One game played so far, excellent results for both teams. Steaua managed to come back from 0-1, away, at Universitatea Cluj, while Craiova was unlucky to get just one point at home, against the reigning champions from CFR Cluj. Morale is excellent for both sides, expectations are high – the game looks unpredictable. Still, there are facts that should help an experienced player make an “inspired” pick for tonight’s match:
- Steaua will be playing in front of a full house, all the 25.000 tickets have been sold, the home team will count on an intimidating crowd indeed, after a long period of conflicts between the fans and the club’s owner. Keep in mind that Universitatea has one of the youngest teams in the league, but also that the pressure could also get to Steaua’s players (a lot of new faces).
- Steaua’s first game was based on ball possession, while Craiova was the outsider against CFR, so we can expect pretty much the same approach tonight. The guests will rely on their defense, which looks weak on the left flank – a natural centre-back, Ciuca, is used as a left back – but managed to keep at bay CFR’s impressive strike force, the champion club failing to send 1 (one) shot on goal in 90 minutes! The counters will try to speculate Costea’s pace (lacks composure, so he can waste even 1-v-1 situations) , but I expect Piturca to block the man with the decisive pass, the Bulgarian Gargorov, who was a complete unknown for CFR.
- Craiova doesn’t have a natural left winger, which is good news for Steaua’s manager, unhappy with his right back’s performance in the first game. Steaua’s full backs should have a lot of freedom to push forward, while the four creative midfielders will test to the max the defensive ability and stamina of Craiova’s two defensive midfielders, Barboianu and Dilevski. Both have a tendency to dive into tackles, yellow cards are almost guaranteed.
- Steaua’s lone striker, Bogdan Stancu, scored the winner in the first official game, but all the attacking players have good morale and come from convincing performances.
- Steaua – Universitatea Craiova are usually tensed matches, so I expect a few tough challenges and full determination from everyone involved.
- The match starts at 19.00 CET and will be broadcasted live by DigiSport.
Name: Mihai Pintilii
Position: central defender
Height/Weight: 181 cm/75 kg
Club: Pandurii Targu Jiu
Left Jiul Petrosani on a free transfer in January and made an instant impact at International Curtea de Arges, where he collected 11 appearances in the top flight, finishing his first half of season at this level as the team’s captain. Now, he moved alongside his coach and colleagues from International to Pandurii, where he offered an excellent display in the first round of the season, against Unirea Urziceni. In spite of his small size for a centre-back, Pintilii managed to contain Unirea’s top centre-forward, Bilasco, an outstanding player in the air and a key man in Levy’s tactical plans. Pintilii was focused, quick, aggressive when required and outplayed Bilasco with his excellent anticipation, controlling his opponent on the chest and coming out for the ball at the right moment, with impressive efficiency. On top of that, he had to sweep several loose balls and generally had a lot of work, considering the poor displays from his partner Ousmane Viera and especially the highly-rated-for-no-reason left back, Cardoso. Looked a lot like Steaua’s former captain, Mirel Radoi, and I recall Pintilii being offered to Steaua a few years ago, but, at that time, the Bucharest side had players like Radoi, Ghionea or Goian in the team and the centre back had to return in the second division.
Coming form behind for a 2-1 away win in the first round was a nice feat, but Steaua’s manager ignored everyone’s enthusiasm and kept on working on a team that needs time and patience to gel, but also more names on some positions, in order to sustain a successful campaign.
Yesterday morning, Piturca made a surprising signing, ClaudiuVoiculet, a small midfielder who played last season for International Curtea de Arges, but didn’t move to Pandurii alongside his former coach and teammates and was still looking for a team. Versatile, two footed player, quick and hard working, the 25 years old looks like a backup solution, but the length of his deal (three years) could mean that Piturca might think otherwise. Steaua paid around 300.000 Euros and International’s owner, Benone Lazar, will also get a percentage from the midfielder’s next transfer fee.
Yesterday evening, right before FC Timisoara’s debut in Europa League, aganst MyPa, the club’s owner announced the coach that he should not start, nor use the Brazilian right back, Eder Bonfim. The defender had been sold to Steaua, who wanted to count on Bonfim for its first European game of the season. The 29 years old required a 400.000 Euros investment and could be offered the chance to start right away, as the Bulgarian Todorov struggles to adapt, while the Nigerian Emeghara played poorly in the first round.
