The rise of Plzeň has been gradual. The club were promoted to the top flight (Gambrinus Liga) for the 2003/2004 season and then subsequently relegated. They bounced straight back though and made no mistake of survival second time around, solidifying their position within the top flight over the next few years. The club moved up the table slowly, but surely, year after year and their first piece of silverware in the modern day Czech Republic came in the 2009/2010 season as they defeated Jablonec 2-1 in the final of the Ondrášovka Cup. Last season was Plzeň’s centenary year which they celebrated in style, piping Sparta Praha to the league crown by a solitary point.
This development has been masterminded by Pavel Vrba who built his managerial reputation in neighbouring Slovakia, initially with Púchov and then MŠK Žilina with whom he won the Corgon Liga title with in 2007. Vrba has moulded a fundamentally well-rounded squad that is a potent attacking threat, filled with a number of past and present Czech internationals. Last season Plzeň averaged 2.3 goals a game in their title winning campaign.
Plzeň normally line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, though Vrba is not afraid of switching things up depending on the opposition. The team is led out by the vastly experienced Pavel Horváth. Horváth is the the midfield lynchpin and despite his advancing years manages to play with all the enthusiasm and work rate of somebody who has just broken into the squad. The veteran captain is a great foil for Plzeň’s more attack minded midfielders such as Milan Petržela, Daniel Kolár and Petr Jirácek who chip in with as many goals as the assists that they provide for the lone striker who is normally Marek Bakoš. But, as showcased in both legs against København, Vrba has the options from the bench to change games and you should keep an eye out for the introductions of forward Michal Duris and winger Martin Fillo who will be utilised to make an impact late in the game.
One to Watch
Over the summer Vrba brought in Vaclav Pilař who has hit the ground running since his move with six goals in eleven games. Pilař has also broken into the national team and has picked up a handful of appearances over the past year, and at just 22, you suspect that a further move awaits the talented attacking midfielder.
Whilst the side is an attacking threat, the defence is prone to conceding goals. The back-line is by no means a weak one and Pavel Vrba has gone out to strengthen his back four, but the step up from playing the likes of Viktoria Žižkov and Slovácko (no disrespect to those clubs) to Barcelona and AC Milan will be a giant one. Also they look rather threadbare defensively and whilst this might not be a problem initially, it may come to haunt the club domestically as the squad copes with the rigours of the Champions League.
Obviously Plzeň have been handed a tough group, but one that I suspect everybody associated with the club will be happy with. What better way to mark your Champions League debut than with high profile games against Barcelona and AC Milan? If we place Barcelona and Milan in the top two places in the group, it leaves the team fighting with BATE Borisov for third place and with that, entry to the Europa League. The draw could have been tougher: a Manchester City or a Lille and you could easily argue that further European participation was out of the question. But with Borisov being drawn in the same group then Plzeň have every chance of prolonging their European journey this season and I’m sure that fans of Borisov will feel exactly the same.
Viktoria Plzeň play their home games at the Stadion města Plzně. Whilst their initial European games were held at their base in Western Bohemia, the København game was switched to Prague’s Synot Tip Arena, otherwise known as Eden. Construction work is ongoing in Plzeň not only to raise the current capacity (currently 8,500) but to also improve safety and bring it in line with UEFA criteria, so all group games will be played at the Synot Tip Arena. Advanced ticket sales have been good, with the fans not minding the hour long commute and if the home-leg of the København tie is anything to go by, the citizens of Plzeň will travel en-masse to see their team in action and provide a great atmosphere for their ‘home’ games.
The club once known as Škoda Plzeň has come a long way in recent years. They have turned heads in qualification and will aim to continue doing so in the Champions League proper.