Jun 26 2011

Pre-season at MŠK Žilina

Published by at 11:17 am under Domestic and tagged:

I’ve written before that I would rather like to see Slovakia adopt a spring-autumn calendar so that competitive football can be played on long, sunny June evenings. It’s not going to happen, though, I accept that, so I have to content myself with friendlies instead. I’m not complaining here. The season starts in mid-July so clubs are intensifying their preparations  now, meaning that you can see some reasonably interesting fixtures. MŠK Žilina have played four home games over the past week, starting with two in one day last Saturday (against Liptovský Mikuláš at the Závodie training-ground and Petržalka at Štadión pod Dubňom), continuing against Lučenec on Wednesday and concluding with Cracovia earlier today (25th June).

The Mikulaš game, the only one I didn’t see, resulted in a 4-2 win. Eight players had 90 minutes of action in that one so weren’t available for the later game. Žilina started purposefully against Petržalka but the visitors, once they’d absorbed the early pressure, began to look increasingly comfortable and the final score of 0-0 was as inevitable as it was familiar. I’d like to comment on Petržalka players who caught the eye but no programmes were issued for the game and the scoreboard, while it did list the teams, kept flashing on and off in a profoundly annoying manner. Therefore, I can only offer the fairly useless observation that numbers 7 and 14, both fair-haired guys who operated in midfield, looked very decent.

The Lučenec game saw Žilina field two complete teams. The one sent out for the first-half played a 4-2-3-1 formation, dominated possession and territory but posed a genuine threat only intermittently. The second-half XI played 4-4-2 and the four goals they scored in twelve minutes (including a hat-trick for Ivan Lietava) brought the old saying about London buses to mind. Lučenec had looked solid in the first 45 minutes with what I suspect was basically their first-choice team but their own substitutions seemed to disorientate them and one or two of the players brought on looked out of their depth. Lietava toyed with the defenders and Babatounde Bello was way too good for his midfield opponents. 4-0 was the final score.

These games, basically run-outs against lower-division opposition, were played in front of healthy-sized, good-natured crowds who had been let in free of charge and whose laid-back demeanour brought to mind cricket audiences. The visit of Polish Ekstraklasa side Cracovia, by contrast, meant higher-quality opposition and a little more intensity in the stands. 1 Euro was charged for admission and a section of the South Stand was opened for the 50 or so visiting fans. The Žilina fan-club made its first appearance of pre-season too so we had something resembling an atmosphere, though still a fairly easy-going one. It was almost as if, just as the players needed to build up their match fitness and try out various moves and tactics, the fans needed to find their voices again and rehearse their chants ahead of the season proper.

On the pitch, my impression was very much that Cracovia would be serious title-contenders if they played in the Corgoň Liga. They were strong in defence, mostly restricting Žilina to long-range efforts, and had some quick, technical attacking players. Perhaps the best of these on the day was the intriguingly-named Rok Straus, who lined up on the left side of midfield. But Žilina too know how to defend and, with Ľubomir Guldan outstanding in the middle of the back four, rarely looked like conceding themselves. Another 0-0 then. I do hope this isn’t a sign of things to come in the real season but, having never fully trusted the results of friendly games, I’m optimistic that it’s not.

Žilina’s three new signings have all featured. Miroslav Barčík, returning to the club he served  between 1996 and his departure in 2006, has been deployed just behind the striker when the team have used the 4-2-3-1 shape. He is still a highly skillful player, whose creativity will be important. Viktor Pečovský, signed from Banská Bystrica on Thursday, played the full 90 minutes against Cracovia in a deeper-lying midfield position. He’s a neat, unfussy player who passes the ball simply and accurately. The fact that Slovan Bratislava also tried to buy him, even offering him a more lucrative contract than Žilina did, is evidence enough that he’s a signing to be delighted about. But pick of the new players so far is yet another midfielder, ex- Dubnica man Peter Šulek, who caught the eye when scoring the winner for the relegated club against Žilina in May. Typically for someone coming from Dubnica, he has excellent technique and awareness and is also fast and strong, especially when chasing back defensively.

There are also one or two players in on trial, including tall Czech striker David Střihravka. He looks decent enough, though I’m not convinced another six-foot forward is needed given that Žilina seem to be attempting to play more of a passing game and already have Lietava and Momodou Ceesay in the ranks anyway. That said, keeping all the midfielders in the squad happy is going to be a big challenge for Pavel Hapal.