With these two moves, Steaua gains more depth, but didn’t find a decisive, important player. Still, it will be very important if Piturca uses the same strategy in adding one more name to his attacking options, as he relies currently only on Bogdan Stancu and Pantelis Kapetanos for the lone striker’s role, with Romeo Surdu way below Steaua’s demands, in my opinion.
Lazio offered 3 million Euros for Gabriel Torje. Dinamo will soon regret the decision to turn it down
Dinamo’s officials stated that a written offer has arrived from Lazio, a bigger one than the initial 2 million Euros, but, as I was saying earlier, the Red Dogs expect at least 4 million Euros. Of course, to get that kind of money, they’ve asked Lazio for 5 :-)
In my opinion, the Bucharest side will not get more than the current offer, especially now when the interest from Borussia Dortmund has cooled down and there isn’t a sign of competition for the player’s signature. Torje isn’t worth it and the ways he could increase his market value are limited: an excellent season with Dinamo (possible), moving from the U21 to the senior national team (not likely, Lucescu will give credit to Mihai Roman), playing Champions League football with Dinamo next season (improbable and he’ll need at least one and a half years for that!). My point is: Dinamo made a poor deal, paying 2 million Euros for 50% of the player’s transfer rights and they’ll never get their money back, that’s why the idea of making a profit out of it seems to be unrealistic. I would have accepted the money and only tried to negotiate a percentage of the player’s next transfer, considering his just 21 and the move to Serie A alone should increase the player’s market value, which could have covered the club’s losses and even kept a small chance to make some profit in two or three years time.
Sportul Studentesc – Otelul Galati 0-1 (Iorga 4)
Pandurii Targu Jiu – Unirea Urziceni 0-0
Rapid Bucharest – FC Vaslui 2-0 (Herea 28, Cesinha 81)
Universitatea Craiova – CFR Cluj 0-0
FC Timisoara – Gloria Bistrita 2-2 (Goga 10, Magera 73 / Muresan 19, Coroian 69)
Universitatea Cluj – Steaua Bucharest 1-2 (Niculescu 8 / D. Stoica 45, B. Stancu 73)
Astra Ploiesti – Dinamo Bucharest 1-2 (Lukacs 34 / N’Doye 78, Ad. Cristea 90)
FCM Targu Mures – FC Brasov 0-1 (V. Badea 68)
Victoria Branesti – Gaz Metan Medias 2-3 (Olariu 39, B. Oprea 90 / Eric 21, 75, R. Zaharia 28)
Next round (30th of July – 2nd of August): Otelul Galati – Pandurii Targu Jiu, FC Vaslui – FCM Targu Mures, Gloria Bistrita – Astra Ploiesti, Steaua – Universitatea Craiova, Unirea Urziceni – Rapid, Gaz Metan Medias – FC Timisoara, FC Brasov – Universitatea Cluj, Dinamo – Sportul Studentesc, CFR Cluj – Victoria Branesti.
As my friends from Twitter (rbaicu) already heard, Ionel Danciulescu signed a two years long deal with Dinamo, after a surprising release from Hercules. “Danciu-goal” refused a very tempting offer from the newly promoted club FCM Targu Mures, who offered a fabulous 250.000 Euros per year plus 70.000 Euros upfront, hoping to catch one more European adventure with the Red Dogs, before ending an oustanding career in Liga I.
With him in the squad, Dinamo has to options: either loan once again one of their young forwards, Liviu Ganea or Georgian Paun (this one has the biggest chances), or sell one of the big names: Andrei Cristea or Marius Niculae. With Cristea too expensive at 1,5 million Euros for interested clubs, like Newcastle or Brescia, Dinamo could be tempted to accept Karabukspor’s 500.000 Euros for Niculae, who is also one of the highest earners at the Bucharest side and has been looking for his best form for the past year, without any luck.
