YOUNG BOYS Bern look as though they’re about to end the monopoly that Basel have had on football in Switzerland for almost a decade.
The two teams drew 2-2 at the Stade de Suisse over Easter as Young Boys maintained a 16-point lead over reigning champions Basel. Young Boys led twice in a game considered to be decisive in determining the destination of the title, in front of a 31,000-plus crowd.
Bern hasn’t had a champion club since 1986 when YB finished top of the table, so the title is long overdue. They were runners-up in each of the last three seasons, but were some 17 points behind Basel in 2016-17. The Basel run looks to be over – for now.
This might come as some relief to football officials in Switzerland, who have been exploring ways to make the league more competitive.
Meanwhile, in Austria, Red Bull Salzburg are eight point ahead of early season pacesetters Sturm Graz. Still only beaten once this campaign – in Graz – Red Bull have also reached the last eight of the Europa League where they will face Lazio after beating Dortmund. Skipper Alex Walcke, speaking on Red Bull’s website, said: “That win has given us players a lot of confidence. We know we can beat any team with two good games on two very good days. Anyone who saw the two Round-of-16 games against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League knows that we absolutely deserved to progress, though we have to continue working hard to be successful.”
Salzburg’s success has brought some of their star players to the attention of bigger clubs. Salzburger Nachrichten reported that Tottenham are eyeing striker Dimitri Oberlin and defender Amadou Haidara.
Away from the pitch, there was a boost for the Austrian Bundesliga with Tipico, the league’s sponsor, announcing an extension of its agreement to 2019-20.
Over in Hungary, Ferencvaros have emerged as favourites to win the Nemzeti Bajnokság I for the second time in three seasons. Reigning champions Honved are certainly out of the running, but Fradi will have to beat-off the challenge of Videoton. Both teams were held to 0-0 draws over Easter, Ferencvaros at old rivals Ujpest and Videoton at Puskas. The two teams will meet in May at Videoton’s temporary home at the Puskas academy stadium.
Hungarian football continues to struggle, with attendances falling by almost 5% this season. While Ferencvaros’ gates are up by 34%, Budapest rivals Vasas, Honved and Ujpest are all markedly down.
In the Czech Republic, Viktoria Plzen continue to set the tempo and despite losing 1-2 at home to Mladá Boleslav, they are still well clear of Slavia Prague. They have both the best attack and toughest defence in the league. Striker Michael Krmenčík has been attracting a number of Championship clubs in England – he’s scored 17 goals this season. Plzen got to the last 16 of the Europa League, losing out to Sporting Lisbon.
Sparta Prague recently appointed a Czech, Pavel Hapel, as manager after their experiment with Italian, Andrea Stramaccioni. Czech clubs don’t usually employ foreign coaches, apart from Slovaks. Hapel was quick to show that he’s a man with an opinion: ʺI believe that the players should consider what’s happened. The players also bear some of the responsibility for the sacking of Stramaccioni as manager and it’s a reflection on all the players. They should think on that. We will work though on making Sparta a success again.ʺ