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UEFA Champions League 2015-16: Guide to FC Levadia

Angelo PalmeriComment

Updates:
26th of June 2015 at 19:16 - Goalkeeper Pareiko is suspended for three European games


Two titles in a row for Marko Kristal and Levadia. After 2013, the ‘Steelers’ confirmed themselves at the top of Estonian football and brought to the cabinet the 9th title equaling arch-rivals Flora. However, since then, a lot has changed.

 

Sergei Pareiko will not play against Crusaders FC (RdS)

Sergei Pareiko will not play against Crusaders FC (RdS)

SQUAD
If you retrieve the 2014-15 guide for FC Levadia (check here) and compare with the squad we are about to present you, you will realize the makeover was almost complete.

Starting from the goal and finishing with the striking line, Levadia have seen a lot of changes, especially in defence.

The goalkeeper, Roman Smishko, left for Narva Trans with a grudge. Until Estonian international, Sergei Pareiko, joined on deadline day in March, the new goalkeeper was Russian Aleksei Shirokov (produce of CSKA Moscow). The latter’s last appearance dates back to a full 90-minute game with the double team in April. The reason is clear: Pareiko is the number one choice, even if he has recently lost the place in the national team. Hierarchies at Levadia are clear, even if he is 38 years old. However, his return to European football with Levadia  (last time was against Steaua Bucuresti in 1999-2000) is postponed to the second left of the second qualifying round since he has an old 3-match suspension to still spend.
Shirokov disappeared from the dugout, and someone hinted at the player leaving the club albeit being still registered as their player. However, on the resume against Tammeka (26th of June) he was regulary sitting with the other subs.
Quite surprisingly, in Belfast, the job might be given to Priit Pikker, the third goalkeeper. On the resume of the Premium Liiga against Tammeka he was given a start instead of Shirokov. 
The defence line has also seen a total change.
Maksim Podholjuzin was suspended for matchfixing, Artjom Artjunin moved abroad to FC Brasov and Austrian Toni Tipuric was sent back home at the end of 2014. Of the 2014 line, only Artur Pikk was left and in the meantime he became a worldwide celebrity for marking Wayne Rooney in European Qualifiers game and returning to his barracks in military attire soon after (read here).
With many key-players departing (only recently Artjunin has returned from Romania and was announced to join his old club until the end of the season) Levadia tried to assemble a decent defence in the very last days of the Winter transfer windows. The many trials brought to sign Ivan Pecha (SLO), Juuso Laitinen (FIN) and Artsem Rakhmanau (BLR). The latter, blighted by injuries, missed the start of the season only to gain his place in the starting XI in the last two months. Tall and solid, he represents a first choice to veteran Taavi Rähn who made the frog-leap from arch-rivals FC Flora. With Artjunin back at the club, the one likely to lose his place is the former Bate Borisov, Ivan Pecha. Pecha got some headlines in Estonian press for having played few minutes in the Champions League group stage in 2008 against Juventus FC (2-2). If you think it is laughable as a reason to gain a headline, you have to consider that the only Estonian player to have ever played in the group stage of the most important clubs competition is Estonian national team captain Ragnar Klavan.
The right-back role was inherited by Juuso Laitinen. The Finnish full back is fast and physical, however foul-prone  (5 cards in 14 games). The reason is simple: he is more offensive than defensive and sometimes he is caught unprepared by the oppositions.
Levadia’s start of the season was shocking: 4 wins in 9 games and the defence showing lack of glue and consistency. Marko Kristal’s job was even put under doubt until the defending Champions found a positive streak in the second quarter of season (the Estonian Premium Liiga is divided into 4 rounds) with 5 wins in a row that allowed his side to gain confidence and points to recover the table situation. Wins in key-games also gave the skipper additional oxygen. Levadia are now sitting behind top-of-the-table Nõmme Kalju with a 1-point gap. In the comeback, they managed to distance FC Infonet (+6) overcome Sillamäe (+5) and take over also the city rivals, FC Flora (+1). The title-race is fully open and with all top clubs busy in the European Cups, all chances for another successful finish in November are at hand.