Fourth place last season wasn’t that bad, considering the poor quality of the team and the huge conflict between the fans and the club’s owner, but Gigi Becali realized that he needs to change not for Steaua’s sake, but thinking about the lost money in recent years, where he dictated everything at the club, making a mockery of what still is the team with the biggest fan base in Romania. That’s why he accepted Victor Piturca’s conditions, including the toughest of all: keeping his big huge mouth shut. The former national team coach took up the manager’s role – Premier League style – supervising the training sessions conducted by Eugen Neagoe, former Pandurii coach, bringing back former Steaua players and offering them jobs in the youth academy, installing Emerich Ienei (the man that brought Steaua the biggest European trophy in 1986) as club president, getting the fans back in the stands and behind the team. He did so many important things for the club that missing out on the title this season shouldn’t matter that much. But I’m sure this is unacceptable for the ambitious Piturca…
Players in: Stanislav Angelov (central midfielder, 32, Energie Cottbus), Iasmin Latovlevic (left back, 24, FC Timisoara), Cosmin Matei (central attacking midfielder, 19, Farul Constanta), Geraldo Alves (central defender, 30, AEK Athens), Yordan Todorov (right back, 29, Lokomotiv Plovdiv), Novak Martinovic (central defender, 25, Pandurii), Alexandru Pacurar (central midfielder, 29, Pandurii), Razvan Stanca (goalkeeper, 31, Pandurii), Florin Gardos (central defender, 22, Concordia Chiajna), Dorel Stoica (central defensive midfielder, 32, El Ettifaq), Mihai Radut (central attacking midfielder, 20, International Curtea de Arges), Octavian Abrudan (central midfielder, 26, FC Brasov).
Players out: Arman Karamyan (forward, 31, released), Artiom Karamyan (left midfielder, 31, released), Petre Marin (left back, 37 , Unirea Urziceni), Zhivko Zhelev (central defender, 31, Inter Baku), Gora Tall (central defender, 25, APOP Kinyras – loan expired), Pepe Moreno (striker, 29, Independiente – loan expired), Pawel Golanski (right back, 28, released), Stelios Parpas (central defender, 25, AEL Limassol), Ovidiu Petre (central defensive midfielder, 28, Al Nasr), Alexandru Tudose (central defender, 23, Gloria Bistrita), Juan Toja (left midfielder, 25, Aris Salonic).
Massive changes in Ghencea, where Piturca wanted and had every reason to create a new team. Among the rare important losses is Ovidiu Petre, but the manager had on the anchorman role his favorite player already lined-up, Dorel Stoica. For the rest, he went on to bring on a mixture of young & promising players like Radut and experienced guys like Angelov, which proves that his goal is building a new squad, without sacrificing this season’s trophies at stake. Interesting fact, Steaua relies on the same forwards from last year, even though Pantelis Kapetanos doesn’t seem to fit the lone striker’s profile preferred by Piturca, which means that Bogdan Stancu should enjoy the best season of his career and start fulfilling his potential. But what if he doesn’t or gets injured? Back to the Greek one more time? What does this guy has to do – this year, against all odds, got to play in the World Cup! – in order to start a season as the number one choice for the centre-forward role?
- Coach: Victor Piturca (new)
- Preferred system: 4-1-4-1
- Ideal first eleven: Tatarusanu - Emeghara, Abrudan, Geraldo Alves, Latovlevici - Stoica - Nicolita, Radut, Angelov, Tanase - B. Stancu
- Reliable subs: Stanca (goalkeeper), Pacurar (central midfielder), Szekely (right winger), Kapetanos (centre forward).
- Key player: Dorel Stoica. Able to play in central defense, the 32 years old was convinced by Piturca to sign for Steaua, even when the manager wasn’t sure that he’ll return to Ghencea. Deployed in front of the back four, Stoica has the ability and the experience to protect not just the back four, but also the “front four”, as the line of midfielders will have to think how to open up the opposition’s defense, not be afraid that a missed pass or a miscontrolled ball could expose their own defense. In his own half, Stoica will win balls in the air, shut down channels, anticipate the midfielders looking to drop into space, but once Steaua regains possession, he will organize the build up, draw the back four as high as possible and eventually pose a threat with his long shots, especially from free kicks.
