It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
With Bonfire Night celebrations in full swing across the United Kingdom, the match between Viktoria Plzeň and Slavia Prague promised to be equally spectacular. It pitted first against second, the runaway league leaders against the defending champions, and two teams that, arguably, would be at full strength going into the contest. There would be no pre-match debate about how one side was weakened due to European commitments whereas the other was fresh, and there would be no excusatory narrative about how one outfit was still finding their feet after a turbulent summer.
This was tie warranted the ‘Super Sunday’ moniker.
As the full-time whistle went at the Doosan Arena, fireworks lit up the night sky around me. It was as if the people of Britain knew that Viktoria Plzeň’s 1-0 victory over Slavia meant that the title was once again heading back to the west Bohemian town. And over in Plzeň, those in the stands cheered, those in red and blue celebrated and sections of the media knuckled down to work, writing headlines that proclaimed Viktoria to be the Czech champions. And it’s only November.
At the start of the season, it was Viktoria Plzeň who were supposed to be the inferior outfit when compared to their free-spending rivals from the capital. But, they are top and they look nigh on invincible: Thirteen games played, thirteen games won.
Plzeň’s success is causing problems. Pavel Vrba’s side may not be conquering all before them in the Europa League, though, with two games left, they still have their destiny in their own hands. So too do Slavia, something which should be well received amongst the Eden hierarchy, even despite two a wobble against Villarreal last Thursday. Yet, thirteen weeks into the domestic campaign, Slavia are fourteen points behind Plzeň. Their only solace is that they are two ahead of their eternal rivals. Aside from that, there’s not much to shout about in Vršovice.
Twenty-four hours removed from Sunday’s crunch tie, the cracks within Slavia’s dressing room had broken out into the open. Josef Hušbauer was not backwards in coming forwards when speaking to the media. “Plzeň play in the [HET] Liga and the Europa League with twelve players,” he said, highlighting the close-knit nature of Vrba’s roster and their ability to tough out the Thursday-Sunday cycle with success. But there was a subtle dig at his manager there too: At best it was a gentle hint for Jaroslav Šilhavý to follow in Vrba’s footsteps; at worst it was an open challenge that bluntly noted ‘your rotation policy isn’t working.’
Danny too, voiced his opinions on matters, though he did so in a thoroughly twenty-first century way: by posting on Instagram. Like Hušbauer, Danny’s comments were effectively a public call for more playing time. After all, that’s what he was brought to Prague to do.
There is no denying that juggling the bread-and-butter of the domestic game with the jet-setting trips around Europe for the Europa League is tough and so in theory, Šilhavý’s decision to split the vast resources at his disposal makes sense. Everybody gets to be involved with first-team affairs and Šilhavý does not have to worry about putting key individuals through the rigours of the vicious Thursday-Sunday routine. That way, he can name a strong – but importantly rested – eleven for every game. In practice, however, it hasn’t exactly worked. Performances haven’t exactly been great and as noted, Slavia are way behind Plzeň in the league. Perhaps Sunday’s defeat, their third in five games, encouraged the dissenting voices to speak up.
Week in Review
In a tie that truly deserved the ‘Super Sunday’ moniker, the runaway league leaders Viktoria Plzeň welcomed last season’s champions, Slavia Prague, to the Doosan Arena.
The last meeting to take place between these two sides was effectively the title decider, with Slavia winning that contest, eeking out a narrow advantage in the process, and going on to win their first league championship in nine years. This tie had a similar feel about it, though a defeat for Plzeň would still leave them at the summit with some distance between themselves and their challengers from the capital.
The game itself was tense and not the gung-ho classic that the neutrals perhaps wanted. But there was a winner and – surprise surprise – it was Viktoria Plzeň who emerged victorious thanks to Daniel Kolář’s second-half strike. Even at this relatively early stage of the season, with Viktoria now thirteen points clear, some are already crowning Pavel Vrba’s HET Liga champions.
Of course, Slavia will have something to say about that. As too will Sigma Olomouc who jumped above the red-whites thanks to a scrappy 1-1 draw with Bohemians 1905 in Prague. It was the hosts who had the better of the game, something that goalscorer Jakub Plšek was quick to point out after the game. But as Bohemians know all too well from last week, you take all the points that you can.
Zlín celebrated their 2-2 draw with Sparta Prague like a victory. They had a good reason to as Adnan Džafić’s equaliser came with what was effectively the last kick of the game. The tie was a thoroughly entertaining one: Ubong Ekpai opened the scoring for Zlín after fifteen minutes, finishing off a well-worked and utterly clinical counter-attack. But Sparta, with Vyacheslav Karavaev and Martin Frýdek back in the starting eleven, came back to take the lead, thanks to goals from Josef Šural and substitute Marc Janko. But with seconds left to play, a long crossfield ball found Džafić unmarked and the Bosnian found the bottom corner.
Plzeň aside, it was a poor weekend for the HET Liga’s top five. In the shock of the round, Slovan Liberec, who had been flying high of late, were soundly beaten by 3-1 Vysočina Jihlava. Twenty-two-year-old midfielder Jan Záviška was the difference maker for Jihlava as on his maiden start in the top flight, he bagged a quick-salvo brace that proved to be decisive. A late red card for Roman Potočný compounded Liberec’s misery and also summed up their performance.
On Sunday, news broke that Karviná had sacked manager Jozef Weber after a poor run of form had seen the Silesian side drop to fifteenth in the table. Saturday’s defeat to Dukla Prague was the final straw for the Karviná board, a loss made all the more painful given that they were 2-0 up thirty-minutes left to play.
Midfielders Filip Panak and Lukáš Budínský had put Karviná in a commanding position but when Dominik Preisler pulled a goal back just after the hour mark, the cracks began to appear. And in the final five minutes, Jan Holenda and Lukáš Holík scored to seal an unlikely turnaround.
After a chastening defeat to local rivals Slovan Liberec in the Ještěd derby last week, Jablonec returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory over bottom side Zbrojovka Brno. The result sees the Strelnice club remain in sixth, but given that those above them dropped points, they’re now right back in the hunt for a Europa League place.
Mladá Boleslav too will have their eyes on entry into European competition next season, though they are going about getting there the hard way. The central Bohemian club laboured to a 1-0 win over Baník Ostrava on Saturday and will be without first-choice goalkeeper Kamran Ağayev after the Azerbaijani international was sent off after picking up two yellow cards in as many minutes. The defeat sees Baník level on points with Karviná and Zbrojovka at the foot of the table.
And finally, Teplice heaped more misery on a Slovácko side in freefall. The Uherské Hradiště side have only won once in their past twenty league games and they failed to win yet again as they went down 3-0 at na Stínadlech.
HET Liga Results
Saturday 4th November
Baník Ostrava 0-1 Mladá Boleslav
Bohemians 1905 1-1 Sigma Olomouc
Dukla Prague 3-2 Karviná
Teplice 3-0 Slovácko
Vysočina Jihlava 3-1 Slovan Liberec
Sunday 5th November
Jablonec 1-0 Zbrojovka Brno
Viktoria Plzeň 1-0 Slavia Prague
Zlín 2-2 Sparta Prague
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 25th November 2017