Dec 05 2010

Slovakia: Review of the season so far

Published by at 12:11 pm under Domestic and tagged: ,

One thing the SFZ and organisers of Slovak football do seem to have got right is the timing of the winter break!

As Slovakia is gripped by the big freeze seemingly prevalent right across Europe, James Baxter is here to offer his thoughts on the season so far; one of relatively few surprises and worrying times for one of Slovakia’s most-liked football teams:

There will be no domestic football in Slovakia until February 26th at the very earliest so it seems an opportune time to review what we’ve seen in the first four-and-a-half months or so of the Corgoň Liga’s 2010-2011 season.

It is no great surprise to find reigning champions MŠK Žilina at the top of the domestic table. It wouldn’t have taken an expert either to forecast that Banská Bystrica and Spartak Trnava would be among the chasing pack. And it is sad, but hardly unexpected, that the ever-likeable Dubnica find themselves right at the bottom of the league. On the other hand, few would have predicted that Slovan Bratislava would be languishing in mid-table, 12 points behind the leaders, or that Senica would be in second place, ahead of both Bystrica and Trnava.

Žilina, and I speak as a fan of theirs, have been prosaic at times this season. They do have considerable resilience, a quality demonstrated by the fact that they are unbeaten at home despite having fallen behind in five of their nine home games. Another two matches at pod Dubňom have finished as 0-0 draws. They score more freely away from home, putting five goals past Dubnica and four each past Košice and Zlaté Moravce. In fact, defeat at Senica two weeks ago is the only major blemish on Žilina’s away record so far.

Senica and Trnava have been in or around the top four since the season started in mid-July. Both have experienced, pragmatic coaches, in Stanislava Griga and Dušan Radolský respectively, and both are solid defensively. Indeed, Trnava have the league’s best goals-against record. With a little more creativity and/or sense of adventure, either of these sides could yet get closer to Žilina next spring. Bystrica tend to be more attractive to watch. Prompted by Viktor Pečovský, an excellent passer of the ball, in midfield and with a stable of promising young strikers, they are the Slovak league’s current ‘form side’, having won their last four games.

With Slovan, it is not difficult to find reasons why they should be closer to the top of the league. Their central defensive pair, Kornel Saláta and Radek Dosoudil, have had a lot of success together, having won the title at both Petržalka (2008) and Slovan (2009). Karim Guéde is a physical, skillful presence in midfield and Filip Šebo and Juraj Halenár are both proven goalscorers on the Slovak scene. There are plenty of promising youngsters too, not least Under-21 internationals Erik Grendel and Marek Kuzma. In fact, I often think that the Slovan squad is, potentially at least, the strongest in the league.

Yet reasons why Slovan are not doing too well are not difficult to find either. Off-field instability is clearly a factor. For a start, the club has had a ridiculous six coaches since winning the league just eighteen months ago. More importantly still, Slovan do not have a ground to call their own and have been playing to ever-dwindling crowds at the ever-soulless Pasienky, right in the shadow of their traditional home, Tehelné pole. On the pitch, Saláta has been out of form for much of the autumn and Halenár does not seem to have regained sharpness following a long-term injury. There have been rumours too of a conflict between him and current coach Karel Jarolím. Also (and this is a purely subjective view), Putnocký in the Slovan goal is hardly a confidence-inspiring figure. All in all, spring will be an interesting period at the Bratislava club. If they can get it right, though, a European place is far from an impossibility.

Vion Zlaté Moravce will be delighted to be just one point behind Slovan. The newly-promoted side have suffered a little from inconsistency but have looked an assured outfit when I’ve seen them ‘in the flesh’. Their captain, midfielder Peter Kuračka, is a skillful player who leads by example and, overall, it’s difficult to see the side going on a run bad enough to pull them towards the lower reaches of the table.

DAC Dunajská Streda have had an eventful autumn. They were awful at the start of the season before pulling themselves together and embarking on a long unbeaten  run that raised hopes of a challenge for a European place. Limp performances in the last two games, both of which looked winnable, have deflated those expectations somewhat and now Michal Gašparík, by many accounts the creative force behind the team’s best performances, looks to be on his way to Slovan. But if DAC can hold on to Pavol Kováč, arguably the best goalkeeper in the Corgoň Liga, they should at least remain solid in 2011.

Nitra and Ružomberok will be disappointed with their campaigns so far. In Ivan Galád and Ladislav Jurkemík, both started the season with a proven, experienced coach. Jurkemík lost his job at Ružomberok at the end of October but his successor, Goran Milojevič, has fared little better, though the side continue to play attractive football. Nitra were a little more patient with Galád, waiting until the week prior to the last game of the autumn before sending him ‚on holiday‘. His replacement, Ivan Vrabec, then inspired his charges to an unexpected 2-1 win away to Vion, raising the question of whether Galád will ever return.

Below Ružomberok, we find the Eastern Slovak duo of Košice and Prešov. Košice’s poor form since July has been a virtual  repeat of what they produced in the autumn of 2009. They will be hoping that the turnaround they achieved last spring will also be replicated. Meanwhile, a 4-0 win over their neighbours last weekend will have raised spirits ahead of the break. Prešov have a major battle on their hands if they are to put space between themselves and the relegation place. An excellent performance in an unlucky defeat at Žilina in September showed that they can be a decent side, but they clearly haven’t produced that sort of form often enough.

