SK Slavia Praha will attempt to get maximum value from their final matches with Tomáš Necid in harness as they make a late bid to reach the UEFA Cup Round of 32.
With one point from two Group F games, Karel Jarolím's Czech league leaders have it all to do in the UEFA Cup, starting with Thursday's visit of Hamburger SV which precedes a 17 December trip to AFC Ajax. However, if Slavia can produce anything like their domestic form this season, Martin Jol's men can expect an uncomfortable night in Prague.
After an opening-day defeat at FC Slovan Liberec, Slavia have lasted 15 top-flight fixtures unbeaten; they go into the Czech winter break with a six-point cushion having registered 37 goals and just as many points. The 19-year-old Necid is responsible for eleven of those 1. Liga strikes, and though scheduled to leave for PFC CSKA Moskva in January, he will be eager to bow out on a high.
Necid's final league outing may not have been memorable for the right reasons – he missed a penalty in a goalless draw at FK Marila Příbram on 30 November – but that has taken none of the edge off his achievements. Leading marksman in last summer's UEFA European Under-19 Championship, he has been a revelation since rejoining the Slavia ranks following a loan spell last spring with FK Jablonec 97. He earned a senior call-up last month, marking his debut with a FIFA World Cup qualifying goal against San Marino.
Slavia even hope CSKA will loan the teenager, whom the Russian club signed in August, back to them after the winter recess, yet should that move fail they have plenty in reserve. They boast the best defence in the 1. Liga, with eleven goals conceded in 16 outings, and only four more let in from six appearances in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup. Such exploits have attracted crowds of more than 10,000 to Slavia's newly-opened Eden Stadion.
Second-placed FK Mladá Boleslav, too, are attracting admiring glances under the tutelage of former Czech international Pavel Hapal; a point further back, the experience of Václav Svěrkoš, David Střihavka and Mário Lička has helped FC Baník Ostrava to third in the table, above AC Sparta Praha in fourth. Slavia's traditional rivals are enduring a lacklustre season. Coach Vítězslav Lavička quit after losing 4-1 to Slavia in the derby, but in six games under his successor – club director and former national-team coach Jozef Chovanec – things have hardly improved. Michal Kadlec, sold to Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the summer, and the injured Tomáš Řepka are sorely missed.
Sparta are one of six clubs to have changed coach this term, with FK Viktoria Žižkov in the unfortunate position of having done so twice already. Stanislav Griga and Josef Csaplár survived five and seven rounds of the campaign respectively, with former Panathinaikos FC boss Zdeněk Ščasný being assigned a rescue mission in the spring.
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