SK Slavia Praha can do no wrong in domestic football, scoring 30 goals in their first 12 games of the season, but the same magic does not seem to be working in Europe, following a 1-0 UEFA Cup loss to Aston Villa FC.
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The reigning Czech champions are four points clear of FK Mladá Boleslav at the top of the table, and a whole eight points ahead of eternal rivals AC Sparta Praha. Mladá Boleslav are the only side to have kept a clean sheet against Slavia in the Czech Republic this season, with a 4-1 win at Sparta the most impressive demonstration of Karel Jarolím's side's sizzling form.
Voted as his nation's Coach of the Year this week, Jarolím has benefited from the frightening form of his 19-year-old striker Tomáš Necid, who has scored nine league goals already. No striker has scored more than 20 goals in the Czech league since Vratislav Lokvenc did so for Sparta nine years ago, but Necid may be pushed to reach that target before he joins PFC CSKA Moskva in January.
Jarolím is hoping that the blow of the gifted Necid's imminent departure will be softened by the form of Tunisian Tijani Belaid, who has struck six goals this season, and Vladimír Šmicer, who has found the target three times. Indeed, everyone has been getting in on the scoring act, with eight other players registering since the start of the 1. Liga campaign.
However, given the firepower that Slavia possess, positive European results have been hard to come by. They failed to score in both legs of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round defeat against ACF Fiorentina and had to rely on a solitary Erich Brabec away strike to beat SC Vaslui in the UEFA Cup first round. Defeat against Villa means they have celebrated only one European goal all season.
Jarolím has blamed that statistic on a lack of self-confidence among his players, which even the atmosphere at the newly-opened Eden Stadium cannot lift. Slavia can only hope the dam will break as they meet MŠK Žilina in their next Group F game. Ominously, they played 210 goalless minutes against the Slovakian side in UEFA Champions League qualifying last season, only winning the tie on penalties.