Sep 14 2011

Slovan v Bilbao Preview(s)

Ahead of this massively important fixture for Slovan Bratislava, the ‘team’ here have decided to independently contribute previews of the match.  Firstly, myself; the Slovan fan, with a few thoughts including a personal team selection, followed by Slovak football (MSK Zilina) fan and regular blog contributor James Baxter below; read, enjoy & perhaps compare our thoughts …

Slovan Bratislava go into their first ever European group stage match slightly off form, but with the team spirit built through this European run fully in tact.  There is no doubt that since the victory in Rome and the group stage draw, Slovan’s players have been focussed on this moment.  I wouldn’t say Corgon Liga matches have been a distraction, but the players cannot really be blamed for focussing fully on the Group F opener tomorrow night at Pasienky against Athletic Bilbao.

The spanish outfit qualified by virtue of finishing 6th in La Liga last season and passed the playoff round by default due to the promotion of Trabzonspor direct to the Champions League.  The Basques have had a slow start to the season, a draw in the opening league match with Real Vallecano was followed by defeat at Vladimir Weiss Jr’s new club Espanyol (Weiss was on the bench but didn’t play).

Surely Weiss will have spoken to his father after that match, and Slovan are usually pretty thorough with their scouting of prospective European opponents, so there shouldn’t be too many surprises in store tomorrow night.  It will be more a question of quality, spirit, and of course tactics.

Slovan haven’t scored a goal since Peter Stepanovsky’s 81st minute equaliser in Rome, and they haven’t won a match since the 1-0 victory at Pasienky over the Italians almost a month ago.  Drawing blanks at home to Zlate Moravce and Nitra and defeat at Ruzomberok have led coach Vladimir Weiss to speak increasingly strong words against his players in the press conferences.  Weiss must surely be feeling the pressure on the goal-scoring front, considering also the recent National Team results.

The players seem to know they haven’t been performing, and whether they admit it publicly or not, I am sure this European campaign is affecting domestic performances.  There simply isn’t the strength in depth to spread the work-load, although several debutants acquired towards the end of the transfer window featured against Nitra.  New goalkeeper Lukas Hrosso kept a clean sheet against his old club, but I can’t believe he will be a straight first choice replacement for Matus Putnocky who has had a superb start to the season.  19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Ze Vitor also played 90 minutes against Nitra, transferred directly from Sao Paulo (have Slovan got scouts in Brazil?!), you would think the lad needs more time to adjust before the high pressure environment against Bilbao.

Filip Sebo was suspended last week, so a new look strike force of Juraj Halenar and Lukas Hartig (signed from Bohemians 1905) were charged with producing a goal.  Sadly it didn’t happen but with such poor service it is hard to judge the effectiveness of this partnership.  Halenar has had a good start domestically, suspended in Europe so far, he should feature tomorrow although most likely from the bench.  The only absentee, it seems, will be defender Erik Cikos, injured early on against Nitra.  So, the question of selection will depend largely on how offensive (or not) Weiss starts off in a match where you’d think Slovan will have as good a chance as any of acquiring group stage points.

Just for fun, here’s the team (4-1-3-2) I would select for Slovan tomorrow:

Putnocky – Stepanovsky, Had, Dobrotka, Bagayoko – Kladrubsky – Guede, Zofcak, Grendel – Sebo, Halenar

Somehow, I fear Weiss may start slightly more conservative.  Most likely he will keep us guessing for most of tomorrow ..

Due to confusion over the venue and delays with the release of information (individual tickets only went on sale on Monday), I don’t think ticket sales have been spectacular so far.  The club are advertising match-day ticket sales up to the end of the first half:

http://www.skslovan.com/spravy/index.php?clanok=740

Hopefully we’ll see a near-full Pasienky and a great atmosphere on the night to carry Slovan through a massively important and tough match.

Finally, welcome to visiting Bilbao fans, enjoy your time in Bratislava and the match.

Slovan do toho!

