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.
- Tempted to move away this summer, Muresan agreed to a new deal with the champions that will expire in 2015! The anchorman played a key role in CFR’s first eleven since his arrival from Gloria Bistrita, showing excellent work ethic, leadership and quality on and off the pitch. Paid until now with 80.000 Euros per season, almost five times less than what Sixto Peralta was getting for playing as a rotation midfielder, Muresan probably will receive a salary in the region of 150.000 Euros (a couple of good offers from abroad paid dividends), but the official details of his new contract have not been released.
- Unirea Urziceni signed the veteran full-back Petre Marin, from Steaua Bucharest, who gets a two years long deal, in spite of his age! The 36 years old leaves the red and blue outfit after six years of consistent performances and basically gives the green light for Pablo Brandan‘s move away from Urziceni. Marin will be followed to Urziceni by his former colleague, Adrian Neaga, who terminated his contract with Neftci Baku and was also recommended to Ronny Levy by Mihai Stoica.
- Astra Ploiesti made the first two signings of the summer, showing that Steaua’s former manager, Mihai Stoichita, is really close to take over from Marin Barbu. Pierre Ebede, a 30 years old keeper from Cameroon, has been transferred from AEL Limassol, while the Bulgarian Atanas Bornosuzov comes from Litex Lovech to strengthen a team that will aim to finish in the top half of the standings next season. According to several press reports, the two should be followed in the next few days by the likes of Zhivko Zhelev (released by Steaua this summer), Mihaita Plesan (out of favor at Steaua, available for 100.000 Euros) or Stelios Parpas (available for 100.000 Euros)
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.