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Zilina vs Chelsea opinion preview

Photo Courtesy of Reuters UK

Photo Courtesy of Reuters UK

A quick opinion preview of tonight’s Champions League match between the English & Slovakian Champions. Zilina fan and season ticket holder James Baxter is here with his thoughts:

In my MŠK Žilina vs Marseille match report, I wrote to the effect that it was difficult to see what the home club could possibly have gained from the whole, sorry experience. Yet, too late perhaps, one lesson does seem to have been learned ; Pavel Hapal and his players appear to have realised that talking up their chances ahead of that fateful fixture on the rather flimsy basis of a 1-0 defeat in France was not a wise move. In the lead-up to tonight’s game away to Chelsea, ‚keep quiet‘ seems to have become the new Žilina motto.

It would be unfair to accuse Žilina of disrespecting Marseille. At no point before that chastening 0-7 defeat did anyone from the club claim that they were definitely going to win or that Marseille were not a particularly good team. The mistake, such as it was, was simply to express the belief that the game was winnable, indeed that it represented the team’s best opportunity thus far to pick up points. Hapal wondered afterwards what he was supposed to have said. Should he, for example, have offered the view that his team would definitely lose? The answer, nowadays, when every little comment is seized on and manipulated to mean what the media would like it to mean, is probably that it is best to say as little as possible. Make a few respectful comments about how good the opposition are, give the odd, innocuous detail about your own players’ state of health and mind and, when asked for a prediction, say that your side are not the favourites but that they’ll be giving it their best shot. Don’t get noticeably excited or appear too confident.

So, in their previews of the Chelsea game, various Slovak media outlets have featured rather dull interviews with members of the Žilina party as they prepared to leave for London. On TV, Mario Pečalka smiled sheepishly as he said that he wouldn’t be offering any predictions but did add that he was looking forward to playing at Stamford Bridge. Robert Jež, in a brief question and answer piece in Šport, said that only the game itself is important, as opposed to what you say before or after it. Hapal, asked to comment on injuries to various Chelsea players, as well as the likelihood that the home club will probably be offering opportunities to squad members who are not first-team regulars, responded that any Chelsea team is going to have plenty of quality in it. It was all very bland, boring even. But none of it is going to sound foolish later, unlike the words ‘winnable’ and ‘this is our big chance’ when they were requoted after the Marseille game.

Another lesson I sincerely hope Hapal has absorbed is that, at Champions League level, Žilina will not even attain respectability if their strongest possible team is not selected. If risky experiments are tried, as they were against Marseille, humiliation is sure to follow. With this in mind, if the predicted starting XI for tonight’s game as published in Šport is correct, I’ll be happy enough. It’s a 4-1-4-1 line-up with Guldan as holding midfielder, Jež and Bello in the more advanced central midfield slots and Oravec as the lone striker. Majtán is listed as a likely starter but on the right of midfield, where he will presumably attempt to do what Dirk Kuyt often does for Liverpool, ie block the attacking runs of the opposing left-back.

For this game, I’m going to join Hapal and his players in their refusal to make any outright predictions. As a fan you can never ask more of your team that they give every game the best they possibly can. Against Marseille, Žilina‘s team selection effectively meant the game was lost before it even started. Once it did start, the team’s preparation and tactics were exposed as having been inadequate. This time, there’s a slight, but encouraging, sense that the club as a whole is just a little wiser. Nothing incriminating has been said to the press and the right players are likely to be on the field in a sensible formation. Chelsea will presumably be even keener for the win now, given the bad spell they’ve been going through, and would never be unprofessional enough to disrespect Žilina anyway. It will still be a difficult, and probably long, evening for Žilina but I do feel able to express the belief that they will leave London feeling  better about themselves than they did after the Marseille game.

By James Baxter – BritskiBelasi

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