Three more seasons get under way this weekend, with FC Unirea Urziceni and CFR 1907 Cluj top tips for the Romanian title, NK Dinamo Zagreb aiming for a sixth successive Croatian crown, and FC Sheriff still the team to beat in Moldova.
Andrea Mandorlini's CFR Cluj won the double in Romania last season and kicked off the new campaign with victory in the Super Cup, beating 2009/10 runners-up Unirea 2-0 on penalties following a 2-2 draw. CFR have allowed a clutch of players to leave – Sixto Peralta, Nei, Nelson Cabrera, Nicolae Dică and Didi – but replacements of the calibre of Under-21 international midfielder Ioan Hora, Portuguese defender Nuno Diogo and one-time FC Steaua Bucureşti defender Ionuţ Rada augur well.
Having come so close to landing the title on a modest budget, Unirea have focused on keeping their squad intact, though they have beefed up by signing Steaua's 36-year-old defender Petre Marin, striker Adrian Neaga and French forward Maurice Dalé. "Why should we buy a load of new players?" asked the club's Israeli coach Roni Levy. "I don't know any coach who would say he did not need new and better players, but I like my team and I am satisfied."
The big Bucharest sides will be eager to return to the No1 slot after being kept off it for three seasons by CFR (2008, 2010) and Unirea (2009), while there has been excitement aplenty at SC Vaslui who finished third last term. With former Real Madrid CF coach Juan Ramón López Caro in charge, Vaslui have brought in several Spanish players, including Rodolfo Bodipo and ex-Real Betis Balompié captain David Rivas.
If the last five campaigns have seen four different Romanian champions, the same period has produced just one in Croatia: Dinamo Zagreb. Losing star forward Mario Mandžukić to VfL Wolfsburg was a blow yet they still have a classy squad, with defender Dario Šimić back after many years in Serie A and two at AS Monaco FC and promising 19-year-old midfielder Arijan Ademi newly arrived from HNK Šibenik.
Arch-rivals HNK Hajduk Split are hardly lacking ambition either and managed to hold onto impressive Bosnian forward Senijad Ibričić, while Šibenik, HNK Cibalia and NK Varaždin – formerly NK Varteks – will attempt to give a good account of themselves.
If Dinamo's dominance has taken the sting out of recent Croatian seasons, imagine how it is to be any other team than Sheriff in Moldova? Andrey Sasnitski's men finished 19 points clear of second-placed FC Iskra-Stali last term. FC Dacia Chişinău coach Igor Dobrovolski spoke for many when he said: "We are not going to be able to compete with Sheriff this year."
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.