Prague rivals Slavia and Sparta look set to battle it out for this year’s title.

By Sam Beckwith in Prague
Having ruled himself out of the national team job to concentrate on leading Slavia to a third successive title, coach Karel Jarolim’s most pressing concern now is to establish a new front line for the Prague club.

With on-loan striker Pavel Fort returning to Toulouse, Macedonia forward Riste Naumov, from relegated Zizkov, and Stanislav Vlcek, who rejoins from Anderlecht, will need to strike up an early understanding.

Slavia will also miss midfielder Dusan Svento, who has joined Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, but the most surprising departure has been that of team captain Erich Brabec, who was released in the summer – even though the 32-year-old defender was given a new three-and-a-half-year contract in January. He has since joined Ankaraspor in Turkey.

With coach Jozef Chovanec’s emphasis on youth beginning to pay off, Sparta look best-placed to challenge their city rivals for the title.

The latest batch of talented arrivals include midfielders Marek Strestik from Brno and Lubos Kalouda (CSKA Moscow), forward Martin Jirous (Banik Sokolov) and Austrian defender Niklas Hoheneder (LASK Linz).

The biggest names leaving are Miroslav Matusovic (Apollon Limassol) and Marek Kulic (Mlada Boleslav).

Outside the capital, the strongest title challenge will probably come from Liberec, who finished third last season and qualified for the Europa League.

Coach Ladislav Skorpil’s biggest worry is keeping Croatian striker Andrej Keric, who was the league’s leading scorer last season. However, Skorpil will definitely be without central defender Pavel Kostal, who is joining Austrian side Wiener Neustadt.

With Dusan Uhrin Jr back in charge, Mlada Boleslav could be contenders, despite striker Michal Papadopulos’ departure to Heerenveen. Former international Kulic returns from Sparta to the club where he made his name, joining captain Lubos Pecka and youngster Jan Chramosta in a potent attacking force, while defender Jan Rajnoch returns from
a loan spell with Energie Cottbus.

Rumours that Teplice might be sold made headlines over the summer and overshadowed a quiet time in the transfer market. Coach Jiri Plisek described the changes to his squad as “cosmetic” but the domestic Cup winners remain one of the stronger sides.

Jablonec finished fifth last season despite a shortfall in sponsorship money and operating under a tighter budget this term the north Bohemian side will do well to match that form, with midfielder Adam Hlousek (Slavia) and defender Josef Hamouz (Austrian club Mattersburg) both moving on.

New Ostrava coach Miroslav Koubek has promised drastic changes to a team that, amid reports of financial problems, slumped disastrously last spring. Youngsters and imports, such as South Korean midfielder Lee Hyung-sang and Cape Verdean defender Fernando Maria Neves, must plug the gaps left by the departure of goalkeeper Petr Vasek, defender Lukas Vacha, playmaker Rudolf Otepka and striker David Strihavka.

Plzen have strengthened their hand, bringing in Strihavka (Ostrava), Slovak forward Marek Bakos (Ruzomberok) and midfielder Filip Rydel (Olomouc), while Olomouc could struggle to repeat last season’s fourth place having lost Brazilian playmaker Melinho to German club Koblenz on loan, and Brno must rely on a whole raft of new signings now that former Czech Republic FA chairman Pavel Mokry has been installed as general director and coach Miroslav Beranek is in charge of transfer policy.

Ceske Budejovice owner and former player Karel Poborsky has made survival his side’s main priority, and that will be as much as Kladno, Pribram and Bohemians Prague can hope for.

Set up by fans in 2005 when the original club went bankrupt, promoted Bohemians 1905 are the other Prague club laying claim to the Bohemians legacy.

Relegated after just one season in the top flight in 2007-08, they have bounced back under coach Pavel Hoftych, but the sale of youngster Jan Moravek to Schalke for financial reasons will be a big loss.

Slovacko, who finished 10th in the second division last season, only gained promotion by buying Zenit Caslav’s place. The signing of veterans Petr Svancara and Ales Urbanek, plus last season’s thrilling run to the Cup Final, offers some hope but the odds seem stacked against them.

Czech Republic fixtures 2009-10