Defending champions FC Daugava Daugavpils are tipped to make it two in a row this year, after claiming their first league title last season, as the Latvian First Division gets under way on Friday.
Daugava earned the crown in the penultimate week of the last campaign, and now Ivan Tabanov's side are full of ambition to reclaim their championship. With the additions of Igors Savčenkovs, Armands Pētersons and Kirils Ševeļovs from Skonto FC bolstering an already strong squad and with talented Nigerians Joseph Enakarhire and Ibrahim Babatunde also joining the fray, few would deny they are the team to beat.
Daugava claimed both the Winter Cup and Winter Super Cup – two off-season friendly tournaments – much to the satisfaction of the coach. "It's always pleasing to win," Tabanov told UEFA.com. "But our main target is winning the league. I know how much our opponents dream of beating us, but we are ready for that and want to keep our trophy."
The main threat will doubtless come from Skonto, FK Ventspils and SK Liepājas Metalurgs. The three domestic giants are not happy with the secondary role they were forced to play last term, especially Ventspils who are gearing up to be Daugava's biggest competitors.
Jurģis Pučinsks's side have kept all their key players and many believe they have the strength to go all the way. "The players and coaches are thinking only about winning the title," said club president Guntis Blumbergs. "I believe we will become champions."
Meanwhile, Skonto have replaced Marians Pahars, who has taken the national Under-21 reins, with Georgian coach Tamaz Pertia, but an early cup exit has hampered their league preparations. As ever though, it is likely the country's most successful club will be in the shake-up come the business end of the season.
At the other end of the table there is renewed optimism at FK Daugava Rīga, who just avoided the drop in 2012. With the installation of experienced Lithuanian Virginijus Liubšis at the helm, and with the recruitment of five of his countrymen on the playing staff, things are looking up. "We want to challenge the leaders," said Liubšis. "I think we can be called the most ambitious team in the league." Another interesting sub-plot comes in the shape of newly promoted Ilukstes NSS, who produced the shock of the close season by sealing the loan signing of last term's top scorer Mamuka Gongadze from the champions.
"Our league is becoming more and more professional each year in all aspects," said the competition's general director Normunds Malnačs. "We always want more, but the clubs really do their best to show us quality football. I am sure the fans will have another unforgettable year."
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