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.
We’re close to the end, now, but I doubt that what’s going to happen in the last three rounds will change things. I’ll explain: CFR is still the favorite to win the title, but the team struggled so badly that Mandorlini should be dismissed even in case of a successful scenario. The only team capable of winning the league seems Unirea Urziceni, so Ronny Levy should be kept at all costs for the coming season, even if Unirea will fail to defend the title won last year under Dan Petrescu. But let’s take a look at the top clubs that should/will change coaches this summer:
- CFR Cluj – in spite of its position in the standings and the club’s chances to win the title, Mandorlini failed to connect with his players and to put his mark on a team that plays poor football for months. Period! He worked during the winter on a tactical system he had to abandon after the first official matches. He recommended three Italian players – Bottone, De Zerbi and Piccolo - who looked completely useless. He saw top players getting out of shape – Kone, Traore – and couldn’t do anything to get them back at their best. Was lucky to draw against strong teams and simply took advantage of his superior roster to win by a small margin – the Italian style – against the smaller clubs. Although he has the backing of the board (intelligent enough to keep the staff and the players focused on the title, hiding the obvious disappointment), Mandorlini will/should not be offered another deal. Verdict: change him!
- Unirea Urziceni – Levy did what few expected: take over from Dan Petrescu and keep what everyone still considers (in spite of everything these players have done even in the Champions League!) an average team, formed by decent, but mediocre footballers, at the top of the league with chances even to defend the title won last season. A solid coach, who tried to further develop the team, going for a more Latin/technical style, who should be kept at all costs. Levy’s problem is that next season he will probably find himself without the likes of Galamaz, Brandan, Bilasco and will be forced to show his recruiting ability, as well. Verdict: keep him! Read more…
Unirea Urziceni, Romanian title holders, the team already considered Liverpool’s marked victim, in the UEFA Europa League double. Here are some (hopefully) interesting facts, statistics and personal views, ahead of the first leg, that will be played at Anfield on the 18th of February:
- Unirea is, at this point, an unpredictable team even for Romanian fans and pundits. The departure of Dan Petrescu (THE guy who invented the team that won the title and collected eight points in the Champions League group stage) and the appointment of Ronny Levy as head coach should have brought some changes in the team’s tactics, mentality and approach. Usually a very, very disciplined team, with an organized game and paths followed by the players with their eyes closed, Unirea could and should have changed partially their style under the Israeli coach.
- Although Romanians haven’t seen a single friendly game played this winter, press reports suggest a switch from the usual 4-1-4-1 system to a 4-2-3-1. Without a single player bought during the mercato period (and three departed, striker Danalache, who wasn’t among the players registered for the Champions League, and wingers Tiberiu Balan and Dacian Varga, both dangerous offensive weapons and regular starters in the first half of season), Levy will try to use wisely a decent roster by Romanian standards. Besides Varga and Balan, Levy will be without the solid anchorman Ricardo, who turned up very late after the winter break, and he will also have to leave out one of the team’s best players, the Argentinian Brandan (who feels jaded after a missed transfer to Stuttgart), so, most likely the starting eleven will look like this: Arlauskis – Maftei, Galamaz, Bruno Fernandes, Bordeanu – Paraschiv, Apostol – Semedo, Onofras, Frunza – Bilasco. So, even those tempted to say that Unirea looks pretty much the same way like before, the fact is that Levy will be without the best left back, the best anchorman and the best wingers. So, if the Romanian champions are to stand any chance, he’d better have produced some tactical miracles.
- Latest news give Portuguese right winger Semedo little chances to feature in the first leg. In case he won’t make it (twisted an ankle on 31st of January) Levy will have every chance to deploy a more defensive team, as he did in the last three friendly matches: a 4-4-2 with Dinu Todoran on the right side of midfield and Onofras will be the second striker with the task of dropping down (he has excellent stamina and work rate) when the Reds have the ball and pushing forward on the channels created by centre forward Marius Bilasco.
- Unirea played 7 friendly matches since the team resumed training, winning 4, drawing 1 and losing 2 – 7 goals scored, 2 goals received. For those interested in betting, not a single match finished “over 2,5″.
- One player in particular has an interesting story. Epaminonda Nicu (30) is the only player that was part of the wonderful adventure which saw this small club progressing from Romania’s third tier to the title and the Champions League group stage. Nicu improved impressively and always gave his best to rise to the challenge, playing both as central defender and right back. Since 2003, he collected 161 matches in Romania for Urziceni and only this season, after the transfer of former Rapid Bucharest skipper Vasile Maftei, he found it more difficult to get a place in the starting eleven.
Dinamo – Florin Bratu (29 years old, right winger/forward)
Injured in October 2008, Bratu returned on the pitch after a 13 months long nightmare, but only played one game for Dinamo’s reserve team, in the second division. He had suffered a severe injury to his knee and was poorly treated while in Romania, but made a complete recovery after spending the last few months in Italy. It remains to be seen if he can display the same pace, confidence and coolness in front of goal, but he has enough time during this long winter break to regain his match fitness and be ready to make an impact in the second half of season.
Bratu has a solid scoring record for the Red Dogs, with 27 goals in 61 matches, while the injury suffered in 2008 came after he had scored 7 times in 9 appearances. His return will bolster an impressive attacking force, as he will compete with the likes of Marius Niculae, Claudiu Niculescu and Andrei Cristea, but will also be an alternative to Gabriel Torje, for the right winger role.