Dan Richardson

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Speaking in the press-conference which followed his side’s miserable 0-0 draw at home to Nitra on Saturday, Slovan Bratislava coach Vladimir Weiss reminded me of a despairing schoolteacher bemoaning the latest ‘efforts’ of a particularly idle bunch of 15-year olds. ‘It was an awful performance, very very poor.’ said Weiss, ‘We can’t go on like this. We had one chance in the whole game. There’s no way we deserved to win.’ What struck me most was less Weiss’s words than his body language. He didn’t look or sound angry. He radiated resignation and, most of all, tiredness. There were black rings under his eyes. He looked as if he wanted to go home, draw the curtains, go to bed and sleep until spring.

It has been a strange few weeks for Weiss. Since he oversaw a totally unexpected Europa League victory over AS Roma, he has watched Slovan fail to seriously disturb either Ružomberok or Nitra in the Corgoň Liga and seen his national team players give a creditable, if toothless, performance in Ireland before capitulating at home to Armenia. In four successive games, in other words, his sides are without a goal. Given that, and the sheer volume of work he must be faced with at present, Weiss could be forgiven if he did indeed feel more like hibernating than seeing what Athletic Bilbao have in store for Slovan in the first game in Europa League Group F on Thursday. As if to further minimise expectation among Slovan fans, Weiss describes Bilbao as ‘like a version of Barcelona’ and their coach, former Chile supremo Marcelo Bielsa, as the ‘best in the world’ at his job.

But we have been here before with Weiss. So many times, his teams have plunged their fans, and the coach himself, into a state of deep pessimism only to quickly, and spectacularly, redeem themselves against more-fancied opponents. Artmedia Bratislava were 2-0 down away to Porto in the 2005/2006 Champions League only to storm back for a 3-2 win. In spring 2009, Slovakia were humiliated 4-0 by England at Wembley three days before heading to Prague and outplaying the Czechs. Near the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign, a limp 2-0 defeat at home to Slovenia appeared to have ended all hopes of going to South Africa. Then, decimated by injuries and suspensions, Weiss’s men ploughed through the Chorzow snow to win beat Poland 1-0 and qualify after all. In South Africa, Weiss himself seemed to be going through a nervous breakdown following a loss to Paraguay in the second group fixture. He subsequently engineered a famous win over Italy, which sent the holders out of the competition and Slovakia to the last 16. Given that history, and bad though Slovan were against Nitra, Bilbao will know they have to be prepared for eagar, well-organised, potentially dangerous opposition on Thursday.

Weiss will certainly use the players and tactics he trusts most against the Basques. Slovan might be struggling to score goals at present but at least they aren’t conceding many, so Matúš Putnocký will probably continue in goal, despite the recent signing of Lukáš Hroššo from Nitra, with Martin Dobrotka and Marián Had forming a solid central defence. Ahead of them, expect to see Jiří Kladrubský and Karim Guédé as mostly holding midfielders, though the former likes to shoot from long-range and the latter will maraud forward occasionally. Igor Žofčák should be there to provide a little finesse and one of Filip Šebo or loan signing Lukáš Hartíg will run around in attack. Hartíg strikes me as a typical Weiss player and, in fact, he had a spell with Artmedia during that 2005/2006 season. He’s a hard-running, experienced forward with a surprising amount of European experience. Also, having played in Bratislava before, he should have settled in pretty quickly. A good addition all round.

If I was a Bilbao fan, however, I think I would be almost as worried about the Pasienky factor as about the Slovan team or Weiss’s tactics. I haven’t played football to a high level but I know what effect things like the pitch or facilities at an away ground can have. When the junior sides I played for travelled to a venue with spacious changing-rooms, hot showers and a pristine playing surface, we were immediately, without even thinking about it, motivated to do well, to give a performance which would do justice to our surroundings (I’m by no means saying we were always good enough to win, just that getting into the right frame of mind for the game came easier). When we turned up at a sloping cow-field and had to change in a leaky wooden shack, by contrast, the default instinct was to feel demotivated. Bilbao are seasoned professionals, of course, so should be able to rise above the embarrassingly primitive stadium they have to perform in on Thursday. Yet the fact is that, in terms of results, Pasienky isn’t doing at all badly as a home venue for either Slovan or Slovakia. I can’t believe that’s down to its atmosphere, which can never be truly intimidating in such an open ground. I’m far more ready to believe that its facilities, such as they are, do have a subtly deflating effect on away teams, and thus help the hosts.

