National League 2016-17 Season Preview

One week after the Prvni Liga returned, it is the turn of the Czech second division, the Fotalova Narodni Liga (National League) to spring back into life.

Last season saw a great three-way battle for the title between Hradec Kralove, Karvina and Znojmo, and in something of a Cinderella story it was who were promoted as champions. We say ‘something of a Cinderella story’ as there has been a fair amount of money that has gone into renovating Karvina’s fortunes in recent years. That said, it wasn’t too long ago that the club was languishing in the semi-professional leagues.

Anyway, with a new stadium, a strong spine to their squad and one of the best managers outside of the top-flight, the Silesian side will be a welcome addition to the Czech top flight.

The other side to go up was – as predicted – Hradec Kralove. That left Znojmo, who came out of left field to challenge for promotion, to agonisingly miss out by a handful of points.

At the other end of the table, we say goodbye to Slavoj Vysehrad who tamely tumbled down to the CFL and Sigma Olomouc B, who were relegated to the MSFL due to the ineptitude of their senior side.

Speaking of Sigma….

Who has come down for 2016-17?

After one year away, Sigma Olomouc returns to the second tier. Quite how Sigma managed to be relegated for the second time in three years is still something of a mystery. The club isn’t exactly strapped for cash and they have one of the most prodigious youth academies in the country that continuously churns out promising player after promising player.

Laziness is the obvious reason for Sigma’s malaise, but after suffering the humiliation of relegation once before you would expect that management and their senior players had learnt a very valuable lesson. Obviously not…

However, this summer has been something of a Year Zero for the club. A glut of players, including Tomas Malec, Jan Rajnoch and Michal Ordos, signalling that Vaclav Jilek will be allowed to do some rebuilding work and prioritise some home grown talent.

With a trimmed squad and a gaggle of young and hungry players to work with, Sigma starts the season as favourites and should win the division rather comfortably.

The other side to depart the Prvni Liga and head to the National League is Banik Ostrava.

Long-time followers of the website will be aware that the famous club has been the drizzling shits for a number of years now – both on and off the pitch. Their descent was a long time coming and it was finally confirmed after a dire season in which they only picked up fourteen points, the lowest total* since Lazne Bohdanec managed just eleven in 1997-98.

That said, the club has been preparing for life in the second tier for some months now. The appointment of the former Zenit St. Petersburg boss Vlastimil Petrzela coincided with an upturn in form (if not results) towards the tail end of last season and although they have lost a number of key players, they have built around a strong crop of home-grown youth players.

Front and centre of this new look Banik will be the Sasinka brothers, Ondrej and Jakub. Both are youth internationals and both have yet to truly make a name for themselves in the Banik first team. That all should change this season, though.

Further back, the Silesian giants have added Marek Hlinka and Petr Nerad to their ranks, though their best piece of business looks to be retaining the services of the attacking Brazilian Dyjan Carlos de Azevedo, who offered more than most during the club’s darkest hours.

Who has come up for 2016-17?

The National League welcomes not two but three new faces for 2016-17, Viktoria Zizkov, Prostejov and Vitkovice.

Zizkov might not be a new face, having only left the FNL at the end of the 2014-15 season due to being a financially muddled mess. However, their stint in the CFL has allowed them to regroup, rebuild, and ultimately reclaim their place in the second division.

Their squad has an air of the familiar about it. Over the summer Karel Hrubes, Jiri Pimpara and Pavel Hasek have joined, and they could well be followed by the usual influx of loanees from their city neighbours in Sparta and Slavia. For a newly promoted side, Viktoria Zizkov’s squad looks to be particularly strong and in Tomas Docekal they have a forward who could easily get into double figures at this level.

From the familiar, we turn our attention to the unknowns: Prostejov and Vitkovice.