Steaua – Ovidiu Petre (27 years old, central defensive midfielder)
Tormented by injuries, he should finally have a chance to make an impact for Steaua, after recovering completely from his fourth knee surgery of a career that looked very promising indeed. 11 matches last season and only 4 during the current campaign is obviously too little from a player that showed only glimpses of what he could offer to the red and blue outfit.
Strong anchorman, Petre should not only provide the needed cover for a renewed defensive line, but he will also inject a dose of leadership in a team that lost influent figures like Radoi and Ghionea.
Unirea Urziceni – Marius Onofras (29 years old, forward)
Missed almost the entire second half of last season due to a strange injury to his right knee and played only 10 games in the league in the current campaign. A key player in Dan Petrescu’s tactical setup, with a very interesting role on the pitch, where he was always switching between attack and midfield, helping in recovering the ball and then running the channels up front, on paths learned to perfection in training, reminded everyone of his importance with the excellent goal scored in the Champions League against Glasgow Rangers.
Outstanding work-rate and determination, plus the good scoring instincts and solid understanding with key centre-forward Marius Bilasco, make Onofras a valuable asset for Unirea, but we should see if new coach Ronny Levy realizes his importance for the team. In the current campaign, played only 10 games in the league (four starts), scoring 4 goals, and made four appearances as a sub in the Champions League group stage, scoring once.
FC Timisoara – Cristian Mejia (19 years old, forward)
The skilful Colombian forward has arrived in Romania three months ago, but FC Timisoara could not register his transfer due to a conflict between the club that raised Mejia and the club that sold him to Timisoara. Has played only in a friendly match and coach Ioan Ovidiu Sabau hopes that he can add pace and creativity up front and that the time wasted so far at least helped the player adjust to the new lifestyle and blend into the squad.
FC Timisoara – Milos Brezinsky (25 years old, central defender)
Severely injured to his left knee in December 2008, the towering centre-back missed an entire year, but is now back to full fitness and should play as a regular in the second half of season. Has played 21 matches for FC Timisoara since his transfer from Slovan Liberec (after a loan spell at Sparta Prague) and looked strong, confident and a influent figure at the back. Should further improve a strong defense, which relied mostly on the work done by the entire team and a consistent and efficient centre-back like him could allow the coach to replace one of the two central defensive midfielders with a more attacking minded player.
- Dayro Moreno (24) says he’s determined to part ways with Steaua and has a written agreement with the club to be released if he finds a team willing to pay 500.000 EUR for his services. Moreno’s transfer fee from Once Caldas back in 2008 was 2 mil. EUR.
- The press from Israel reveals two possible targets for Ronny Levy, the new manager of Romanian title holders Unirea Urziceni: forward Shlomi Arbeitman (24) – 14 goals in 16 matches this season! – and midfielder Biram Kayal (21), both from Maccabi Haifa.
- Apparently, Steaua refused a 1,5 mil. EUR offer from the Championship for centre-forward Pantelis Kapetanos (26), although this contradicts earlier reports about Gigi Becali’s decision to let the player go in case of a similar offer. The fact is that Kapetanos scored 9 goals in 15 appearances in the league this season and is quite indispensible for the red and blue outfit in the race for the title.
- Ronny Levy signed a contract with champions Unirea Urziceni. He will earn 20.000 EUR per month + bonuses, until June 2011. Levy inherits a strong team, which finished third in a tough Champions League group (played against Sevilla, VFB Stuttgart and Glasgow Rangers) and will continue to play in Europe this spring. Defending the title in the league is another objective still in reach, as Unirea has the same number of points (41) with CFR Cluj and Steaua. Only two players departed this winter, the wingers Dacian Varga and Tiberiu Balan, who were loaned from second division club Sportul Studentesc. Levy probably has been promised a transfer budget, although Urziceni was an expert (under Dan Petrescu and Mihai Stoica) in reviving the careers of players released or sold almost for nothing by smaller clubs.
- Steaua seems to have reached an agreement with Bulgarian striker Hristo Yovov (32), who should get 10.000 EUR / month until the summer, a substantial bonus (100.000 EUR according to http://www.gsp.ro) in case the club wins the title and the option to extend the current deal for one more year. The problem is that, so far, nobody from Steaua contacted Levski Sofia, but coach Mihai Stoichita will try to get the green light from the club during the weekend, when he’ll travel to Bulgaria.
- FC Timisoara will keep Pedro Manuel Taborda Moreira (31) until the end of the season, when his contract will expire. The club gave full (sometimes too much) credit to the very promising Costel Pantilimon (22) – on Arsenal’s shortlist – and also bought last summer Nemanja Supic (27), but Taborda impressed in the three appearances for the club this season (a solid display in Europa League against Dinamo Zagreb!) and, with Supic quite injury prone, will be kept as backup. Of course, the club will have to offer/promise something to a player who has every reason to look for another club right now.
- Otelul Galati released Gjorgji Mojsov (24), a central midfielder bought last summer from Rabotnicki. Played in seven games this season, three times as a starter. Otelul also terminated the loan of Arthur Patras, who came from Timisoara and is a regular for Moldova U21. This way, the club for Galati makes room in the first eleven for the promising Razvan Ochirosii, recently transferred (and partially bought) from Steaua, as part of the Zhivko Zhelev deal.