There have been other interesting developments at Žilina recently. Most notable of all is the abolition of the reserve team, which competed in the II Liga (third tier) and the subsequent completion of a merger with local village club Kotrčina Lučka. The side formed out of this will now compete in the fourth tier under a name which will defy all attempts to chant it – Žilina B Kotrčina Lučka. There is investment in this venture from the Lučka side, which will allow MŠK owner Jozef Antošík to reduce his own financial commitments. There are all sorts of questions surrounding the merger, of course, the most obvious being how content players not selected for the first team will be to play in what is largely an amateur league. In answer to that, Žilina say they want to send more such players out on loan to Corgoň Liga and I Liga clubs. Fans are sceptical about this explanation and, more importantly, about how keen Antošík is to continue as the club’s majority shareholder but these are probably issues for another day and another article.

Žilina now face three friendlies on neutral territory against Hungarian, Czech and Polish sides. I won’t be attending any of those so next up for me is a date at Pasienky on July 11 to see how Slovan manage the first step to Champions League qualification.

James Baxter


5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Pre-season at MŠK Žilina”

  1.   britskibelasion 26 Jun 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for that James. Sounds like things are progressing nicely up there. I definitely have a feeling this off-season preparation for Zilina is better structured than that of the previous winter break!

    How about Robert Pich? Is he showing any signs of improvement yet? I heard Zilina are due to play Gornik, wonder if that was organised before Robert Jez moved on?! You do make it sound as though Zilina may finally have found [a couple of] Jez replacements in the midfield.

    I’m pretty sure they will be a force to be reckoned with again next season, it will also be interesting to see how seriously they take the EL and if they make the group stages, how they manage to build on previous years where they’ve done relatively well.

    As far as the merger is concerned, that’s an interesting story. Surely the village team will be significantly strengthened and then it’s only a matter of one promotion and the Zilina reserves are back where they were. Might well work, I guess …

  2.   James Baxteron 26 Jun 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Yes, easy to say with hindsight but winter preparations were everything they shouldn’t have been – hubristic, unstructured, chaotic….

    My one worry now as concerns the first team is how all these very good central midfielders we have can possibly be shoehorned into the same side. I’ve been thinking ‘well Sulek would be in my team, so would Pecovsky, so would Barcik, so would Bello, so would Guldan (he’s good in defence as well but prefers midfield)…’ There won’t be room for all of them so some are going to be discontented.

    The B team thing might well work out as you suggest but it’s still fourth tier stuff this season. I sense there is a bit of a gulf between 3rd and 4th tiers and we’re talking about regular football that’s largely meant to bring on the youngsters. But time will tell… One thing they’ve said is that having a B team in the I Liga hasn’t done Ruzomberok a lot of good and, on the face of it, that seems undeniable.

    Pich is still frustrating at times. You get that sense of anticipation when he’s on the ball but sometimes he seems to try too hard to make something happen. I’m hoping Pecovsky will help him, given they were together at Bystrica. Perhaps I should have said in the article, though, that Pich nearly scored a cracker against Petrzalka. Instant control of a high ball, chipped the keeper, only to see the ball hit the post and bounce to safety. His luck hasn’t been in very often but that’s bound to change soon…..

  3.   Iain Thomsonon 01 Jul 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Good stuff. I’m looking to go to Žilina for the European tie against Reykjavik in a few weeks. I’ve never been to Žilina before though, despite living in Prague (I otherwise go to Ostrava on a regular basis). What can I expect? I’m assuming it’ll be a smaller crowd than for a normal league game…

  4.   James Baxteron 01 Jul 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Iain, re the last sentence, I don’t think so. More because league crowds are low than because this tie will capture the imagination, though! I’d expect 3,500-4,000. Sadly, I’m going to the UK on July 16 and will be away, otherwise we could have met (I was hoping the first leg would be at home).

    If you want specific info, perhaps send me a mail via Dan (details at GET IN TOUCH) and I’ll reply. It’s easy, though – ground’s visible from the rail station and a 5 min walk away, tickets can be bought either at the adjacent hockey stadium or from what looks like a private house diagonally opposite the Holiday Inn but closer to the ground.

  5.   Iain Thomsonon 02 Jul 2011 at 4:11 am

    Fair enough. I remember when my team, Kilmarnock, played against KR in the UEFA Cup in 1999, and the attendance at Rugby Park was over 11,000 (KFC 2:0 (aet) KR, KFC win 2:1 on aggregate).

    Sadly, I have next to no experience of Slovak football – Žilina’s away game at Slavia Praha in 2007 and Trnava’s home game v. Dunajska Streda in October 2008 (I was in the away end) being the limit of it, so any info would be appreciated. I’ll be in touch in a week or two anyway…

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