After their sense of ambition was renewed, Prostejov made a clear push for promotion last season. Obviously, they achieved their aim and managed to top the MSFL quite comfortable for good measure too. Their star man is Karel Kroupa Jr., the son of former Zbrojovka Brno legend, Karel Kroupa.

If his dad was known as something of a one-city man, Kroupa Jr. has followed a different path, playing for (at least) ten different clubs during his career to date. Although well travelled and nearer to forty than thirty, Kroupa is Prostejov’s focal point in attack and is still capable of finding the net on a regular basis.

The other team to be promoted is Vitkovice, which means that the Ostrava derby is once again ‘a thing’ and that Ostrava’s recently renovated Mestsky stadion will be home to two second tier clubs.

National League Preview

Sigma Olomouc are the obvious favourites to walk away with the league. Not only do they have the firepower up top, they have what looks to be the best defence in the division as well. They should win the entire thing.

Behind Sigma things get interesting. Banik Ostrava’s squad is extremely strong for this level, though many of their players are young, inexperienced and somewhat tainted by the poisonous atmosphere that has engulfed Ostrava over the past few years. If they start well, they’ll be favourites to join Sigma in going up; if not, then things could take a turn for the worse.

Other favourites to be pushing for a top two finish include Znojmo and Ceske Budejovice, both of whom who should be eyeing a return to the Czech top flight. However, we should perhaps temper expectations surrounding perennial outside bets Banik Sokolov who look a lot worse for wear this time around.

After appointing Leos Kalvoda, Frydek-Mistek look like they could be able to push on and swap their yearly relegation worries for a dull, mid-table. Other probable mid-table finishers include Opava, Vlasim, Usti nad Labem, Varnsdorf, and Pardubice.

Further down the table, Taborsko’s summer activity and the appointment of Petr Frnka makes them a potential outside bet for relegation. And once again, Trinec should feature in any discussion that revolves around demotion.

Out of the newly promoted clubs, it is Viktoria Zizkov who look the best equipped to not only survive in the FNL this season but thrive. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Prostejov and Vitkovice, one of whom will likely be heading back to the MSFL rather quickly.

Where (not) to watch?

It seems like this is an almost annual rant, but the National League should be broadcast in some form. If clubs from the third, fourth and fifth tiers can stream their games online, then why can’t the likes of Ceske Budejovice?

And that frustration is compounded when you look at the strength of the division this year. With the likes of Banik Ostrava, Sigma Olomouc, Viktoria Zizkov and Ceske Budejovice all duking it out every weekend, this obscure corner of Czech football could deliver fireworks on a weekly basis

Predictions

Top Two

Sigma Olomouc – Sigma have the strongest squad by miles and should make easy work of the FNL for the second time in three seasons.

Znojmo – Yes, on a whole this squad is worse than the one that finished third last season. However, there’s enough quality (especially in midfield) to suggest that the club with a gherkin as a mascot can go one better this time around. A few injuries might scupper their hopes, though…

Dark Horses

Banik Ostrava – Banik enter the season as dark horses for two reasons: To keep up this website’s tradition of picking a Silesian side as an outside bet for promotion, and because there’s no real way of knowing how, after years of negatively, a relatively young and inexperienced side will react.

Viktoria Zizkov – It’s worth remembering that despite being relegated in 2014, Zizkov actually finished that season in fourth place, level on points with Zlin who were eventually promoted to the top flight. The Prague side’s squad isn’t filled with star players, but there’s enough quality and experience there (on paper) to suggest that the club could mount an outside challenge.

Relegated

Vitkovice – In pre-season they hammered lesser opposition but were brushed aside by clubs of a similar stature, losing 3-1 to Banik and 5-0 to Opava. The step up in quality looks to be a step too far.

Trinec – It would be easy to predict a tough year for Prostejov, given that like Vitkovice they too are newcomers with a thin squad. However, Trinec have been threatening to get relegated for a couple of seasons now and this will be the year they finally go down.

*does not include points deductions

  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 7th August 2016

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