Nov 02 2012

Slovan v Trnava Preview

Published by at 2:41 pm under Uncategorized

I got all excited about Žilina v Slovan last week, so it seems only fair to give this game the preview treatment too. One question is, though, what is Slovan v Trnava really all about? Is it a meeting of Slovakia’s two greatest clubs, the only ones to have had periods of dominance in the Czechoslovak era? Is it the metropolitan sophisticates against a bunch of fierce parochials? A minor suburb of Vienna against the Slovak Rome? It is any of these, depending on your point of view. It is also a genuine local derby, given that the cities of Bratislava and Trnava are only 30 minutes drive apart. But, from a pure footballing perspective, it is also the Corgoň Liga’s top team versus bottom-of-the-table stragglers. Slovan should win comfortably. But we’ll come to that later.

As so often in Slovakia, it is impossible to simply anticipate a big game of football without first having to trawl through some of the off-field nonsense. The build-up to this occasion has been overshadowed by an argument over its screening by Digi Šport, a Romanian satellite TV company, which, despite having only around 100,000 Slovak subscribers, holds the live rights to the Corgoň Liga. When Friday 2nd November was first announced as the date for Slovan v Trnava, there were protests. November 1st, All Saints Day, is an important public holiday in Slovakia, a time when many people leave the bigger cities to visit relatives in the villages. Slovan fans didn’t want one of their team’s biggest fixtures of the season to interrupt a long weekend. They threatened a boycott.

Totally understandable as the fans’ concerns were, the response of Slovan as a club illustrates why they are not much liked outside their own city. First, they asked Digi Šport if the date could be changed to Sunday November 4th. Digi Šport agreed in principle, but said it was up to Slovan to make the necessary agreements with Trnava. But there was a further problem ; Slovan and Trnava both had Slovak Cup quarter-final matches scheduled for Tuesday November 6th, away to Ružomberok and home to Banská Bystrica respectively. ‘Not a problem at all,’ thought Slovan, ‘we can write to those clubs as well, telling them we want the ties put back until November 13th.’ Thankfully for those of us who find such actions arrogantly presumptious, Trnava, Ruža and Bystrica all replied to the effect that Slovan should stick their date changes up the nearest dark orifice. So Friday it is. We wait to see how many Slovan fans turn up, but it does seem that the idea of a boycott has been abandoned.

On the field, the result of this fixture has often been significant. Over recent years, Slovan have tended to have a better team than Trnava, and their record against them in Bratislavamakes scary reading for the visitors. But last season, as both clubs contested the title-race with Žilina, Trnava held Slovan off with ease at Pasienky, earning a 0-0 draw and suggesting that they were likely to be Žilina’s closest challengers. That is exactly how things turned out. Earlier this season, by contrast, the sides met at Trnava’s Štadión antona malatinského, both having had an uncertain start. Coach Vladimír Weiss had just walked out on Slovan and been replaced in a caretaker capacity by Samuel Slovák. Slovan won 1-0 and neither they nor Slovák (since awarded a contract) have looked back from there. Trnava, by contrast, have never recovered.

Trnava’s season has been an unmitigated nightmare, and it’s hard to understand why. They finished second in the league last season, and midfielder Roman Procházka, who went to Levski Sofia, is the only significant departure since then. There have been suggestions that Miroslav Karhan, undoubtedly a big personality with his 100+ international caps and status as a club legend, has undermined the authority of Czech coach Pavel Hoftych. Other rumours point to a Czech/Slovak split in the dressing-room. Perhaps an emphatic Europa League qualifying defeat to a classy Steuea Buchurest team knocked the club’s confidence just at a time when it had serious hopes of group stage football. Or did the club miss the opportunity to add to its ranks the type of player that was missed even last season, ie one with genuine creative flair? What is not in doubt is that results have been dire, notably 0-3 and 0-5 hammerings at home to Trenčín and Zlaté Moravce. There was also a nasty incident after a recent defeat away to Košice, when a group of 30 or so masked hooligans greeted the returning team-coach with violence and threats.

Certainly, Trnava will need their fans to rally round them on Friday. And on the pitch, theirbig personalities, notably Karhan and captain Peter Čvirik, need to be at their dominant best. Karhan takes a mean free-kick, and the team isn’t short of height, so the aerial route may hold out some hope, more so if the pitch is in less than perfect condition (not really a big ‘if’, given that this is Pasienky we’re talking about and that rain is forecast). The excellent Nicolas Gorosito limped out of Slovan’s 0-0 draw at Žilina last Sunday ; if he misses out, Trnava might just sense a weakness in the centre of their rivals’ defence.

Yet Slovan seem to have most bases covered. Gorosito’s replacement last Sunday, Milan Kopic, slotted in comfortably alongside the impressive Kristián Kolčák, and it’s hard to see Trnava troubling full-backs Mamadou Bagayoko and Lukáš Pauschek too much. Indeed, these two will be marauding forward at every opportunity. There is slickness and creativity in the Slovan midfield, where Erik Grendel and Marko Milinković are in fine form, and Lester Peltier has genuine pace in attack. If I was a Trnava fan, though, the players I would worry about most would be Igor Žofčák and Juraj Halenár. The former’s return from injury has beenlow-key so far, but he is simply too good (at this level anyway) to be kept quiet for long. As for Halenár, he has last week’s embarrassing miss to make up for.

As a neutral where these particular clubs are concerned, I’ve never had a strong desire to travel three hours to witness one of their meetings. In fact, the prospect of getting caught in the middle of a spat between the fans (they really, really dislike each other) is pretty horrific.  Yet I wouldn’t mind finding a pub with Digi Šport, because this might just be a better, closer game than the league positions suggest. Even if it is, Slovan will still win.

Prediction ; Slovan 3 Trnava 1

James Baxter



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