The Arsenal of the Czech Republic?

A record points haul, attractive football and goal scoring records broken. Mark Smith reports on the team tearing the Czech league apart.

For those of you not familiar with the West Bohemian city of Plzen, you should be. They have given us the world famous Pilsner Urquell lager and it’s the birthplace of Chelsea stopper Petr Cech. Now the city of Plzen also has a record-breaking football team.

Viktoria Plzen has a modest history, they have never won the Czech (Czechoslovak) title and it was as recent as last year when they won the Czech Cup for the first time in their history. Taking that into consideration it might be a little surprising if you look at the league table to see Plzen sitting pretty at the top of the league, a staggering 9 points clear of Sparta Prague – after only 15 games played.

Plzen have amassed a record haul of points before the winter break, their record reads P15 W13 D L1 Pts 40. Their goal difference is also +28 with 40 goals scored, another record for the Czech top flight. It’s not just about the victories they are racking up; it’s the manner in which they are doing so. Playing attractive, attacking football is the order of the day in Plzen and the results are there for everyone to see.

This is down to Plzen manager Pavel Vrba, whose philosophy is in a similar mould of Arsene Wenger. Pavel has got this Plzen side playing the best football in the league, with a team full of Czech players (there is an exception, with one Slovak player Marek Bakos). Vrba is understandably loved by the Plzen fans, but the fans of Slovakian side MSK Zilina hold him in even higher regard.

Pavel Vrba’s previous job was boss of MSK Zilina, and during the 2006/7 season Vrba introduced a style of football to the Slovakian team that will never be forgotten by the fans. In the 36 games during the season, Zilina finished 13 points clear of their nearest rivals and finished with a goal difference of +63, scoring 80 goals. James Baxter has written a brilliant piece on Pavel Vrba’s MSK Zilina side here, its well worth a read.

Czech legend, and General Manager of the National team Vladimir Smicer believes that Plzen have the most creative players in the Czech Republic and fully deserve to be at the summit of the league. Plzen’s players are also catching the eye with 26 year old Czech striker Jan Rezek earning a call up to the Czech National side for the first time. Rezek is the leagues top scorer with 10 goals already this season.

Viktoria Plzen are also reaping the benefits of stability within the club, with much emphasis on results these days it’s a rarity to see such a stable team of players and management. The last few seasons for Plzen have seen a steady improvement, creeping up the table gradually. This seasons success isn’t entirely a shock as they finished 5th last year and won the Czech Cup, but few would have expected to find Plzen 9 points clear of Champions Sparta Prague after just 15 games!

The first real test of Plzen’s character came after losing to Mlada Boleslav 4-3 – their first defeat of the season. Many questioned how they would react; well they responded by humping Teplice 4-2 then going to Ostrava and winning 2-0. Even police tear gas failed to halt Plzen’s progress in Ostrava; the Czechs love a firework or ten.

Looking closer at the fixtures played and Plzen have already been to the Czech capital twice and beaten both Sparta and Slavia Prague, so the hard work looks to be done on paper. It appears to be all about mental strength now, can Plzen hold off the challenge from Sparta Prague and Sigma Olomouc? Sparta will look to grind down their rivals in the second half of the season, and if anyone is capable of catching them it’s Sparta.

Personally, I hope that Plzen hold off Sparta and claim the title for the first time. If they carry on playing football in the same manner and breaking records then the title will be a certainty.

If you would like to read more from Mark, please visit the excellent Play Waved On and follow@play_waved_on on twitter.