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The Bulgarian championship was very interesting in the autumn, as many teams showed their ambitions for a top3 finish. Litex, Levski and CSKA were tipped to be in the title race, but at the moment CSKA are 11 points away from the first place. Litex hold the lead with 37 points, while Levski have 32. It will be very interesting in the bottom, too. All in all – a very interesting second part of the season is ahead of us. In the winter there were a lot of changes in the team and I will try to present you all the information surrounding these actions.

Litex Lovech

Transfers in Transfers Out
Nenem (Rio Branco) Florin Bratu (Dinamo Bucurest, end of loan)
Dejan Djermanovic (Rudar Velenje) Wilfried Niflore (Olympique Nimes)
Pape Alioune Diouf (Dakar UC, loan) Ventsislav Bengyuzov (Pirin Blagoevgrad, loan)
Angel Zdravchev (youth team)  
Rumen Rumenov (youth team)  
Winter Preparation (6W-2D-2L 22:8)
Litex Lovech PFC Brestnik 1948 22.01 5:0 (0:0)
/G. Milanov 48' ; Smirnov 49' ; Sandrinho 77', 87' pen. ; Nenem 90'/
Litex Lovech Ludogorets Razgrad 26.01 0:1
45 mins
Litex Lovech Septemvri Simitli 26.01 2:0
/Diouf 26' ; Niflore 36'/ 45 mins
Litex Lovech FK Montana 29.01 4:0 (2:0)
/Barthe 29' ; Tom 33' ; G. Ivanov 70' own goal ; Tsvetanov 81'/
Litex Lovech Vihren Sandanski 01.02 2:0 (1:0)
/Diouf 5' ; Bodurov 60'/
Litex Lovech Malesh Mikrevo 04.02 0:0 (0:0)
Litex Lovech CFR Cluj 09.02 2:3 (1:1)
/Tom 39' ; Sandrinho 65'/
Litex Lovech Lech Poznan 12.02 2:0 (0:0)
/Djermanovic 53' ; Diouf 84'/
Litex Lovech Terek Grozny 15.02 2:1 (1:1)
/G. Milanov 31' ; Tom 55' pen./  
Litex Lovech Karpaty Lviv 18.02 3:3 (0:0)
/Tom 58' pen. ; Fedetskiy 65' own goal ; Djermanovic 82'/

Litex Lovech

Litex Lovech Emblem

Litex are currently leading the table with 37 points after 15 games. The team is yet to lose a single match and is on 8-match winning streak. Coach Luboslav Penev successfully replaced Angel Chervenkov, who was fired after the Continental failure. Litex did some great work in the preparation, coach Penev said that results are not that important, he intended to “throw” his players tired in the most of the games, so they could prepare well for the upcoming matches. Litex were modest on the transfer market – they have a good squad and there were no need of many new players. French striker and top goalscorer of the previous season Wilfried Niflore was sold to Nimes and some of you may think that this will be a huge loss for the reigning champions, but that’s not the case. Niflore is just not the type of forward that could satisfy Penev’s vision of the game (at least that’s what media is touting) because of his “lazy” style of play. Still, Niflore scored a lot of goals for Litex in the recent years and should be respected. Romanian offensive player Florin Bratu returned to Dinamo Bucurest, after failing to impress in the autumn. Youngster Ventsislav Bengyuzov was sent to Pirin in order to receive some experience.

Penev decided to give a chance to some youngsters in the preparation camp, so Rumenov and Zdravchev were promoted to the first team. Rumenov performed very well and deserved some praise from former Litex coach Ljupko Petrovic. Brazilian defensive midfielder Nenem was signed from Rio Branco, reportedly being followed in the last couple of years. He should create competition in the middle of the park, where youngster Aleksandar Tsvetkov picked up an injury in December, while Sandrinho and Jelenkovic are in their 30-s. Dejan Djermanovic arrived from Rudar Velenje, where he scored 8 goals in the autumn. The striker will have to replace Niflore, because Svetoslav Todorov had some problems in the winter and wasn’t able to prepare well. Senegalese winger Pape Diouf had a successful trial period with Litex, scoring three goals in the friendlies, thus deserving to be acquired on loan.

Litex played 10 friendly games this winter and achieved respectable results. Wins over Brestnik, Septemvri, Montana and Vihren were routine, but slips against second division sensation Ludogorets and minnows Malesh were unexpected. Still, Litex created a lot of goalscoring opportunities this winter and the friendlies in Turkey were the highlight. Litex lost to Cluj by 2:3, but dictated the tempo and created the most of the goalscoring chances, possessing the ball for the most of the time. The win over Lech (2:0) was well deserved, newcomers Djermanovic and Diouf scored and Litex generally played very well. Terek Grozny were also beaten, the Grozny side even got nervous at how Litex were controlling the game and a lot of rough tackles were made in the last minutes. The last game against Karpaty was also very positive, the coach of the Ukrainians even praised Penev for the performance of Litex in that game. Karpaty managed to equalize in the last minute.