- Underrated player: Pantelis Kapetanos. The Greek isn’t a pleasure to watch, I agree, but he’s been a very prolific scorer even when Steaua was playing miserably - I wonder what he could do in a team that has superior possession and creative midfielders able to increase the number of scoring opportunities. His presence at the World Cup will keep him out of the team in the first month, but once “Kape” is fit, Stancu’s age and (unfulfilled) potential won’t be enough to keep him in the first eleven, ahead of this modest, hard-working and effective front man.
- Liability: Ciprian Tatarusanu. Promising, definitely gifted, looks to me like the kind of keeper that will need to turn 30 to be really something. But I might judge the guy a bit too hard and based mainly on last season’s performances, when Steaua’s defense was a joke.
What to expect:
A serious title challenge from a club offered by its clown of an owner to a very ambitious manager, Victor Piturca, who changed absolutely everything at Steaua and now it’s only a matter of time until the results will show that this is the way to run a successfull team. It will be hard to win the title right away, mainly because the league changed a lot in recent years and this isn’t just an affair between the Bucharest sides, but the fact that all the other title contenders point towards Steaua when asked who’s the favorite proves that the name still weights enough to crush the clubs that only recently enjoyed the sweet taste of success.
Just missed on an European spot last season, in spite of Ioan Andone’s attempts to save what seemed a compromised campaign. Involved in a huge controversy, regarding the use of two players loaned from Sportul Studentesc, Dacian Varga and Tiberiu Balan, who were registered after the winter mercato period had ended, Rapid wasted a year, paying for poor management and a lack of strategy from the club’s owner, George Copos. Surprisingly, this guy, who repeatedly tried to get rid of the club, returned this summer determined to make Rapid one of the serious title contenders in Liga I. He convinced Dinu Gheorghe to come back from FC Brasov as the club’s president and this very influent character in Romanian football returned in style: 5 of Brasov’s best players came along and the young coach Marius Sumudica – considered one of the clubs living legends – has an excellent squad at his disposal and basically no excuse if he’ll finish the season outside the first two spots.
Players in: Marcos Antonio (central defender, 27, Belensenses), Sabrin Sburlea (forward, 21, FC Brasov), Mihai Roman (right midfielder, 26, FC Brasov), Rui Duarte (right back, 30, FC Brasov), Roosevelt Tavares de Melo Ezequias (left back, 30, FC Brasov), Nicolae Grigore (central defensive midfielder, 27, FC Brasov), Cassio Vargas (striker, 27, Uniao Leiria), Glauber Berti (central defender, 27, Sao Caetano), Gustavo Nacaratto Veronesi, 28, right winger).
Players out: Adrian Iencsi (central defender, 35, Concordia Chiajna), Diego Ciz (left back, 29, Olimpia Asuncion – loan expired), Darjian Matic (central defensive midfielder, 27, released), Ilie Iordache (forward, 25, AEK Athens – loan expired), Alexandru Ionita (striker, 21, FC Koln), Edgars Gauracs (striker, 22, FK Ventspils – loan expired), Cristian Sapunaru (right back, 26, FC Porto – loan expired), Helder da Silva Fereira (right wing back, 22, Nancy – loan expired), Dacian Varga (left winger, 26, Sportul Studentesc – loan expired), Tiberiu Balan (attacking midfielder, 29, Sportul Studentesc – loan expired).
Intense activity on the market, with impressive results, indeed. Rapid lost a number of players, but only a couple were indeed valuable for the team, and decided to cashvin on the promising Ionita after his first full season for the seniors. On the other hand, the buys were spot on: Rui Duarte will make up for Sapunaru’s departure, Ezequias will provide competition for Bozovic, who becomes also availabe for a more advanced role on the left side, while Cassio and Sburlea should do better in terms of efficiency than Ionita. Roman’s addition – a national team player these days – is a coup, but the two Brazilian centre-backs will need to confirm the board’s inspiration and Sumudica’s ability to recondition two players of some quality, but who come from very long breaks. To conclude, Rapid has now quality on each position, competition for a place in the first eleven and a group of players hungry for trophies. Excellent job from the staff!
