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Liga I resumes: a look at the realistic title contenders

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

…and we’re off! We’re strating with a game decided even before it took place, but we’re off! It has been an interesting winter in Romania, with some important moves on the market. Steaua and CFR Cluj cashed-in big time on their most promising players, Bogdan Stancu and Lacina Traore, with another very good forward by Liga I standards, Ribeiro Moraes, leaving Gloria Bistrita and the country. Even though we haven’t seen any outstanding signings, this should be a very interesting second half of season, with the first division perfectly divided in two categories: title contenders (yes, CFR Cluj, currently in 8th place, still hope to win the league!) and relegation candidates. We have no mid-table teams, a category that should be defined during next month, when we’ll see who had either their hopes or fears killed in the first couple of matches.

Can Otelul hold on and detonate another bomb, just like Unirea Urziceni did two years ago?

Otelul Galati

Otelul kept all the players, which might look good and show ambition, but this was the perfect moment to profit from the rise of Cornel Rapa, the 21 years old right back who’s now an option for the senior national team. They might not get the best price in the summer, unless the excellent physical preparation and tactical discipline from the first half of season will deliver until the end. The league leaders have been discrete as always on the market, signing a second division player and a rather unknown Serbian centre-forward, Bratislav Paunosevac, who could make an impact considering that Otelul lacked options upfront last year. And also generate some profit from a future sale – a trademark buy for the experienced president, Marius Stan. Although they managed to get three points already, Dorinel Munteanu’s men are expected to struggle, with all the stronger clubs taking measures, which translates into extremely motivated opposition in every single game and some dodgy refereeing when it matters. Would be a real surprise to see them holding on until the end…

Poli Timisoara

Undefeated in 18 matches, The Viola will start losing games, as Dusan Uhrin Jr., who returns as a coach, for the fans’ delight, has been asked to take a different approach – try to go for wins and push for a league title that’s in reach.  As usual, Timisoara signed a lot of players, releasing the always over-rated Hristu Chiacu and loaning to Urziceni Ioan Mera, a centre-back that would have had little chances to feature, considering the competition. The experienced Sorin Ghionea was signed on a free transfer, with Nikola Ignijatevic coming from Red Star Belgrade to cover for Sepsi’s imminent departure. Tosaint Ricketts is expected to add pace upfront, something badly missed after Timisoara sold Gigel Bucur to Kuban Krasnodar more than a year ago. This is a solid team all over the pitch and a real title contender, although they miss the players and the coach who can cope with a level of pressure that will increase with every round.

FC Vaslui

Looking at the club’s activity on the market, you might get the wrong idea. The club released Burdujan (forward), Pancu (attacking midfielder), Hugo Luz (left back), Haisan (goalkeeper) and punished severely the Brazilian Gerlem (left midfielder), all of them useful players, who could have helped at least as reliable backup solutions, and couldn’t sign a single name, given the transfer ban that will expire only in June 2011. Still, the old dog Viorel Hizo should be satisfied both in terms of quantity and quality, while these departures could make those who stayed and are a bit more confident about their places in the team to act more responsible and focus on delivering what would be an outstanding and, given the recent investment, a deserved achievement for Porumboiu’s club.

Rapid Bucuresti

In some games, they have played excellent football, looking very strong especially at home, where they simply lay siege on the visiting teams and eventually break them, with the support of one of the hottest crowds in the league. Unfortunately for them, the away form remains a problem at Rapid, no matter the quality of the team or the name of the coach, it has to be down to mentality. I was surprised to see that the club didn’t adress the squad’s biggest problem: adding another quality striker, as the Brazilian Cassio delivers only at home and the talented Sburlea’s too inconsistent and yet to turn into a poacher. They’ve released a few players – Cesinha could have turned some games around! – and signed three players that should add even more strength and quality in defense (the Bugarian international Vidanov) and midfield (the Brazilian Olberdam and the fans’ favorite player, Daniel Pancu). They’re very strong, but the 10 points gap demands from Rapid exactly what they’ve missed in the first half of season: consistency.

Title contenders: Rapid Bucharest

July 24, 2010 1 comment

Just missed on an European spot last season, in spite of Ioan Andone’s attempts to save what seemed a compromised campaign. Involved in a huge controversy, regarding the use of two players loaned from Sportul Studentesc, Dacian Varga and Tiberiu Balan, who were registered after the winter mercato period had ended, Rapid wasted a year, paying for poor management and a lack of strategy from the club’s owner, George Copos. Surprisingly, this guy, who repeatedly tried to get rid of the club, returned this summer determined to make Rapid one of the serious title contenders in Liga I. He convinced Dinu Gheorghe to come back from FC Brasov as the club’s president and this very influent character in Romanian football returned in style: 5 of Brasov’s best players came along and the young coach Marius Sumudica – considered one of the clubs living legends – has an excellent squad at his disposal and basically no excuse if he’ll finish the season outside the first two spots.

