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Title contenders: CFR Cluj

July 20, 2010 2 comments

They won the league last season, after a mad campaign, when no less than six clubs fighting for the top spot. Not at all impressive in terms of tactics, Andrea Mandorlini managed to deliver (the championship was followed by the Romanian Cup) and extend his contract for one more season, when his rotation policy will make some sense, having to play in the Champions League group stage, as well. CFR tried to use its’ advantage of having cash to spend on transfer fees, not just wages for free players and their agents’ comissions, making one loan deal permanent – Piccolo – and signing Bjelanovic, an experienced striker demanded by Mandorlini, and Hora, a promising winger.

Mercato activity:

Players in: Sasa Bjelanovic (striker, 31, Vicenza), Felice Piccolo (central defender, 27, Empoli), Dominique Kivuvu (central midfielder, 23, NEC Nijmegen), Nuno Pereira Diogo (central defender, 29, FC Brasov), Ionut Rada (central defender, 28, Al Nasr), Ioan Hora (right winger, 22, Gloria Bistrita), Rafael Bastos (attacking midfielder, 25, Sporting Braga), Diego Ruiz (striker, 30, Kasimpasa, returns from loan), Rade Veljovic (striker, 24, returns from loan), Emmanuel Kone (midfielder, 24, returns from loan), Paul Batin (striker, 23, returns from loan).

Players out: Nicolae Dica (attacking midfielder, 30, loan expired), Davide Bottone (central midfielder, 24, loan expired), Claudinei Aparecido “Nei” (striker, 30, loan expired), Nelson Cabrera (central defender, 27, loan expired), Roberto De Zerbi (forward, 31, loan expired), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, 31, released).

Dominique Kivuvu, CFR's Vieira

Initially, CFR took care of the players who were loaned last season and paid just for Piccolo’s transfer, who gets along well with team captain and defensive partner, Cadu. A good decision, just like the one to let go Nicolae Dica, an impressive name just on paper and when the TV graphics were presenting the teams. Bjelanovic is certainly an interesting buy, while Kivuvu looks also like a buy, in spite of the player’s arrival on a free transfer. The midfielder was monitorred and probably convinced earlier, so this was also a calculated move from CFR, as was the addition of Hora, who had a solid season with Gloria Bistrita and suits Mandorlini’s favorite tactical setup. Of all departures, Peralta’s could prove the biggest lost, but the bookeepers will be happier than the fans to see the man earning 375.000 Euros per year move away from Cluj. A good summer campaign from CFR’s staff, lead by club president Iuliu Muresan, who wanted to be sure that Mandorlini has what it takes and even something more to defend the title and also get a couple of results in the Champions League.

Tactics:

  • Coach: Andrea Mandorlini (joined the club in November 2009)
  • Preferred system: 4-3-3
  • Ideal first eleven: Nuno Claro – Panin, Cadu, Piccolo, Edimar – Kivuvu, Muresan, Culio – Hora, Bjelanovic, Deac
  • Realiable subs: Tony (right back), Leonardo Veloso (left back), Dani (central midfield), Bud, Kone, Traore (strikers)
  • Key player: Gabriel Muresan. Cadu was also an option, with his ability to step up and convert penalties that bring trophies (it’s at least strange how many titles were decided through a penalty kick awarded to CFR in decisive matches!), but the anchorman is key with his ability to organize play and protect the defense, in a calm and commanding display. Excellent in the air, strong in the tackle, able to find the net with his powerful long range efforts, Muresan often leaves the impression that he dictates all that takes place on the pitch. Around him!
  • Underrated player: Emmanuel Kone. The young Ivorian wide midfielder spent a year on loan with International Curtea de Arges and I was expecting to see him welcomed back and involved more in Mandorlini’s plans. Surprisingly, he’s not, even though Sven Goran Eriksson rates him higher than Lacina Traore, but CFR will do well to keep him. I’m sure he’ll prove pretty useful very soon, given the lack of solutions in midfield, if we leave aside the three regular starters.
  • Liability: My first thought was to go for Mandorlini’s favorite player, Deac (a bit of controversy never hurt a blog!), but Nuno Claro’s performance from the Supercup offered me the opportunity to point out the much praised Portuguese keeper as the number one threat for CFR’s goal next season. He lacks consistency, makes poor decisions under pressure, has poor understanding with the defenders and the odd mistake comes way too often.

What to expect:

Andrea Mandorlini

They’ve moved very well on the transfer market, have experience, morale and a quality roster, with no less than six forwards who could play anywhere in Romania and are often linked to important clubs from abroad. At this point, if CFR fails, it cannot be but Mandorlini’s fault. I admit, with this strong squad, it will be hard for him to mess it up, at least in Liga I, but my feeling is that he won’t be in Cluj next summer, celebrating. The team is still trying to adjust to his beloved 4-3-3 and played often miserably last season, with the players making the difference in CFR’s favor on their own. Or the refs! Favorites to win the league, I agree, but I doubt that everything will favor them, like the previous season.

Mandorlini defeated by a former Juventus coach

CFR Cluj offered the surprise of the round, an unpleasant one for its fans, losing away at Astra Ploiesti, a struggling team that recently released six players, lost a decent Italian coach and was fearing for its future in the first division. But, leaving the result aside, it was the team’s performance (this isn’t the right term, I shouldn’t be using it in this case) that only confirms what I saw this year at the team that still has the biggest chances to win the league. Mandorlini failed to connect with his players, the team lacks style, ideas in attack and the right spirit.