Litex have a tough schedule this spring, but showed very good football in the preparation. Striker Djermanovic will need some time to adapt, but his palying style ensures more empty spaces for wingers Tom and Doka (at least that’s what local specialists’ observations are). It will be exciting to see this Litex team in an official game, at a glance, the Lovech side should be able to score even more in the spring, so I expect another title for Litex.

Prediction: 1st place

Levski Sofia

Transfers In Transfers Out
Ivaylo Vasilev (Chavdar Byala Slatina, end of loan) Georgi Petkov (Enosis Neon Paralimni)
Georgi Nedyalkov (Kom-Minyor Berkovitsa, end of loan) Joaozinho (FC Krasnodar)
Miroslav Antonov (FK Montana, end of loan) Andwele Slory (Adelaide United)
Plamen Iliev (Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo) Georgi Nedyalkov (OFK Sliven)
Daniel Dimov (Cherno More Varna) Miroslav Antonov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Basile de Carvalho (Lokomotiv Plovdiv) Chakib Benzoukane (released)
Marko Vidovic (Anorthosis Famagusta) Ivaylo Vasilev (Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo, loan)
Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo (Roda JC) Michael Tawiah (Kaliakra Kavarna, loan)
Hristo Popadiyn (youth team) Tsvetan Dimitrov (Kaliakra Kavarna, loan)
Hristo Stamboliyski (youth team) Daniel Shmedin (Kaliakra Kavarna, loan)
Ivan Goranov (youth team) Kalin Shtarkov (Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo, loan)
Todor Chavorski (youth team) Lachezar Baltanov (Kaliakra Kavarna, loan)
Winter Preparation (5W - 2D - 1L 18:8)
Levski Sofia Enosi Alexandroupoli 26.01 4:0 (1:0)
/Dembele 28' ; Gadzhev 49' pen. ; Kirov 74' ; Antonov 87'/
Levski Sofia MFK Dubnica 06.02 2:2 (1:1)
/Popadiyn 35' ; Isa 83'/
Levski Sofia GKS Belchatow 07.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Vidovic 85'/
Levski Sofia FK Teplice 09.02 2:1 (1:0)
/Isa 13', 61'/
Levski Sofia Dynamo Moscow 11.02 3:1 (3:1)
/Tasevski 2' ; Matondo 16' ; Dembele 33'/
Levski Sofia Viktoria Plzen 15.02 1:2 (1:1)
/Matondo 16'/
Levski Sofia Otelul Galati 17.02 2:2 (1:1)
/Dembele 28' pen. ; Gadzhev 85' pen./
Levski Sofia Chavdar Etropole 20.02 3:0 (2:0)
/Isa 1' ; Ivanov 41' ; Vidovic 62'/

Levski Sofia

Levski Sofia Emblem

Levski had some brilliant moments in the autumn, but they were more in Europa League – on domestic stage “The Blues” had some slips and are currently trailing leaders Litex by 5 points.

Levski made many transfers this winter, but only few of them are important. Young goalkeeper Plamen Iliev was acquired from Vidima, but he will probably sit on the bench, as Mitrev and Akalski are more experienced. Emblematic goalkeeper from the last several years Georgi Petkov was released and subsequently signed for Cypriot side Enosis Neon. Petkov had great seasons for Levski, but fell out of favour in the autumn and were blamed for some mistakes that he made. Influential left winger Joaozinho was sold to FC Krasnodar and his absence will be a big blow for the team. The pocket Brazilian had found his feet in Levski and was playing an integral role in the development of the team. Disappointing Andwele Slory was released, as well as Moroccan defender Benzoukane, who had disciplinary problems. Talking about disciplinary problems, I should mention the problems around star striker Garra Dembele this winter. He was caught driving drunk with forged driving license and was even handed an 8-month suspended sentence with a three-year probation period. That was one of the reasons why he wasn’t sold in the winter; given the fact the many clubs were interested in signing him. Chairman Todor Batkov hired two guards to follow Dembele and keep him away from “temptations”. It now looks as if Dembele is ready to play for Levski and score in numbers, as he did in the autumn (26 goals in 26 matches). Some fringe players were sent on loan to Vidima and Kaliakra; Miroslav Antonov was sold to second division side Ludogorets Razgrad. Levski needed some new players and mainly a Joazionho replacement, so they signed Yulu-Matondo from Roda – a player with good qualities and experience. Bulgarian defensive midfielder Daniel Dimov was bought from Cherno More to add some competition. Marko Vidovic arrived from Anorthosis and will “fight” with Veselin Menev on the left back. Basile de Carvalho was bought from Lokomotiv Plovdiv, but injured himself in the first training. It turned out that Basile had chronic should problems and that triggered a feud between Levski and Lokomotiv boards, both stating that the player is not their ownership. Carvalho underwent surgery in Brest and is now unavailable, no matter which is his actual club right now. Speaking about Levski new players, I should mention that some youngsters participated in the training process, but they won’t be relied on in the important matches, IMO.

