With one quarter of the season gone, it’s fair to make a balance of the first act of a 8-month long drama that will accompany us until November.
Obviously we have to bear in mind that the Premium Liiga is still a new-born baby, however we can already see the first signs of interaction: season 2014 is trying to tell us something and we will try to interpret these first confused sounds.
9 matchdays, 9 questions we will try to answer and explain.
1) Is this really the strongest Nõmme Kalju ever seen?
In the Tammeka-Kalju post-match press conference, RdS asked Ken Kallaste what could he find better in 2014 Kalju compared to 2013 one, apart from the table situation (Kalju are leading alone, last year they were in cohabitation with Levadia): ‘we are a more equable team’ explained the left full-back ‘I have never seen such a Kalju before. We have a lot of choice in the midfield which has strengthened. Vunk is a workdog adding a lot’.
Are they really stronger? If Kalju hadn’t had that win over FC Infonet cancelled due to a technical error (sorry to rub it again) they would be +5 clear of the oppositions (Flora, Levadia and Sillamäe all grouped at 18 points) and +1 compared to Kalju 2013. If the gap with oppositions would be significant (it’s actually +2), the gap with last season is still tiny.
A significant difference is to be found in the goals suffered: only 2, against 6 last season (we won’t consider much the greater difference in the goals scored as some of the minnows have evidently weakened).
This figure would confirm what Kallaste was trying to say: Kalju’s midfield is indeed stronger.
Usually a good defence is well covered when the midfield is efficient.
Vunk is a player who has certainly brought something Ceesay and Eino Puri were not able to bring: greater international experience and more tempo in guiding the team, whereas the latters were more prone to sudden bursts. Prins has been switching in turns Reginaldo, Prates and Wakui in the midfield position, always with good results. However, Martin Vunk, remains the cornerstone of the XI.
Kalju are certainly stronger in the neuralgic zone of the pitch compared to the oppositions. Even though a consistent striker is missing (read: Voskoboinikov) Kalju have managed to hit the goal with 10 different men, two coming from the bench (Kirss and Jevdokimov). Better than Kalju, Levadia have done: 11 man scored so far.
If they will continue this way, the absence of a 20-something goalscorer will not be felt much. Additionally, Damiano Quintieri is on the mend.
Can it look more promising?
Probably that technical loss gave Kalju additional ‘competitive anger’ to recover what lost.
2) Have Levadia a scoring a problem?
It could be seen also on Saturday against Narva Trans: Levadia have troubles in finding the way to the goal. The winner came from a corner kick. Kristal is aware of this issue and he has not been hiding it in front of the press: it takes a lot for Levadia to score a goal.
Is he really right in complaining?
Looking at the numbers wouldn’t seem so: Levadia have scored three goals more than last season at this point. However, as we did in the past, if we don’t consider the 8-0 of the training game against Kalev, Levadia’s tally reduces to 13 goals in 8 games. It is not a huge tally indeed. Beyond statistics, what really impressed so far it’s somehow a certain lack of fluidity in reaching the opposition’s box and, once reached, to finish the chances created.
‘We need to score goals!’ said Marko Kristal since the Supercup final. It seems like the music has not changed much.
3) Are Infonet the big surprise package of this first quarter?
This is probably the easiest question to answer: yes, they definitely are. Compared to the other 8 clubs (we won’t consider Lokomotiv as they were in Esiliiga back in 2013) they are the ones they have gained most: +10 points compared to last season (Kalju -2, Levadia -4, Flora -1, Sillamäe same points). They are 5th , however just one point short of the 18-point block (Levadia-Flora-Sillamäe) and three of Kalju. When asked about predictions for the final table, I bravely offered Infonet at third place. Obviously there are way too many games to say the prediction was good. However, FC Infonet have started off very well with a bit of help from Goddess Fortune (read: the technical win). Fortuna audaces iuvat. And tonight FC Infonet will play a historical Cup semifinal against Levadia.
4) Is the Sillamäe boat going to sail safely?
The ‘longshoremen’ had to be ‘sailormen’ for an entire week.
Instead of safely being in their harbour, they had to go on board during a stormy weather. However, apparently, the first navigation went fine. Their performance in Tallinn was solid and they compelled Flora to use long balls to pull level.
Despite the managerial confusion (who is the coach? Dobiza? Former coach Kazantjok?), the XI reacted very well. Additionally, the squad had to face Zahovaiko’s setback: the captain will be sidelined until the end of the season. The squad is also thin with defenders and Baguźis has already collected two red cards. How long can they last? The next two games might already give the answer as Sillamäe will receive Flora and then travel back to Tallinn to pay a visit in Kadriorg at Kalju.
