No. 5: A lowdown on the Czech champions and their chances of European success this year
By Aaron Leggott
Ahead of our first Champions League game of the season, Aaron Leggott caught up with Czech football expert Chris Boothroyd (@theczechup) - editor of the very successful website "The Czech Up."
|Štruncovy Sady, the home of Viktoria Plzeň|
So as we look ahead to the start of the Champions League group stages, Manchester City were drawn against Gambrinus Liga champions Viktoria Plzeň. Could you give us a lowdown on Plzeň or our readers?
Chris: Plzeň are the rising force in Czech football and appear to have positioned themselves as the new rival of Sparta Prague after city rivals Slavia suffered a financial meltdown. Their success is a recent phenomenon with two Gambrinus Liga titles coming in the past three years, preceded by a Czech Cup victory - their first domestic honour since the early 1970s.
Crucial to their rise has been the canny Pavel Vrba who has put together an exciting side who have, in the past two seasons, competed with some of the best teams in Europe, surprising many along the way.
What style of football can City fans expect their team to come up against on Tuesday night?
Chris: Viktoria only play one way, and that is in an attack minded 4-2-3-1. Their playmaker in chief is the 38 year old Pavel Horváth, a canny veteran if there ever was one, and his vision and experience have often provided the platform for many others to excel around him.
Who would you say is Plzeň's key player if they are to get a result against City?
Chris: Aside from the rotund Horváth, his partner in midfield Tomáš Hořava will be crucial tonight, though full-back's František Rajtoral and David Limberský could cause some problems the City's defence if they're afforded the chance to get on the front foot. Equally, goalkeeper Matúš Kozáčik deserves a mention as it could be a very busy night for the talented shot-stopper.
Of course, Plzeň have had a brilliant start to their domestic season, sitting top of the league and unbeaten after eight games. Can you see them retaining the title this year?
Chris: Plzeň were the bookmakers favourites to retain their crown and they, alongside Sparta, are still the two most likely to be crowned champions next year. One thing that has, in my eyes, shifted the balance of power back to the capital has been Sparta's surprise elimination from the Europa League at the hands of BK Häcken. Devoid of European distractions, the pressure will be on for the capital club to deliver the title. Or else.
Plzeň's rise to the peak of Czech football has been quite a remarkable story. How refereshing has it been to see them challenging the dominance of the likes of Sparta Prague?
Chris: Slavia's collapse has helped Viktoria's rise and I suppose that it has been great to see another side stand up and position themselves as the main rival to Sparta for domestic honours. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their journey has been the style of football, one very much rooted in the divisions of Germany and Spain, and how that has spread across the country. Gone are direct 4-4-2's with Vrba and Plzeň showcasing that attractive football is the way forward. You could say they have dragged Sparta into the modern age as well.
How far can you see Plzeň progressing in this season's Champions League?
Chris: Honestly, for Plzeň to finish third would be a monumental achievement for the club. Their last campaign in the Champions League saw them placed with BATE Borisov, who they tussled with for third (and entry into the Europa League), allowing Barcelona and Milan free reign to saunter into the quarter-finals. The aim is to amass four or five points and if they do that, even finishing last, it'll be a success.
Who would you see as City's key player against Plzeň?
Chris: Yaya Touré. He has the physicality to dominate the Plzeň midfield and if he does, it could be a very long night for the Czech side.
|Yaya could prove key if City are to win the midfield battle in the Czech Republic|
Photo: Official MCFC Facebook
Predicted Plzeň line-up?
Chris: Kozáčik; Rajtoral, Hubník, Procházka, Limberský; Hořava, Horváth; Petržela, Kolář, Kovařík; Tecl (4-2-3-1)
And finally... what is your prediction for the game?
Chris: 3-1 to City. Plzeň will cause a shock, earn plaudits, but ultimately come up short as City's evident strength in depth shows