Title contenders: Unirea Urziceni
Finished in second place last year, mainly due to an obvious lack of attacking options that wasn’t solved during the winter mercato break. Looking at this summer’s transfer campaign, with no important departures and two forwards added to the squad, it seems that Unirea realized how close the team was to another league title and hopes that stability will prove a decisive advantage, if speculated to the max in the first part of the season, when the title challengers will be still trying to fit in their numerous buys and figure out which system suits them best.
Players in: Adrian Neaga (forward, 31, Neftci Baku), Petre Marin (left back/right back, 37, Steaua), Maurice Junior Dale (forward, 25, Arles-Avignon)
Players out: Daniel Munteanu (central defender, 32, Universitatea Cluj)
Unirea added just three names, but all of them are expected to help the team right away. Team manager Mihai Stoica, the man in charge when it comes to buys, had been following for months the unknown Dale (so this isn’t one of the so “popular” buys from abroad based on DVD’s and agent recommendations) and went for two other very experienced players he knows very well from his Steaua days. In spite of his age, Marin should prove not just useful, but quite important, while Neaga – a wasted talent – returns to Romania after yet another strange experience abroad, in Baku. Anyway, unless Dale turns out to be a standout player, it’s the right moment to use a cliche and say that Unirea’s best deals are keeping the likes of Arlauskis, Galamaz, Brandan and Bilasco, the guys that form the backbone of this organized and hard-working side.
- Coach: Ronny Levy (joined the club in January 2010)
- Preferred system: 4-1-4-1
- Ideal first eleven: Arlauskis – Marin, Galamaz, Maftei, Brandan – Paraschiv – Neaga, Paduretu, Apostol, Frunza – Bilasco
- Realiable subs: Fernandes (central defender), Semedo (right wing), Marinescu (attacking midfielder), Onofras (forward) Dale (forward), Rusescu (forward)
- Key player: Marius Bilasco. This player’s outstanding ability to win aerial duels in spite of his just 184 cm, to hold the ball upfront and his intelligence of brining others into play is vital to Unirea’s game. Not a natural goalscorer, Bilasco is an excellent team player, who can stay fit for an entire season, playing his heart every week.
- Underrated player: Marius Onofras. Had to choose quite an old forward ahead of Rusescu because this guy reminds me so much of Dirk Kuyt, in terms of work-rate. Able to produce wonderful goals at times, he will link-up play, run the channels, in my opinion, he’s the perfect partner for Bilasco and hopefully he’ll get more time on the pitch than he did last season.
- Liability: Vasile Maftei. As strange as it may sound, I expect Maftei to have a poor season, at his return at the heart of the defense. Moved on the right, he became a solution even for the national team, but now Levy is trying to partner him with Galamaz, the true leader of Unirea’s back four, and he might find out to be a bad idea having two coordinators in central defense and also find less appealing than in the past Maftei’s overconfidence in his technique and desire to push deep into the opposition’s half having the ball at his feet.
What to expect:
Last season, Unirea paid the price for its’ cautious approach for long periods of matches that seemed under control and I expect Levy to take more risks in his attempt to turn draws into victories. This team may not be THE favorite in the title race, but somehow it looks like the team to beat, which we usually tend to say about the reigning champions. This is a strong group, experienced, well balanced, still hungry to win trophies and I see Unirea fighting for the top spot until the very last round.