The new Czech season kicks off this weekend, with FC Slovan Liberec expected to have a hard time clinging on to the title they won last season.
One of the rising stars of UEFA EURO 2012, Liberec right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie, left the club for SV Werder Bremen following his return from Poland. That prompted Jaroslav Šilhavý to bring in former AC Sparta Praha man Ondřej Kušnír to replace him. He will slot in to a team fashioned around the experience of Jiří Štajner, Jan Nezmar and Tomáš Janů.
"Theodor was a foundation stone of our defence and actually our attack as well," said Šilhavý. "Ondřej Kušnír came to fill in the gap, but he has been short of first team football and needs time to get into the right shape."
Liberec had an unexpectedly tough start in the UEFA Champions League, and only avoided a penalty shoot-out in their second qualifying round tie against FC Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan thanks to a Jan Blažek strike in the last minute of extra time. That vulnerability can only encourage a Sparta side eager to resume command of the national scene.
With 35 titles to their name, Sparta are the most successful club in the Czech Republic, and new coach Vítězslav Lavička is not lacking ambition. "Sparta want to be stronger," he said. "We have respect for all our opponents, because not only the top sides have class in the Czech league. Sparta know from experience that steady performances and results throughout the season are the keys to success."
A hand which already included Under-21 midfielder Ladislav Krejčí and Cameroonian forward Léonard Kweuke has been strengthened with the signings of former Real Madrid CF trainee defender Pablo Gil and Albania U21 forward Bekim Balaj, from KF Tirana.
UEFA Champions League group stage contenders last season, FC Viktoria Plzeň have extended coach Pavel Vrba's contract until 2015. While offers for talented midfielder Vladimír Darida were turned down, Czech Republic team-mates Václav Pilař and Milan Petržela could not resist the lure of the Bundesliga, where they joined VfL Wolfsburg and FC Augsburg respectively. Martin Fillo and Edgar Malakyan, however, showed in their UEFA Europa League performances this season that they are ready to step into the breach.
A serious injury to captain Jan Chramosta has put a kink in FK Mladá Boleslav's plans to fight for a European place again, which could open the door for a clutch of dark horses; Czech Cup winners SK Sigma Olomouc are hungry for more after winning the Super Cup in July, FK Dukla Praha have a young, attack-minded side while two big names, SK Slavia Praha and FC Baník Ostrava, are desperate to put last season's relegation struggles behind them.
The 2011/12 campaign produced more goals than any previous Czech campaign, something fans can only hope augurs well for the new season.
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