I’ve given up on predictions and I won’t be risking my money on this game. The footballing quality will surely be on Bilbao’s side but I can’t help feeling that the combination of Weiss’s apparent crisis and one of the shabbiest stadiums in European football will be neutralising factors. It should be an interesting occasion anyway.

James Baxter

 

 

 

8 responses so far




8 Responses to “Slovan v Bilbao Preview(s)”

  1.   George Mon 15 Sep 2011 at 6:57 am

    Excellent article James , what has happened ?????

    ……..Dan, the less said the better I guess about your own confused effort, or I will all be accused of again pricking your huge ego . Perhaps you could consider another ‘ holiday’ for a year or so ? BTW . have you made up for your hissy, girly fit with The Daily yet ? I really do think you should kiss and make up .

    I note with some interest , that Weiss agreed with me, and he should have freshened up the field with some new legs against Armin and after the Irish effort…and as for Slovan, well sorry to say they are as lazy, as they are hopeless and as I always claimed since I came to this website .

    …I am just not blinded by schoolboy rashes and have my face buried behind some silly flag.

    BTW . I saw Hamsik play last night against Man C …He again was Mr Anon ….I noted , three blinding crosses to no one, one effort he was too slow to shoot when put through and then failed with his best golden chance to score from just 6 m . Yes worth all of the 34 euro I would spend on him.

  2. [...] more in depth look at Slovan Bratislava can be found here, at the excellent Britski Belasi website which focuses on Slovak [...]

  3.   britskibelasion 15 Sep 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Unfortunately I just read that Juraj Halenar is also out injured tonight. Will be interesting if Weiss plays just Sebo up front, or if Hartig is in the team from the start.

  4.   James Baxteron 15 Sep 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Immediate verdict : there was a big difference in skill level, just like the last time a Weiss team met a Bielsa team (Slovakia 1 Chile 2 in Zilina, November 2009). Bilbao were superb for the first 30 mins and Slovan were lucky to emerge from that period just 1-0 down. Then, out of nowhere, they scored a fine goal themselves – nice interchange between Guede and Zofcak with Guede finishing in emphatic style. Three minutes later, a better goal still, with the young Bilbao striker controlling a difficult high ball, flicking it past Had and smashing it into the net.

    The second-half was more even and was more the type of game Slovan wanted to play but Bilbao were well-organised defensively and, as it entered the last 15 mins or so, they looked well in control.

    Good points for Slovan? Definitely Bagayoko for me. He started at right-back, then moved up to wide right when Taborsky came on and generally did a great job up and down the flank. I also felt Sebo was more in the game than he was in Rome, but what strikes me is that he never moves towards the ball when his team-mates have it, he’s always trying to run behind the defenders. He did at least hold a few balls up in the ‘channels’ this time, though.

    6,000-odd there. The confusion surrounding the venue can’t have helped but I also think they’ll need a result in the next game if they want a significantly better turn-out for PSG.

    All round, not the disgrace Weiss seemed to be fearing after the Nitra performance, but the best team won (as it usually does!).

  5.   Alexon 16 Sep 2011 at 12:05 am

    Aupa Athletic!!!!

  6.   George Mon 16 Sep 2011 at 11:31 am

    Fair points James as the Spanish side had bags of skill and class …but why cannot these Slovak guys just step up to the plate in big games ? It appears to me that your comment ‘All round, not the disgrace Weiss seemed to be fearing after the Nitra performance ‘ just about sums up their game approach …not to be disgraced , rather than go and try and press and hurry the opposition into mistakes and go to WIN the game . This is one of the things I do not like about Weiss , as he considers it a victory too at least boring 0-0 draw with the opposition . He is happy to send us all to sleep ?

    I also have to comment on the lack of fitness of the Slovan side …it is terrible to see these young men almost on theirknees after an hou mark, when they should be the ones pushing and pressing home advantage on the away side that has traveled .

