Sparta have won eight league titles since the independent Czech First Division was established in 1993, but last term they were second best, five points behind surprise champions FC Baník Ostrava. In response, the club have made a concerted effort to strengthen the squad and will begin the campaign as favourites.
Under new Slovakian ownership, Sparta have signed five players, four of whom started against APOEL FC in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first leg. The fifth, former Czech international Jan Simák, is still regaining fitness after ten months out of the game. The talented playmaker quit Bayer 04 Leverkusen last September complaining he was tired of football.
Coach František Straka has had to overhaul his defence after Tomáš Hübschman moved to Ukrainian outfit FC Shakhtar Donetsk and a pre-season injury sidelined Petr Johana for up to three months. Former Czech Under-21 defender Jiří Koubský and Slovakian left-back Marek Čech have been brought in, while Radek Hochmeister returns from a loan spell at FK Jablonec 97.
Title-holders Baník have lost two key men, with goalkeeper Jan Laštuvka leaving for Shakhtar and René Bolf completing a long-scheduled switch to AJ Auxerre. However, last season's top scorer Marek Heinz remains at the Bazaly stadium, despite interest from several foreign clubs following his impressive UEFA EURO 2004™.
Coach František Komňacký has scoured Europe for new faces. Slovakian goalkeeper Miroslav König will step into Laštuvka's boots; Marek Zúbek arrives from KFC Lommelse SK after the Belgium club went bankrupt; Jan Velkoborský comes in from German second division side LR Ahlen; and striker Michal Papadopulos returns after failing to make the grade at Arsenal FC.
By contrast, SK Slavia Praha, fourth last term, have decided that continuity is the best way forward. Their sole recruit is defender Miroslav Holeňák, who follows former coach Josef Csaplár to the Strahov stadium from FC Slovan Liberec. The coach is down to 18 players, though, after losing the services of Martin Müller and Tomáš Dosek, and with loan players György Jozsi and Jefferson Luis restored to their respective clubs.
At the wrong end of the table, 1. FC Synot face an uphill battle after last year's fifth-place finish was overshadowed by a 12-point penalty for the club's part in a bribery scandal. Synot will play under a new name, 1. FC Slovácko, but are candidates for relegation along with newly promoted FC Drnovice and FC Mladá Boleslav.
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