley whilst drunk and then tried to flee the scene. It gets worse though, as some newspapers claim that the Plzen left-back got aggressive with the police who witnessed the entire thing.
Plzen stripped him of the captaincy immediately and handed him a fine purported to be in the region of £28,000, the highest in the club’s history. But, importantly, Karel Krejci kept him in the first-team and to nobody’s surprise it was Limbersky who opened and closed the scoring in Plzen’s comfortable 4-0 victory away at Pribram.
Sometimes football works in mysterious ways, but there was nothing mysterious about Limbersky’s celebration for his first goal. In fact, it was downright stupid: He wheeled away, swerving along the touchline and pretended to drive before being swallowed up by his teammates. His Maggie Simpson impression confirmed what many have believed for some time; that he’s just a child playing adult half the time.
- Over the international break Slavia Prague fans were afforded some new hope as the Chinese firm CEFC took over a controlling 60% stake in the perennially under-achieving club. Aside from the prospect of an influx of foreign money, what makes this move extremely interesting is that CEFC have been on something of a buying spree in the Czech Republic and Slovakia recently, and this seems to be part of a bigger picture. But what that picture is, nobody knows just yet.
- Slovan Liberec won again, this time on the road at Slovacko. In his short managerial career at Liberec Jindrich Trpisovsky is, so far, unbeaten and if the weren’t in the Europa League group stages we’d be proclaiming them as bona-fide title contenders. There are some questions over their strength in depth, especially defensively, but right now Liberec are riding high and look like they could give anybody a run for their money
- Banik Ostrava lost, again.
- How do we view Zlin‘s 2-1 victory at home to Brno? Is it another case of a team who’ll end up towards the bottom getting three points from fellow relegation candidates or is it part of a wider trend that suggests they’ll finish comfortably in the top half? It’s been an incredible start to the season for Zlin who sit in third, a point above Viktoria Plzen. Goals could well be an issue, but in Lukas Zeleznik they have a focal point who is relishing playing in the Czech top flight. They’re certainly confounding expectations, but next up is Slavia Prague and a game that could well showcase which half of the table they’ll end up in.
Dukla Prague 4-1 Banik Ostrava
(4′ Prikryl, 10′ Vrzal, 18′ Berger, 90′ Hanousek – 54′ Narh)
Jablonec 1-1 Sparta Prague
(82′ Wagner – 75′ Lafata)
Pribram 0-4 Viktoria Plzen
(10′ & 76′ Limbersky, 28′ Duris, 61′ Kovarik)
Sigma Olomouc 2-1 Vysocina Jihlava
(56′ Plsek, 59′ Malec – 67′ Mesanovic)
Slavia Prague 1-1 Mlada Boleslav
(61′ Polom (og) – 79′ Skalak)
Slovacko 1-2 Slovan Liberec
(41′ Havlik – 35′ Bakos, 59′ Sural)
Teplice 2-1 Bohemians 1905
(8′ Vachousek, 67′ Ljevakovic – 81′ Schick)
Zlin 2-1 Zbrojovka Brno
(13′ & 90′ Zeleznik – 69′ Chrien)
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 15th September 2015