Having won the last three A Lyga titles, FK Ekranas will look to claim the podium position once more as the 2011 Lithuanian campaign begins – but last season's runners-up FK Sūduva should challenge them.
Although the First Division has been expanded from ten to 12 teams, the expectation is that this will mean just more clubs chasing Ekranas's tail in the months ahead. The departure of some of the Panevzys outfit's most experienced players, as well as 24-year-old midfielder Dominykas Galkevičius – last season's domestic player of the year, now with Polish side Zagłębie Lubin – has forced changes, yet Ekranas have snared decent replacements.
Defender Ignas Dedura has joined after a spell in Russia, mostly with FC Spartak Moskva, while his international team-mate Andrius Velička also returns home following mixed fortunes for the striker at Scotland's Rangers FC. "I think we are at the foot of the mountain," said Ekranas coach Valdas Urbonas. "With fresh energy and greater experience, we are ready to climb it again."
Marijampole-based Sūduva will be determined to stop them as they target a first national title. New coach Virginijus Liubšys brought an array of talent with him from now-defunct FK Vėtra, not least the 35-year-old midfielder Tomas Ražanauskas. Previous Sūduva sides have struggled to deal with high expectations, but Liubšys told UEFA.com: "
We haven't set out thinking we must win something at all costs. Our main hopes will be for next season."
The A Lyga will not necessarily be a two-horse race, though. VMFD Žalgiris were denied second place by Sūduva on the final day of 2010 and are aiming higher since appointing former Lithuania Under-21 boss Vitalijus Stankevičius. FC Šiauliai have signed a raft of players and achieved impressive pre-season results under fomer FBK Kaunas and FK Ventspils coach Saulius Širmelis.
FK Tauras may also be dark horses for European qualification when the season concludes on 6 November. Their winter recruits have included Dutch midfielder Regilio Seedorf, nephew of AC Milan's Clarence Seedorf. The first six rounds of the campaign will be played indoors or on artificial pitches to avoid the last snap of cold weather.
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.