KS Skënderbeu face tough times as they begin their quest for a third consecutive Super League crown. Albania's oldest club begin at KF Vllaznia on Friday under new management, having been eliminated from Europe and without some key players.
Mirel Josa replaced Stanislav Levy as coach and president Agim Zeqo was replaced by Ardian Takaj in the summer. The changes could not prevent Skënderbeu's UEFA Champions League first qualifying round defeat by Debreceni VSC nor, for the second year running, an Albanian Super Cup final loss, this time to nine-man KF Tirana.
However, Josa, who was previously in charge for the second half of 2009/10, is confident his side can bounce back. "[Tirana] was a tough loss, but I'm proud of our players," said the 49-year-old. "We played well, but we have to recover after this dramatic loss and continue in search of our third successive title."
New president Takaj has promised his side will strive to emulate their recent success despite many changes behind the scenes. "We will continue to work with the same attitude that we had during our winning seasons," he said. "Our mentality will continue to be a winning mentality."
The reigning champions have lost Igli Allmuca, last season's top scorer Daniel Xhafaj and key midfielder Gjergj Muzaka, who signed for fellow title challengers KS Flamurtari. Injuries have also hampered Skënderbeu's preparations, with captain Blendi Shkembi still sidelined and full-back Erbim Fagu ruled out for up to six months.
The holders' opening fixture against Vllaznia sees two of the pre-season title favourites go head-to-head and former Skënderbeu coach Shpetim Duro, who is now in charge at Vllaznia, is looking forward to the occasion. "We're ready," he said. "It will be a very exiting match."
Last season's runners-up KS Teuta will also be in contention after missing out on the title by one point last term. The coastal side kick off their campaign at KS Shkumbini on Sunday.
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