venerdì 15 luglio 2011

Swiss Super League 2011/12 Season Preview

At the recent UEFA Under-21 Championship in Denmark, Switzerland finished runners-up, losing out only in the final to Spain – and with seven players from the country’s domestic Super League in the starting eleven. This statistic is a clue to the improving nature of Switzerland’s top flight and, especially, the nation’s ability to develop young talent. Rising stars like Xherdan Shaqiri, Admir Mehmedi, Granit Xhaka, Innocent Emeghara and Fabian Frei showed in Denmark that enjoying regular football with Basel, Zurich, Grasshopper and St. Gallen was a wise choice, rather than heading abroad to warm a bench.

The Swiss Super League therefore is the right place to discover hidden footballing treasures, unpolished gems that could burst onto the big stage. Thanks to the return of traditionally large clubs Servette and Lausanne, 2011/12’s Super League looks set to be more competitive than ever. We preview the new season:

Basel boss Thorsten Fink knows how to win at the death. For the last two years the German has led Switzerland’s richest club to the title in the very last round, pipping Young Boys (in 2010) and Zurich (in 2011) to the post. This season again Basel look favourites and could claim their third title in a row.

Fink has shown that he can mix veteran performers with young talents with skill at St. Jakob Park. The club’s experienced players are best represented by Alexander Frei, a goal-machine few defences in Switzerland are able to stop. Moreover, Basel have a productive youth system that fills, year after year, holes left in the first team by departures to bigger leagues. Goalkeeper Yann
Sommer and midfielder Granit Xhaka are two of the finest in the current crop. At present the only dark cloud on Basel’s horizon is the future of Shaqiri. One of the standout players at the Under-21 Championship, the midfielder has been linked with a move away from the club. If the 19-year-old stays, Basel’s rivals look set to be playing for second place.

Key arrivals: Fabian Frei (St. Gallen – loan return); Radoslav Kovac (West Ham);
Joo-Ho Park (Jubilo Iwata)
Key departures: Franco Costanzo (Olympiacos); Behrang Safari (Anderlecht)
Prediction: 2nd (1st with Shaqiri)

The good news for Grasshopper is just to be lining up in the 2011/12 Super League. Despite serious financial troubles, coach Ciriaco Sforza managed to keep the show on the road while the board struggled to keep the club alive.

After a poor start, Grasshopper moved away from the bottom of the table and ended last season in seventh. Many new impressive recruits have given fans cause to hope for a better campaign this time around, with an eye even cast upwards to a European spot. Striker Innocent Emeghara is expected to continue to develop and lead the team to a much improved season.

Key arrivals: Daniel de Ridder (Wigan); Frank Feltscher (Bellinzona); Iacopo La
Rocca (Bellinzona); João Paiva (Luzern)
Key departures: Milan Gajic (Zurich); Vincenzo Rennella (Cesena)
Prediction: 5th

Challenge League (Switzerland’s second tier) champions, Lausanne hit the headlines in pre-season for their marketing strategy, as they signed deals with two main sponsors (a bank and a supermarket) and opted to switch shirts at half-time.

The club lost two key players in the transfer window, forward Carlos Silvio and Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo Tosi. Consistency and hard work were Lausanne’s strongest attributes last season and coach Martin Rueda hopes this can continue against even better opponents in the top flight. Experienced goalkeeper Fabio Coltorti could be crucial in helping the team to survive – their task looks tough

Key arrivals: Fabio Coltorti (Racing Santander); Frédéric Page (Nuechatel Xamax)
Key departures: Carlos Silvio (Union Berlin); Rodrigo Tosi (Tractor Sazi Tabriz)
Prediction: 10th

Luzern have ordered new manager Murat Yakin to instil consistency in the team and aim for Europe after a rollercoaster campaign last season – Luzern topped the table as the winter break arrived, before suffering a slump and ending sixth.

Yakin can count on his younger brother Hakan, who remains the most talented player in Luzern’s ranks and one the best passers in the Super League; despite often seeming to operate in slow motion. The main beneficiary of Yakin’s creativity will be Romanian forward Christian Ianu, fully recovered from a bad leg injury that ruled him out of much of the 2010/11 campaign.

Key arrivals: Xavier Hochstrasser (Padova); Jérôme Thiesson (Bellinzona)
Key departures: João Paiva (Grasshopper); Dusan Veskovac (Young Boys)
Prediction: 6th

Neuchatel Xamax
Neuchatel Xamax come into the season under new ownership, led by the controversial Chechen Bulat Chagaev (last May the broadcaster Teleticino reported that the owner had stepped into the dressing room at half time in the Swiss Cup final shouting “I’ll kill you all” to the players, who were two goals down against Sion).

