Title race preview: Rapid Bucharest
Position last season: 4th place
Under Razvan Lucescu, who went for a very experienced roster, thinking about the present, not the future, Rapid failed and I have to agree with the always discontent owner George Copos. The team was strong, very strong, last season, yet something happened along the way, when all the hunger and the flamboyant style slowly faded away and Rapid’s problems were exposed: lack of creativity in midfield, the absence of a goalscorer upfront and a general lack of determination among the top players. Rapid remains a very inconsistent team, strong at home, weak when playing away, and it will be interesting to see what will change under the command of former Rapid midfielder Ioan Ovidiu Sabau, who gets his first shot to fight for something important, after some good work for the likes of Gloria Bistrita and FCM Targu Mures. Used to coach small clubs and use very defensive setups, he will have to adapt quickly, to please the passionate fans who at least want to see some spectacular football, if they’re to lose the title, as usually happened in recent years…
Important transfers out: Dani Coman (goalkeeper, key player); Marcos Antonio (central defender, key player); Dan Alexa (defensive midfielder, key player); Ciprian Deac (winger, key player)
Four top players are gone and, from this point of view, Rapid is in the most delicate situation of all the teams hoping to win the title this season. The best goalkeeper in the league is gone. The best foreign central defender who ever stepped foot in Liga I is off to 1.Bundesliga and he’ll prove there what a quality player he is, while Alexa and Deac should be easier to substitute given their positions and not spectacular input in the previous campaign. Alexa was strong and intimidating in front of the back four, but he was also limited in movement and input when on the ball, while Deac’s energetic style was perfect for Lucescu’s tactical plan, but the player who now moved on loan from Schalke to CFR Cluj didn’t manage impressive numbers while playing on the right wing, opposite to his favorite, natural position.
Important transfers in: Blaze Ilijoski (striker, FC Brasov)
To cover all the above mentioned departures, Rapid was extremely active on the market. Rest assured, the very calculated owner didn’t spend a lot of cash, as he went for either free agents or out of favor players, but still, you have to admit that Sabau has enough options to choose from, even though he’ll need time to both implement his ideas and also make the squad gel.
I only went for a name in this category because Ilijoski is at a good age, showed in Brasov that he adjusted quickly to the league and, most of all, is the type of striker that Rapid badly missed in the last two seasons, if not more. Apart from the Macedonian striker, the Bucharest side got back Marius Constantin from FC Vaslui and also added Octavian Abdrudan (U Cluj) and Wallace da Silva (FC Arges) to make sure there’s a pool of centre-backs to find the right pairing.
In midfield, big things are expected from the Brazilian Renan Silva, but I can’t put his name up so early among the decisive moves (we’ll talk in the winter) and the same goes for a natural number 10 like Dorin Goga, once one of the most unpredictable forwards in Liga I, but he comes now after a poor/inconsistent season in the second division and he never was the sort of player who delivers week in and week out.
My prediction: Can’t see the team finishing higher than third place and I do fear for Rapid. The new coach is in a tight spot, at the moment, with so many questions to be answered quickly: Will he be able to play a more offensive, modern football than before? Can all these top players that left delicate roles uncovered be replaced so quickly? How many of the bets placed in the transfer market this summer will bring profit in the first year? Sabau needs time and a good start to make things happen for Rapid, who always did better as the underdog, so it wouldn’t be wise to write them off yet…