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Title defences commence for Genk and Plzeň

Published: Friday 29 July 2011, 11.00CET
KRC Genk, FC Viktoria Plzeň and FK Shkëndija 79 begin their respective title defences this weekend, while the Polish season also commences. previews the action.
Title defences commence for Genk and Plzeň
Genk's Marvin Ogunjimi celebrates his midweek winner in the UEFA Champions League ©Getty Images features

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Published: Friday 29 July 2011, 11.00CET

Title defences commence for Genk and Plzeň

KRC Genk, FC Viktoria Plzeň and FK Shkëndija 79 begin their respective title defences this weekend, while the Polish season also commences. previews the action.

Belgium: KRC Genk v K. Beerschot AC (Saturday, 20.00)
Memories of the last-day win against R. Standard de Liège that earned them a third Belgian title may still be fresh, but Genk must start all over again on Saturday when they begin their title defence against Beerschot. Despite the loss of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea FC and defender Eric Matoukou to FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, coach Frank Vercauteren sounded cautiously optimistic about building on last term's exploits.

"The core is still there," said the 54-year-old, whose side won 2-1 against FK Partizan in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first leg on Tuesday. "As for continuing our momentum, the lads want to go for it, even if it will be difficult to replace injured players in certain positions."

Standard, who kick off with a Walloon derby against newly-promoted RAEC Mons, also lost a key player in Axel Witsel − who has moved to SL Benfica − but should be among the main challengers once more along with RSC Anderlecht. Les Mauves et Blancs open against another promoted side, Oud-Heverlee Leuven, on Friday.

Czech Republic: FC Viktoria Plzeň vs FC Slovan Liberec (Saturday, 17.30)
After three successive wins in UEFA Champions League qualifying − most recently against Rosenborg BK on Wednesday − Plzeň begin their Czech First League defence in fine fettle. Though Jan Rezek, scorer of 11 goals last term, has departed for Anorthosis Famagusta FC, Václav Pilař has arrived and already found the net twice in Europe.

Goalkeeper Roman Pavlík's knee ligament injury in Trondheim means he faces a lengthy absence, but replacement Michal Daněk looks ready to step up to the plate having saved two penalties in the shoot-out success against FK Mladá Boleslav in last weekend's Czech Super Cup. However well set the champions may be, though, they are sure to be wary of a Liberec outit which have not lost in Plzen for ten years, winning four from seven games there.

Poland: Legia Warszawa v Zagłębie Lubin (Sunday, 17.00)
Following their 1-0 win against Gaziantepspor in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday, Polish Cup holders Legia start their domestic campaign against Zagłębie in confident mood. In search of a ninth Polish title, but their first since 2006, Legia hope the addition of Serbia striker Danijel Ljuboja will aid their attempts to wrestle the championship from Wisła Kraków.

"I have never been a champion in any country," said the 32-year-old acquisition from OGC Nice. "I believe I can fulfil this dream with Legia. The stadium is great, the city is awesome and the fans, so I have been told, are fantastic." Legia will face a tough task, though, having taken just one point from their opponents last term.

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: FK Turnovo v FK Shkëndija 79 (Saturday, 17.00)
Shkëndija begin their campaign looking to become the first team to retain the Macedonian First League since 2005/06. Their preparations received a shot in the arm with last week's 2-1 triumph over FK Metalurg Skopje in the Macedonian Super Cup, and even without star player Feran Hasani ahead of an expected transfer abroad, coach Qatip Osmani remains optimistic.

"We expect a very difficult match [against Turnovo]," he said. "We were left without five key players but I am convinced we still have a quality team to defend the title." Capital trio FK Metalurg Skopje, FK Rabotnicki and FK Vardar are sure to be hot on the titleholders' heels, though, with Vardar particularly keen for a revival under new owners and new coach Ilco Gjorgjioski as they seek a first title since 2003.

Estonia: FC Flora Tallinn v FC Ajax Lasnamäe (Saturday, 18.30)
Lithuania: FK Ekranas v FC Šiauliai (Saturday, 18.00)

While seasons are just commencing elsewhere, 13 leagues from Europe's outer limits have been up and running since the spring, with four teams still unbeaten in 2011: Flora (P18 W13 D5 L0) and Ekranas (P17 W13 D4 L0), as well as Faroese side B36 Tórshavn (P14 W10 D4 L0) and KR Reykjavík (P11 W8 D3 L0) from Iceland, who are not in action this weekend.

Eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by Shamrock Rovers FC last week, Flora can expect few problems from Ajax, who − along with Latvia's JFK Olimps/RFS − are one of only two sides in summer leagues yet to win a game this season. Ekranas, held 0-0 at home by FC BATE Borisov in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round opener, may be feeling the strain, though. "The first leg was really tiring as we had to play for half an hour with ten men," said midfielder Aurimas Kučys. "It's going to be a real marathon for us now."

All times CET

Last updated: 29/07/11 20.06CET