Ludogorets the team to beat in Bulgaria

PFC Ludogorets Razgrad start their title defence this weekend and are again likely to be pursued by the famous Sofia clubs in a season when Pirin Gotse Delchev make their top-flight debut.

Ivaylo Petev's Ludogorets finished three points clear of CSKA last season
Ivaylo Petev's Ludogorets finished three points clear of CSKA last season ©Getty Images

The Bulgarian A League returns this weekend with holders PFC Ludogorets Razgrad strong favourites to retain their crown when they kick off against PFC Cherno More Varna.

Ludogorets won the title for the first time in 2011/12 and came close to eliminating GNK Dinamo Zagreb from the UEFA Champions League last month. However, having narrowly missed out in Europe, coach Ivaylo Petev is confident his side can build on their domestic double of last term. The midfield unit of Marcelinho, Emil Gargorov, Stanislav Genchev and Svetoslav Dyakov proved effective and will make them a force to be reckoned with again.

PFC Levski Sofia, the 26-time champions, have a new coach in Ilian Iliev and appear to be the biggest threat to Ludogorets. The Blues may have been knocked out of the UEFA Europa League by FK Sarajevo, but high-profile signings such as former Bulgarian international Stanislav Angelov, Slovakia midfielder Roman Procházka and forward João Silva from Everton FC have created a real sense of optimism at the capital club.

Bulgaria's most decorated team, PFC CSKA Sofia, are also among the favourites, though the departure of influential attacker Júnior Moraes to Ukrainian side FC Metalurh Donetsk means Stoitcho Mladenov's men will have their work cut out repeating last season's second-placed finish.

PFC Botev Plovdiv, champions in 1929 and 1967, are back in the top flight along with FC Etar Veliko Tarnovo, whose predecessors FC Etar triumphed in 1991. FC Spartak Plovdiv are the only post-war champions not present in any form and the Etar name and colours revive memories of former glories and the days when current coach Tsanko Tvsetanov played for the club.

However, while Etar's priority will be to avoid relegation, Botev Plovdiv coach Ferario Spasov, who guided PFC Litex Lovech to the title in 1999, will be aiming higher. "We have players who are capable of playing fast and attractive football," said Spasov.

"I want my team to make this their style. The players, the technical staff and the board are all ambitious, but we must be patient and calm. We want to do well and we will be able to see how good we are in the next few games. Of course we have a lot of work to do, but I know what my team are capable of."

A top-six placing is on their agenda following the signings of Macedonian international Boban Grnčarov, Tomáš Jirsák and Rubén Palazuelos. It will also be a campaign to remember for Pirin Gotse Delchev, who are making their debut among the country's elite.