Will Ratnikov get back into his head coach position? He has refused to speak to RdS as to any other Estonian media, leaving room to speculation. Meanwhile President Starodubtchev has been speaking on behalf of everyone saying it was a request from Ratnikov himself. If it was, why Pärnu-born coach does not want to confirm it himself? Certainly the ‘Starodubtchev – the son – affair’ has to have played a role. A week after the harsh criticism from Ratnikov, the President’s son lost his place in the starting XI. His replacement, Lavrentjev, was nominated the MOTM by game broadcaster, a choice RdS endorses.
If something happened, it is to be found in this triangle. However, the secret seems to be well preserved in Sillamäe headquarters.
5) Is the Lokomotiv broken?
8 losses and 1 draw. This is the poor tally of the newly promoted. The change of coach did not bring an immediate effect as Loko sank in Paide (3-0). They are doing worse than Narva last season (2 points after 9 games), however it looks quite hard they might have a recovery as Trans had. The fact they used to be Narva Trans double team, made many of us think they might have something more than Kalev, if not Tammeka. However, it seems quite hard they will manage to give any trouble to the other 9 clubs. What they will grab, it will be what the others leave. Even the relegated Kuressaare, had more points last season after 9 games (5).
Additionally, also Nesterenko’s son, defender Bogdan, left the club. What was already a very weak defence (still not the worst though) was further weakened. The future does not look bright.
6) Has the level of Premium Liiga competitiveness decreased?
The first answer would be ‘yes’. If we take a look at last season’s first nine games, the big scores at final time (anything from 6-0 upwards) have increased: four 6-0’s, one 6-1 and one 8-0 against a mere 6-0 (Flora at Paide) last season. However, at a deeper look of the tables, the distance between the top and the bottom is basically the same: +20 (2013) vs. +19 (2014).
There’s not even that big difference between the top5 and the bottom5, as Infonet are only +5 over Paide (last season Paide was +7 over Tammeka).
Where is the answer then? In the overall goals scored by the 10 clubs. Last season, after 9 matchdays, they scored 114 goals. This season we have already 143, +29.
If something has decreased, it is the competitiveness of the defences, especially in the drop zone. In fact the bottom fives account for 110 goals suffered against 72 last season.
The goals difference have already big figures down there: -28 Kalev, -21 Loko, -16 Tammeka with Trans (-1) and Paide (-8) having still moderate figures. Certainly the situation at the three bottom clubs will not help the cause of competitiveness.
7) At what point is Flora’s new project?
Flora’s plan was to develope a ‘new deal’.
The ‘new deal’ consisted of developing a game based on ball possession (the so-called ‘tiki-taka’). Saturday’s game was everything but this philosophy of game. The ball was mostly flying in the air in the second half in the desperate attempt to pull level with Sillamäe and not losing ground with the top of the table. Flora seem to have confirmed a pre-season impression: whenever they come across teams with a good defensive organization, they suffer. The ball possession reduces to a simple moving the ball from left to right and return. The ideas on the ground rarefy and the ball starts to take off.
Is this the plan B or simply the only way Flora can play when all the channels are closed? The new project is still far from being achieved. Meanwhile, Flora have managed not to lose ground, however it did not happen last season at this point either when Lelov was still at the helm.
8) Have Trans a problem with strikers?
Bondarenko himself already answered the question on Saturday: they do have a problem up front. Quite curiously Narva have the best defence in the drop-zone (just 9 suffered) confirming a certain solidity. However, the 8 goals scored are certainly the main issue.
Nothing new, to be utterly honest. When the club was declaring at start of season that the goal was to fight for the title or at least a medal, we already pointed a finger at the sterile forward line. Glad they are realizing that now, however there still several weeks before the transfer market will reopen.
9) Are the referees starting to feel the pressure?
Last week Bondarenko opened the pandora’s box and harshly complained about the referee (Tarajev). Last night RdS asked Indrek Koser if he was happy with the three directions in a row of Tammeka by Külljastinen and his answer was quite significant: ‘I will get a fine if I speak honestly’ a sign he was probably not very happy with his directions. He anyway developed his thought around referees trying not to cross the line between analysis and open criticism: ‘Kalju were superior and the ref’s decisions did not influence the game today. However, certain things are still raising questions. Referees are afraid and respect certain players a lot, and these players are allowed to do anything. Against the youngest ones, instead, they show cards more easily and they punish them for minor mistakes’ remarked Koser stressing a certain ‘psychological bias’ in favour of veterans.
‘In the previous game (against Paide – edit)’ specified the Tammeka’s coach ‘referee’s decisions affected the game very clearly’.