Mercato activity:

Players in: Marcos Antonio (central defender, 27, Belensenses), Sabrin Sburlea (forward, 21, FC Brasov), Mihai Roman (right midfielder, 26, FC Brasov), Rui Duarte (right back, 30, FC Brasov), Roosevelt Tavares de Melo Ezequias (left back, 30, FC Brasov), Nicolae Grigore (central defensive midfielder, 27, FC Brasov),  Cassio Vargas (striker, 27, Uniao Leiria), Glauber Berti (central defender, 27, Sao Caetano), Gustavo Nacaratto Veronesi, 28, right winger).

Players out: Adrian Iencsi (central defender, 35, Concordia Chiajna), Diego Ciz (left back, 29, Olimpia Asuncion – loan expired), Darjian Matic (central defensive midfielder, 27, released), Ilie Iordache (forward, 25, AEK Athens – loan expired), Alexandru Ionita (striker, 21, FC Koln), Edgars Gauracs (striker, 22, FK Ventspils – loan expired), Cristian Sapunaru (right back, 26, FC Porto – loan expired), Helder da Silva Fereira (right wing back, 22, Nancy – loan expired), Dacian Varga (left winger, 26, Sportul Studentesc – loan expired), Tiberiu Balan (attacking midfielder, 29, Sportul Studentesc – loan expired).

Mihai Roman, national team material

Intense activity on the market, with impressive results, indeed. Rapid lost a number of players, but only a couple were indeed valuable for the team, and decided to cashvin on the promising Ionita after his first full season for the seniors. On the other hand, the buys were spot on: Rui Duarte will make up for Sapunaru’s departure, Ezequias will provide competition for Bozovic, who becomes also availabe for a more advanced role on the left side, while Cassio and Sburlea should do better in terms of efficiency than Ionita. Roman’s addition – a national team player these days – is a coup, but the two Brazilian centre-backs will need to confirm the board’s inspiration and Sumudica’s ability to recondition two players of some quality, but who come from very long breaks. To conclude, Rapid has now quality on each position, competition for a place in the first eleven and a group of players hungry for trophies. Excellent job from the staff!

Tactics:

  • Coach: Marius Sumudica (new)
  • Preferred system: 4-2-3-1
  • Ideal first eleven: Bornescu – Rui Duarte, Glauber, Constantin, Bozovic – Grigore, Lazar – Roman, Spadacio, Cesinha – Cassio Vargas
  • Reliable subs: Ezequias (left back), Marcos Antonio (central defender), Herea (attacking midfielder), Grigorie (attacking midfielder), Sburlea (striker).
  • Key player: Costin Lazar. The three offensive players, Roman, Spadacio and Cesinha, are match winners, in my opinion, but what would they do if the team’s captain, one of the most gifted and underrated central midfielders in Romanian football, misses from the pitch? Technically gifted, composed and comfortable on the ball, having excellent vision and the ability to link up play effectively, he’s the man that keeps Rapid’s game flowing. A fight with Sumudica in pre-season was a signal that he’s a bit frustrated at the lack of offers from abroad, but it’s all in the past now, as he realized that this team has what it takes to win something this year.
  • Underrated player: None. At this point, there are around 20 players entitled for a place in the first eleven and, with so many additions, it’s fair to wait a couple of months and see everyone at work.
  • Liability: Constantin’s partner in central defense. Both Glauber and Marcos Antonio need time to regain match fitness, after lengthy spells on the sidelines, and will be prone to mistakes at least in the first few rounds of the season.

What to expect:

"Sumi-goal", returning as a coach

There is a lot of enthusiasm in Giulesti, where there’s a passionate crowd and the atmosphere at Rapid’s home games is impressive even when the team plays badly, so we can expect a good start from Rapid. But problems do appear as the season progresses and we can expect them in a team that will leave on the bench or in the stands good players every round, in a team that has a habit of alternating wonderful performances against the top clubs with poor results against the smaller teams. It will all depend on Sumudica’s ability to keep things balanced and under control, but he’s rather an impulsive, choleric character and quite unexperienced as a Liga I coach.

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