FORMATION
Marko Kristal has introduced a small variation to his dear 4-4-2, which is just a 4-4-1-1 having one trequartista behind the clinical striker, Ingemar Teever. Few words should be spent for the latter. The 32-year-old striker with spells in Sweden and Germany, has managed to grab the national team coach’s trust and earned a couple of call-ups several years after his last cap. It is not a case since he brought Levadia precious points in the title-derbies against Flora and Nõmme Kalju. He is the Premium Liiga topscorer with 12 goals and has defied doubtful critics. On top of this, Levadia have regained last-season’s team’s topscorer, Igor Subbotin (33 goals) after an experience in Czech Republic. The Estonian Cristiano Ronaldo (ipse dixit the Estonian FA president, Aivar Pohlak) spent most of his time playing with the U-21 (he is 24…) a sign he was not 100% convincing for the Mlada Boleslav’s first team coach. He is ready to re-kick off his career in his old club and try to earn a new move in Winter. Kristal might opt to use him in his old role (right wing) unless he will give up to Omar El-Hussieny as trequartista, to place Subbotin  right behind Teever. The options might be many since Levadia are close to announce the return of former Middlesbrough, Tarmo Kink. ‘Kinksy’ trained with Levadia during the Winter preparation only to leave after deadline day for Scotland (Inverness Caledonian Thistle). He managed to win the Scottish Cup (played just 10 minutes though) and left the club who will play Europa League football. If Kink will take the right wing, Kristal will have another deadly weapon to aim at the first round opponents. It could be too much for one among Crusaders (NIR), B36 Thorshavn (FRO), Lincoln FC (GIB) or SS Folgore (SMR).
The remainder of the team shall see the usual midfield engine, Ilja Antonov (only survivor from last season’s midfield pair) and Dmitri Kruglov acting as central midfielder (he is normally a left winger), a new role Kristal tailored for him to fill the gap. Transfer rumours say they might bring back Dragomir Vukobratovic, the Serbian defensive midfielder who played last season but was not confirmed at the end of the same.
The left flank has been home to returning Estonian player (from Finland) Siim Luts, one of the most effective players in Levadia’s resurrection.


STREAK IN EUROPE
With 54 games played in Europe, Levadia boasts the best tally among Estonian clubs: 13* wins, 12 draws and 28 losses.

Last season they got better of San Marino Champions, La Fiorita, with a 8-0 on aggregate. The shock was in the first away tie when they managed to win only with an injury-time goal by Heiko Tamm (he has left the club). In Tallinn they demolished the San Marino semi-pros (7-0). The round after was tougher as Levadia suffered a 7-0 defeat in Prague against Sparta Praha (the club’s worst defeat in Europe) only to partially restore pride in Tallinn with a scoredraw (1-1).

The best memories of Levadia in Europe are tied with UEFA Cup 2006-07 when they went through to the first round against Newcastle United (who eliminated them 1-3 on aggregate) after going past Finnish Haka and Dutch Twente.

The furthest they got in Champions League (setting the country’s record first) has been the third qualifying round (2009-10) when they were eliminated by Debrecen from Hungary (0-2 agg).

Remarkable opponents were Steaua Bucuresti (ROM - UEFA Cup, 1999-00)Shakthar Donetsk (UKR - Champions League, 2000-01) Crvena Zvezda (SRB – Champions League, 2007-08) Wisla Krakow (POL – Champions League, 2009-10) and Galatasaray (TUR – Europa League, 2009-10). With Galatasary, they set another record being the first Estonian club to reach the Europa League play-offs (they lost 1-6 on agg).

*the wins tally does not includes a 3-0 awarded to Levadia for having Uniao de Leira fielded an uneligible player.

 

CURIOSITIES

-         The first European win came against Welsh side TNS (4-0) as the first draw (2-2 in the return game in Wales).

-         7-0. It is the score combination that set Estonian records of best win and worse loss in the European Cups. They are held both by Levadia, scoring 7 against La Fiorita, and suffering the same result against Sparta Praha in the same season (2014-15). The negative one was set first by Santos Tartu in the same season when they lost the first time home to Tromso IL (0-7). The 'slight' difference is that Santos were and are an amateur club.

-         Indro Olumets scored the first European goal (in the 1-4 loss against Steaua).

Subbotin during his short spell at Mlada Boleslav (Mlada official website)

Subbotin during his short spell at Mlada Boleslav (Mlada official website)

-         The owner of the club is Viktor Levada, in the business of metal recycling and production.

-         The coach, Marko Kristal, is former Estonian international: second best for caps, 143, ahead of his assistant coach, former striker Indrek Zelinski (103).

-         Levadia are the most-titled Estonian club as they have won also 9 Estonian Cups (titleholders) and 5 Estonian Supercups (titleholders). They share the place with Flora: 23 titles each, however the latters account more Supercups (8) than Estonian cups (6). This season might break the tie Levadia reached in 15 years since promotion (1999). Flora were founded in 1990.

-         It’s the first and only club to have had an Italian coach (Franco Pancheri, interview available here) and the first to bring an Italian player (Alessandro Rottoli). However, they did not last longer than a season with Pancheri leaving the club mid-season after a streak of negative domestic results. 

-         With Flora, they light up the ‘Tallinn’s Derby’ which, in recent times, has been renamed as ‘Tallinn El-Clasico’ or simply, in Estonian, ‘Tallinna Klassik’

-         Their training centre in Maarjamäe, it was inaugurated by no less than Portuguese legend, Eusebio.

-         The home stadium is Kadriorg Park Stadium. However, Levadia chose A.LeCoq Arena (national team and FC Flora home stadium built in 2001, simply named as Lilleküla Stadium under UEFA competitions) as their home venue since the first leg. Kadriorg Park Stadium dates back to 1926 and underwent several renovations.

Guide to Tallinn city (ENG)