In 12th and last place, things are looking grim for Dubnica, a club who rely on selling their best players just to stay financially afloat. Year after year they have a team full of talented young players but some of the current crop do not quite look ready for the level of football they find themselves playing. Some heavy defeats have been suffered, including successive 4-0 hammerings at Trnava and at home to Vion. A 0-0 draw in the mud at DAC last week at least suggests that Dubnica’s heart is still beating. Their aim will be to stay in touch with the sides above them through March in the hope that their passing football will produce victories when the pitches get better come April and May.

Predictions for spring are not easy at the moment, not least because several players will probably change clubs before the season starts again. However, given their six-point lead and the fact that their Champions League income should allow them to strengthen still further, it is difficult to imagine Žilina not retaining the title. And, while I would love to see Dubnica stay up, the noises coming out of that club regarding money are so pessimistic it’s impossible not to fear for them. They’ve done a lot for the game in Slovakia with their development of young talent so I really do hope they survive.

6 responses so far




6 Responses to “Slovakia: Review of the season so far”

  1.   strameon 05 Dec 2010 at 1:20 pm

    i have to say this is really a fabulous site. i do hope dac and dubnica stay in the league, they offer so much rivalry on one side and talent on the other. miss inter in the league (or in slovakian football in general), seeing slovan playing at their ground is a bit evil. at least they’re fuckin it up there.

    i was wondering though, do you know any site like this (in english) about czech football? i can speak czech, slovakian and hungarian, but that’s not the point – here’s no quality or even any blog culture (or it is, but just about premier league teams)! i was even thinking i would start a blog but then, as i don’t really support anyone outside zizkov, don’t live in prague to be able to attend their games, it would become a bit dull for me.

  2.   strameon 05 Dec 2010 at 1:38 pm

    aside from that, it’s amazing to hear about your connections to dunajska streda, my grandparents are living just four miles away!

  3.   britskibelasion 05 Dec 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Strame, thanks so much for getting in touch, really appreciate the comments. We try our best to give as much coverage of all areas of Slovak football as possible, and I am helped greatly by James Baxter who writes regular articles from his home in Zilina, as well as other guest writers such as Ralph Davies recently who wrote up his trip to Trencin v Mihalovce.

    As you support Zizkov, I really should point you in the direction of Danny Last’s European Football Weekends site, he wrote a fantastic piece after visiting Zizkov a few weeks ago.
    http://europeanfootballweekends.blogspot.com/2010/10/fk-viktoria-zizkov.html

    I hope to improve my own site further after the winter break when I should be able to get to more games myself.

    I’ve asked on my twitter about the Czech blogs – we’ll see what comes back. I am aware of one guy in Prague who runs a Czech football blog, his site can be found here:
    http://prague.tv/czech-football/

    And he is on Twitter under the username @czechfootball

    Good luck, with it, please do keep in touch!

  4.   James Baxteron 05 Dec 2010 at 11:52 pm

    And there are good articles on Slavia and Plzen on http://www.inbedwithmaradona.com
    Don’t think you need to worry about DAC this season. I don’t much miss the Inter of more recent seasons but can see that Bratislava needs a stronger footballing presence than it currently has. Hopefully Petrzalka will be back within the next couple of years.

  5.   strameon 06 Dec 2010 at 2:33 am

    thanks for the links and for such a warm reception. it’s getting late now so my thinking is really a bit blurred but i’m starting to like the idea of launching a blog about czech football in english, if for anything then at least just as a way of maintaining the language. of course i don’t really have a vast knowledge of football, but certainly there could be so much to write about (first things that come to my mind are e.g. the issues of football-hockey cities as equivalents of football-rugby cities in england, or bohemians and their stadium or anything else). and it’s really inspiring to hear about football in these countries from your point of view, we tend to be so sceptical about the *insert-any-not-just-football* environment (and there are some good reasons for that, really, but sometimes it gets way too gloomy), while your pieces are written with such passion and goodwill. anyway.

    hope bratislava won’t be the berlin of the central europe (never thought i would say something like that:), it’s clear slovan are way too good to go down but the slovak league, besides many things, lacks a spark of a proper derby. inter were such a good source for that in the 90s and i have a personal bond to them as pasienky was one of the first stadiums i’ve been introduced to as a little kid, then it’s been a place where i first went to a proper gig (depeche mode it was and the attendance on that night was bigger than the one to all inter games in the last ten years or so) so it’s sad for me to hear about their demise.

    and just for the record, i still can’t see why the plans for the “federal” league are always in there but there’s nothing done about them. i can understand the czech and the slovak fa don’t really want to give up on their rights and power but it’s just common sense talking: cz+sk league = bigger market, more money, more quality, more rivalry, higher attendances at the stadiums, and so much more. the difference between the quality of the two leagues has never been so little.

  6.   strameon 06 Dec 2010 at 2:35 am

    and sorry for any mistakes of course. :)

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