    As for Sebo ….well he scampers a lot , but because of a lack of a brain after snorting all that white stuff for years, he had little impact on the game …..Also the tactic of hoofing up field for him to chase is a complete waste of time, as he just does not ever make defenders feel uncomfortable !

  7.   Fat Eckon 16 Sep 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Excellent prievew pieces both. Keep up the good work, gents – loving it – and if everyone who reads your stuff is as inspired by it as myself then there’ll be plenty others like myself now recording highlights of Europa League and EURO 2012 qualifying matches for glimpse of Slovan, Slovakia and everything inbetween.

    Too bad Sebo’s coked-up acrobatics in getting that ball back into play didn’t result in a legitimate equaliser but at least Slovan kept it respectable, broke Weiss’ recent drought, and gave it a go. Sad to see Pasienky wasn’t quite full. Terrible that the tickets didn’t go on sale til Monday but the spaces I noted on the telly have me seriously tempted to come over for the Salzburg game, funds permitting. I love a wide-open, sterile eastern bloc-style stadium – but then I’ve always been an incurable romantic :-)

    And it seems to me that a Slovak League side losing by only one goal to a side which finished 6th in La Liga, after defeating a Serie A side in the qualifyers, all on the back of the national side putting the World Champions out of last summer’s piddling little tournament in South Africa, proves that Slovak sides are almost addicted to “stepping up to the plate”. It’s the more mundane games inbetween which cause the problems.

    Slagging Slovak football for not being the best in the world is as world-shatteringly brave and insightful as using a well put together football website and other people’s hard work to inflict your personal neuroses on genuine fans of the game. Create your own website, George – I’m thinking “repetitivesolipsist.com” or “sublimatedself-loathing.org” – or tap up Sebo for some Charlie and wrap yer nostrils round a line or four of that personality powder: Either way, pull that broom handle out yer rectum and start talking honestly about football – you might find people actually respect your opinions if you show more respect for yourself.

    I’ve seen you on a few of these threads and it’s such a familiar personality type: Your kind are ten-a-penny and totally toxic to many a good football forum. This is neither a table in a pub around which we’re all sat nor a friends and family Facebook page – it’s a feedback thread: Instead of hiding behind it to spout such devestatingly interesting patter as “I don’t like Dan’s piece so I’ll prove I’m not hanging on his every word by being the first one on here to take the time to write about it”, start realising your comments are the only way anyone on here will ever know you, you humourless, one-note chump.

    Please, George – please go along to Pasienky when PSG come to town. Their fans would love your forthright views :-)

  8.   britskibelasion 16 Sep 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback guys, in all areas. I think I have a good feeling of how the match went on Thursday even though I didn’t see it, Slovan probably did the best they could within the limitations of, as Fat Eck says, a fixture between a Slovak club and a Spanish one.

    Bilbao have come across as a decent, hardworking bunch, who obviously possess a fair few talented footballers amongst their ranks. With that in mind, you’d have them as second favourites for the group and the result at Pasienky was hardly surprising.

    Slovan have to take all this experience and move things forward. I am confident they can do that, but the club and fans must also play their part. A 2/3 full stadium is hardly impressive for the opening match in their first full European qualification. Equally guilty here, I’ll be lending my support at both the PSG and Salzburg matches. I hate to imagine what the attendance could be on a dark cold December night for Matchday 6 should Slovan be in a P5 L5 position by then. Let’s hope things don’t go in that direction.

    Anyway, it’s great to hear that Guede scored a good goal, 0-2 would have been much more demoralising. Also pleased to hear Bagayoko impressed and it was also interesting to see that Weiss suddenly found the faith to play Milinkovic.

    Next up, squad rotation, new opportunities or stick with the ‘tried-and-tested’? However Weiss choses to do things at DAC on Sunday, it is high-time for Slovan to score a few goals and consolidate things in the league again. Par-for-the-course domestically Slovan will be big favourites and it’s time for Weiss to prove they can win these ‘mundane’ league games. I’d go all out for a top performance, save the squad rotation for Pezinok in the cup next week .. but we’ll see!

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