4 and a half years ago, the Romanian champions stunned the world with a 2-1 win on the Olimpico, against AS Roma, in the Champions League. This season, CFR Cluj collected a record (by Romanian standards) 10 points in a group won by Manchester United, but failed to go through. Relegated to the Europa League, the team will meet Inter Milano and will have to produce something special on Thursday evening. A win, like 4 and a half years ago, seems highly unlikely though, with a draw or a narrow defeat looking like the results Paulo Sergio has prepared for in the last month.
From the starting eleven that won against Roma only team captain Ricardo Cadu and defensive midfielder Gabriel Muresan will probably feature among the starters and the Portuguese coach worked on much more than just finding the right replacements for Modou Sougou and Rafael Bastos, the top players sold in January to Olympique Marseille and Al-Nasr, respectively. There’s been intensive work in switching to a defense of five men, with Felice Piccolo operating behind Cadu and Rada, who will be also protected from the front by a hard working, defensive midfield duo formed by Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche. Attacking threats? Maybe Rui Pedro, the 24 years old who scored a hat-trick against Braga playing off the main striker, but now he’ll be the most advanced player on the pitch, a role he’ll probably struggle to cover…
So, five defenders, two defensive midfielders and no natural striker – this is CFR’s plan to return from Milano with a decent result, one that drew criticism even from the team’s former coach, Sorin Cartu, nicknamed “Sorinaccio” for his love of ultra-defensive approaches… At least on paper, Paulo Sergio seems to have gone a step to far or too deep, to be more accurate, as the team that had the worst passing completion (52%) and ball possession (35%) in the Champions League’s group stage and has lost the two players that did some damage on counters faces Inter with the back against the wall. A wall that’s called Mario Felgueiras, the 26 years old that saved 61 shots against Man United, Galatasaray and Sporting Braga, the highest number recorded in the Champions League so far…
Either sell high or don’t sell at all – this was Steaua’s approach during the winter mercato, which closed in the top leagues without a concrete move for the highly rated Vlad Chiriches, Cristian Tanase or Raul Rusescu. Becali’s crazy asking prices worked this time in favor of the club that will have the strongest squad in the league and the best position possible to go for the Champions League spot that can be so rewarding, from the financial point of view. CFR Cluj, instead, decided to capitalize on their recent European adventure, and again, it was a wise move. Sell as high as possible, but sell nevertheless! Rafael Bastos, Modou Sougou and Luis Alberto left, a few other regular starters probably just missed out on a move and I am sure CFR regrets not having sold Pantelis Kapetanos, who was signed on a free transfer and has reached a age that will set his market value on a downtrend.
But January was a month that saw a lot of players from Liga I move abroad and I will try to make a short overview of those moves.
Position: Right winger
From: CFR Cluj
To: Olympique Marseille
The OM brand and the transfer fee in region of 4 million Euros make this the deal of the month. Sougou’s excellent pace will definitely help him adjust to the new league, but I wonder if he’ll ever be a consistent performer in a demanding championship and manage the pressure of every day life in such a well supported club – the opposite of CFR, who struggled lately even to sell out their Champions League matches. At 28, he’s there to help and there will be no patience or understanding for a player that has to deliver…
Moving to 1.Bundesliga is a great step for a player who spent a couple of years in Espanyol’s youth setup, but had to return to Romania to get over a long term injury and play senior football on a regular basis. He did it in impressive fashion – one of my favorite players in the league -, but as in other cases this move might find him unprepared. Not because of his skill, but mainly because he still looks a bit below weight and will surely need time & work to be able to compete. Even he’s given credit right away, he cannot go on for 90 minutes and I hope that – in the next few months – he won’t compromise his chance to have a solid 2013/2014 season. Excellent in 1-v-1 duels, he can play anywhere behind the main striker, but has recently surprised by saying that he feels best in a central position, as he made a name for himself starting his runs from the wings.
Position: Attacking midfielder
From: CFR Cluj
To: Al-Nasr Riad
Impressive at times, especially in this season’s Champions League run with CFR Cluj, the Brazilian went for the money and we might not hear much about him in the years to come. Not surprised he struggled to get a chance at a decent European club, he’s been an inconsistent performer in the 2 and a half years spent in Liga I after his arrival from Sporting Braga. A(nother) good deal for CFR, who cashed in over 3 million Euros for a player that came on a free transfer and helped the club do well in the league and on the European stage.
To: Standard Liege
Scoring 4 times in the second round of the current season brought Tucudean in the spotlight and the media presented him as the next big thing. In the following 16 appearances, he managed to find the net only twice more, stats that speak of a striker who is yet to mature into a reliable front man. Coming from a very wealthy family, the 1,87 powerhouse failed to convince at Dinamo, yet he gets his first break of his career with the transfer to Standard Liege. It probably wouldn’t have happened if Standard’s coach wasn’t Mircea Rednic, who thinks that he can get the big guy going. I doubt it, considering that the move to Dinamo from UTA and the chance to become a regular feature in the youth & senior national team failed to motivate him properly. I doubt that a bigger wage will do it…
Rednic swore he wouldn’t sign a player from Petrolul, the club he left to return to Belgium, yet he decided to go for one of the most talented and controversial figures in Romanian football. An authentic number 10, Cristea had everything to make it big, apart from the desire. Signed on loan with an option to secure a good wage for years of quality nightlife ;), he will probably try to show his class and certainly he was brought along by Rednic in the hope that he will deliver immediately. Might help in a couple of games, but so far never showed any awareness that his playing days are coming to an end.
- Gaz Metan Medias topping the standings is something even I wasn’t expecting, although I predicted a good season from this well organized team. The Brazilian Eric de Oliveira scored his 7th goal in 4 matches (a wonderful free kick) and left the field with 20 minutes to go, losing the chance to try and make it four consecutive braces in this outstanding start of season!
Another small team tipped to do well, Otelul Galati, added an important win against the newly promoted FCM Targu Mures, and Dorinel Munteanu’s keeper, Grahovac, is the only one in the league with four clean sheets. Impressive!
- Things are going very bad for Unirea Urziceni, though, who’s yet to score a goal this season, and worrying for CFR Cluj, held to a draw at home by a team that will struggle to avoid relegation this season. Good debut from the Brazilian Rafael Bastos, though, who could play an important part this season, as the missing playmaker. The problem is that Mandorlini keeps on looking for the best tactical setup & formation, which is unacceptable, in my opinion, after almost a year in charge. Read more…