Despite the billionaire businessman stating he has great ambitions for the club, the team does not look much stronger than last year’s outfit; last season Neuchatel only avoided relegation in the last round of games. This season looks set to be another struggle to survive, with new boss Francois Ciccolini (Monaco’s former Under-19s coach), under pressure from almost the first match.

Key arrivals: Logan Bailly (Borussia Mönchengladbach); David Navarro (Valencia);
Victor Sanchez (Getafe)
Key departures: Raphaël Nuzzolo (Young Boys)
Prediction: 8th

The Geneva-based outfit is the second most successful Swiss side behind Grasshopper. Servette ended their season just one month ago, defeating Bellinzona in a playoff to return to the Super League for the first time since being declared bankrupt in 2005.

Chairman Majid Pishyar, an Iranian businessman, kept the promise he made upon becoming owner of the side. “I’ll take Servette back to where they belong”, said Pishyar. Now he must keep them up. The lack of new recruits should not worry Portuguese coach Joao Alves, as his team looks to have enough talent, with Brazilian free-kick master Marcos de Azevedo, left winger Matias Vitkieviez and striker Julian Esteban arguably too good even for the Super League.

Key arrivals: Issaga Diallo (Locarno)
Key departures: None
Prediction: 7th

Step by step, the ambitious and volcanic Sion president Christian Constantin is building a team able to compete with the Swiss giants. After a satisfying 2010/11 season, in which the club won their twelfth Swiss Cup and ended the Super League with the tightest defence, Sion are ready to improve again.

And it appears Constantin has learnt from his mistakes. In recent years the president brought big names to the club, such as Essam El-Hadary, Emile Mpenza and Olivier Monterrubio, but the average quality of the side at the Stade Tourbillon was poor. Things are different now, with former international stars like Gabri and Pascal Feindouno, who have joined a team full of solid performers, boasting Giovanni Sio, Michael Dingsdag, George Ogararu and Andris Vanins. Sion can make a splash this season.

Key arrivals: Guilherme Afonso (Lugano); Pascal Feindouno (Monaco); Gabri
(Umm-Salal); Mario Mutsch (Metz)
Key departures: None
Prediction: 3rd

In the last two seasons Thun’s star was coach Murat Yakin, who first led the club to promotion and then to a comfortable mid-table finish in the Super League. New boss Bernard Challandes has a difficult task to follow, with the aim of transforming Thun into a team able to cement a mid-table spot as quickly as
There are high expectations surrounding the return of Mario Lustrinelli, who was the star of the greatest team in the club’s history that, in 2005, reached the group stages of the Champions League. Last season, Lustrinelli’s goals were not enough to save Bellinzona, but at 35 years old the striker has still proven himself capable of taking enough chances to help Thun survive.

Key arrivals: Mauro Lustrinelli (Bellinzona); Christian Schneuwly (Young Boys)
Key departures: Timm Klose (Nurnberg); Nick Proschwitz (Paderborn); Ifet
Taljevic (released)
Prediction: 9th

Young Boys
Young Boys are aiming for a first title since 1986 and chosen to make real the dream is Christian Gross. The former Tottenham Hotspur manager dominated the last decade in Swiss football, winning four championships, four cups and mounting a fairytale run in the Champions League in 2002. It therefore came as little surprise to see Young Boys turn to Gross to replace Vlado Petkovic,
sacked after failing last season.

The club have been busy in the transfer window as they attempt to bridge the gap between themselves and reigning champions Basel. Standing out above all others though is starlet Nassim Ben Khalifa. Voted best player at the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Ben Khalifa returns from a disappointing time in Germany, where he warmed the bench for both Wolfsburg and Nurnberg.

There are great expectations too surrounding Danish midfielder Alexander Farnerud, who had a superb impact in Swiss football upon arriving last January from Brondby. Young Boys are undoubtedly Basel’s main opposition for the title.

Key arrivals: Nassim Ben Khalifa (Nurnberg); Raphaël Nuzzolo (Neuchatel Xamax);
Michael Silberbauer (Utrecht); Dusan Veskovac (Luzern)
Key departures: Thierry Doubaï (Udinese); Senad Lulic (Lazio); Christian
Schneuwly (Thun)
Prediction: 1st

Last season Zurich were surprisingly in the title race until the very last round. The main reason the side could not hit the target was the real lack of a prolific goalscorer. This problem, Zurich hope, will be solved by Admir Mehmedi, who shone at the recent Under-21 Championship and is expected to enjoy a breakthrough season.

Alongside Mehmedi, coach Urs Fischer can count on experienced performers like right back Philippe Koch, playmaker Xavier Margairaz and all-round midfielder Dusan Djuric. Whether this is enough of an improvement to win the title is open to question; Zurich will give it their all though.

Key arrivals: Milan Gajic (Grasshopper)
Key departures: None
Prediction: 4th

Fonte: Inside Futbol

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