Against Astra, Mandorlini sent on the pitch three attacking midfielders, Dica, Culio and Deac, plus two strikers, Bud and Kone, but, with an incredible attitude, failed to pose a threat, couldn’t muster a single scoring chance  in the first 45 minutes and kept on playing for a 0-0 until Astra’s goal and, as stupid as it sounds, even afterwards. It was the poorest game I’ve seen from a title contender and this year the competition was fierce, given Steaua, Vaslui or Timisoara’s stuggle to look like a decent team at least…

In my opinion, Mandorlini should be asked to start packing, as he offered too little for the title CFR will probably win at the end of the season and even managed to put it into jeopardy.

PS Wondering about the post’s title? Well, Marin Barbu, Astra’s coach, was signed a couple of weeks ago from a third division club called Juventus Bucuresti ;-).

Round 23 – results, scorers and standings

March 26, 2010 1 comment
  • Ceahlaul – FC Brasov 2-1 (Mulisa 16, Cebotaru 24 / Savic 23)
  • CFR Cluj – Pandurii Targu Jiu 1-0 (Hugo Alcantara 25)
  • Universitatea Craiova – Politehnica Iasi 2-1 (Iliev 62, Prepelita 89 / Straton 85)
  • Otelul Galati – Dinamo 2-3 (G. Paraschiv 50, Antal 61 pen / Moti 6, Alexe 20, Andrei Cristea 54 pen)
  • International – Gloria Bistrita 2-1 (E. Kone 31, Bacila 57 / Ribeiro Moraes 69)
  • Steaua – Gaz Metan Medias 2-0 (B. Stancu 63, Kapetanos 79 pen)
  • Unirea Alba Iulia – Unirea Urziceni 1-2 (Bucurica 39 / Brandan 47, Onofras 53)
  • Astra Ploiesti – FC Timisoara 1-3 (L. Ganea 19 / Magera 3, Goga 11 pen, 88)
  • FC Vaslui – Rapid 1-0 (Papp 6)

Liga I standings

Round 24 (26-29 March): Gaz Metan Medias – Otelul Galati, Pandurii – Steaua, Unirea Alba Iulia – Astra Ploiesti, Politehnica Iasi – International Curtea de Arges, Rapid Bucharest – Universitatea Craiova, Gloria Bistrita – Ceahlaul, Unirea Urziceni – Dinamo, FC Timisoara – FC Vaslui, FC Brasov – CFR Cluj.

Politehnica Iasi – Rapid Bucharest

February 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Favorite on paper, due to the massive difference in terms of points, value and aspirations, Rapid received only good news lately, regarding their first opponent in 2010. Besides their problems with unpaid debts (including the players’s wages for the past two-three months), the hosts are presenting a very long injury list, which should only increase the gap in terms of quality that separates these two teams.

Poli will miss the following key players: Branet (first choice goalkeeper), Munteanu (team captain, regular starter, either as a central defender or as a left back), Ilie (regular starter, central defender or central defensive midfielder), Ignatov (regular starter, Bulgarian central midfielder), Constantin (one of the main offensive threats, left winger) and Balba (rotation player, striker).

Rapid has not just a more valuable roster, but also far less injury problems, with doubts over the involvement of Sapunaru and Gauracs, but both are new players and the Bucharest side didn’t lose the regular starters from the first half of season. They’re well equipped all over the pitch, with several new choices in midfield and attack, where Cesinha and Iordache should make it hard for coach Nae Manea to choose the supporting players for the lone striker that would be Ionita, the centre-forward bought by FC Koln in exchange of 2,5 mil. EUR, but who’ll stay at Rapid until the end of the season.

The only problem is that the pitch conditions (which could be terrible – soft, muddy pitch) could seriously affect the players’ performance and even the game’s outcome, but as Poli didn’t train on the home ground to protect it as much as possible, in the end, this could be yet another unexpected bonus for Rapid.

The match will be player on Saturday, starting 18.00 CET.

Without scouting, it’s just gambling…

January 31, 2010 1 comment

…and when the stake is the league title and the chance not to play in the Champions League, but to cash in on the money guaranteed by the presence in the group stage, you have to wonder what’s Steaua’s plan.

The club sold this winter two central defenders: the undervalued Ionut Rada (27) to Al-Nasr and the vastly experienced and team captain Sorin Ghionea (30) to FC Rostov. In their place, Steaua bought the Bulgarian Zhivko Zhelev (30), who looked solid in the two and a half seasons spent at Otelul Galati, but never played for a bigger objective than avoiding relegation. The latest news speak about the two names that should reinforce the defense and also conclude the club’s activity in the transfer market this winter: Stelios Parpas (24) and Gora Tall (24). Both agreed to Steaua’s proposals and are expected in Bucharest to sign the papers, but there are serious doubts that they could make the instant impact Steaua needs in what promises to be the hottest race ever for the title in the Romanian first division. Tall is a Senegalese defender, who played for small clubs from Portugal and Cyprus until now and was running out of contract at APOP/Kinyras in the summer, while Parpas has better credentials, with almost 100 matches played in Cyprus for Aris and AEL Limassol, but not at all the pedigree expected by fans and pundits, who expected reinforcements, not just cheap replacements…

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