- Coach: Marius Sumudica (new)
- Preferred system: 4-2-3-1
- Ideal first eleven: Bornescu – Rui Duarte, Glauber, Constantin, Bozovic – Grigore, Lazar – Roman, Spadacio, Cesinha – Cassio Vargas
- Reliable subs: Ezequias (left back), Marcos Antonio (central defender), Herea (attacking midfielder), Grigorie (attacking midfielder), Sburlea (striker).
- Key player: Costin Lazar. The three offensive players, Roman, Spadacio and Cesinha, are match winners, in my opinion, but what would they do if the team’s captain, one of the most gifted and underrated central midfielders in Romanian football, misses from the pitch? Technically gifted, composed and comfortable on the ball, having excellent vision and the ability to link up play effectively, he’s the man that keeps Rapid’s game flowing. A fight with Sumudica in pre-season was a signal that he’s a bit frustrated at the lack of offers from abroad, but it’s all in the past now, as he realized that this team has what it takes to win something this year.
- Underrated player: None. At this point, there are around 20 players entitled for a place in the first eleven and, with so many additions, it’s fair to wait a couple of months and see everyone at work.
- Liability: Constantin’s partner in central defense. Both Glauber and Marcos Antonio need time to regain match fitness, after lengthy spells on the sidelines, and will be prone to mistakes at least in the first few rounds of the season.
What to expect:
There is a lot of enthusiasm in Giulesti, where there’s a passionate crowd and the atmosphere at Rapid’s home games is impressive even when the team plays badly, so we can expect a good start from Rapid. But problems do appear as the season progresses and we can expect them in a team that will leave on the bench or in the stands good players every round, in a team that has a habit of alternating wonderful performances against the top clubs with poor results against the smaller teams. It will all depend on Sumudica’s ability to keep things balanced and under control, but he’s rather an impulsive, choleric character and quite unexperienced as a Liga I coach.
After a mad season, with no less than seven clubs involved in the title race for a very long period, which confirmed that the Bucharest clubs have been outclassed in recent years by teams like CFR Cluj, Unirea Urziceni, FC Timisoara or FC Vaslui, we can expect something similar for the competition that begins today. Even though Timisoara and Dinamo were discrete on the transfer market, which could be said as well about Unirea Urziceni, we have the same number of interested teams in the biggest trophy, but we should see if the big spenders have been wise spenders. Money will make the difference, that’s for sure, and I’m not saying that just because the referees will be paid cash, right after the end of a game, but because it will prove very difficult in this financial crisis to pay the players and staff on time and keep everybode happy and focused.
The biggest problems will appear at the smaller clubs that should live on enthusiasm in the first couple of months, but we’ll probably see a huge gap in the standings really soon. We lack “mid-table” clubs this season, with only Otelul Galati and Gaz Metan Medias good enough to stay safe from relegation and look ahead, not over the shoulder, and unlike those tricked by Otelul’s good run from the second half of last season, I expect Gaz Metan to be the surprise package and maybe even push for an European spot.
The newly promoted clubs are FCM Targu Mures, Victoria Branesti, Sportul Studentesc and Universitatea Cluj. The first two have the biggest chances of an immediate return to the second division, while Sportul rely on a nice group of players (similar to the one relegated after an excellent season in Liga I, due to financial issues) and Universitatea Cluj invested a lot of money in several new faces and has an amazing fan base. Fighting for survival we will also see Universitatea Craiova, Pandurii Targu Jiu (who kept their place in the league only after International’s retirement), Astra Ploiesti and Gloria Bistrita.
Here’s the first round of the season:
- Sportul Studentesc – Otelul Galati
- Pandurii Targu Jiu – Unirea Urziceni
- Rapid Bucharest – FC Vaslui
- Universitatea Craiova – CFR Cluj
- FC Timisoara – Gloria Bistrita
- Universitatea Cluj – Steaua Bucharest
- Astra Ploiesti – Dinamo Bucharest
- FCM Targu Mures – FC Brasov
- Victoria Branesti – Gaz Metan Medias
For those interested, the games are broadcasted on GSP TV, Digi Sport and Antena 1 (I’ll post more details, if requested).