The nine teams competing in the Latvian Virslīga this season will play 32 games over the course of 36 rounds of fixtures; it is a big number but the top division's director Janis Skredelis is convinced it will be beneficial. "The increased number of matches will be good for everyone," he told UEFA.com. "Players can rest when they are on holiday, but during the season you have to play."
The new campaign heralds the start of Marians Pahars' coaching career. The one-time Southampton FC and Anorthosis Famagusta FC striker, one of the stars of Latvia's UEFA EURO 2004 finals squad, has just taken sole command at his old club, Skonto FC, after serving as Aleksandrs Starkovs's assistant. "I'm a bit nervous," admitted the 34-year-old, whose side are defending champions. "I have never competed in the league as a manager before."
Latvia's most successful club, 15-time champions Skonto, have strengthened over the winter with the signings of internationals Juris Laizāns, Vladimirs Koļesņičenko and Deniss Kačanovs, yet their director Andrei Bakharev said: "Our main purpose is to nurture players for the national team, though we won't stop fighting for the title."
FK Ventspils had a change of tack last term, with Sergei Podpalyi coming in for Italian Nunzio Zavettieri. The Russian coach led his side to the Latvian Cup final and now he is aiming higher: "I don't know our opponents or Latvian football that well, but I'm ready to fight for the highest goals. And, more importantly, so are Ventspils."
The signings of Japanese players Minori Sato and Naoya Shibamura, Federico Martinez from Uruguay, as well as Russians Eduard Sukhanov and Mikhail Badyaitdinov, have certainly demonstrated some ambition. Cash-strapped SK Liepājas Metalurgs cannot match that, yet coach Vladimirs Osipovs still has championship hopes.
FC Daugava Daugavpils will look to break into the top three too. Tamaz Pertia's team are largely unchanged from last season, with the coach saying: "We have to win something this time.
Our fans are used to the fact we always make life hard for the favourites, but we need to achieve something more tangible."
While those four clubs seem set to dominate, Latvian Football Federation (LFF) general secretary Jānis Mežeckis says all nine sides are in it together. "The most important thing is that the title is decided on the field in a fair contest and I'm happy that everybody thinks the same.
A tough and fair battle can help us bring fans to the stadiums, and that is one of our biggest goals."
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