Levski played well in the friendlies, the highlight being the win over Dynamo Moscow by 3:1. Belchatow and Teplice were also beaten, while matches against Czech and Romanian leaders, Viktoria Plzen and Otelul, were even. Forward Ismail Isa showed that he is ready to add some cutting edge up front, when Levski need to play with two forwards. But, in overall, coach Yasen Petrov won’t have to change anything – the autumn 4-2-3-1 formation should be his first-choice tactics. Levski showed attacking potential this winter, we will see whether they could play successfully in the championship.

Levski kept Tasevski and Dembele and that’s a piece of good news (only if these two are properly motivated). Brazilian winger Joaozinho left, but Yulu-Matondo has the potential to replace him. No other important players are missing, so Levski should be the same solid side. The game against CSKA in the first round will be very, very important for the team’s ambitions. Levski team looks good, but I believe Litex will be better, so 2nd place for Levski in my eyes.

Prediction: 2nd place

Lokomotiv Sofia

Transfers In Transfers Out
Jemal Johnson (Milton Keynes Dons) Tsvetan Genkov (Dynamo Moscow, end of loan)
Youssef Idrissi (Andrezieux) Derek Asamoah (Pohang Steelers)
Yordan Varbanov (Anhui Jiufang) Dimo Atanasov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Dormushali Saidhodzha (CSKA Sofia) Nikolay Pavlov (PFC Brestnik 1948)
  Georgi Hristov (Sportist Svoge)
  Kristiyan Velichkov (Sportist Svoge)
  Vladimir Manchev (released)
Winter Preparation (2W - 3D - 1L 11:5)
Lokomotiv Sofia Vihren Sandanski 26.01 4:1 (3:0)
/Manolov 23' ; Goranov 41' ; Krastev 45' own goal ; Idrissi 65'/
Lokomotiv Sofia Malesh Mikrevo 28.01 4:0 (0:0)
/Johnson 57', 62' ; Dias 80' ; Dafchev 84' pen./
Lokomotiv Sofia Inter Baku 05.02 1:1 (0:1)
/Idrissi 90'/
Lokomotiv Sofia Spartak Trnava 08.02 1:1 (1:1)
/Dobrev 17'/
Lokomotiv Sofia Mlada Boleslav 12.02 1:1 (0:0)
/Clarence 50'/
Lokomotiv Sofia FK Rabotnicki 15.02 0:1 (0:1)

Lokomotiv Sofia Emblem

When Martin Kamburov left Lokomotiv Sofia before the start of the season, many expected Lokomotiv to not be as competitive as before. But that proved wrong – Tsvetan Genkov and Derek Asamoah were in superb form and Loko are currently third.

But this Loko squad is now weakened. Striker Tsvetan Genkov returned to Dynamo Moscow, as his loan period expired. He subsequently signed for Wisla Krakow, so Lokomotiv will be without their top striker. Explosive winger Derek Asamoah signed for Korean Pohang Steelers, so the two best players are no longer in the squad. This will be a big blow for Diyan Petkov, who had to find replacements. Winger Jemal Johnson arrived from Milton Keynes Dons and looks like a promising player, but may need some time to adapt. Yordan Varbanov returned to Bulgaria after a spell in China, while strikers Youssef Idrissi and Dormushali Saidhodzha will be relied on to replace Genkov. I’m not optimistic about that, however, as Idrissi comes from French lower league team Andrezieux, while Saidhodzha lacks match practice, previously being out-of-favour at CSKA. On the top of that, Dimo Atanasov (midfielder) and Vladimir Manchev (forward) also left, the first being sold to Ludogorets, while the second was released due to constant injury problems.

These changes just couldn’t have no reflection over Loko’s performances in the friendlies. Wins over second division sides Vihren and Malesh couldn’t be billed as very impressive – the more important were the following 4 matches, none of which Lokomotiv managed to win. A late equalizer saved the team from a defeat against Inter Baku, Spartak Trnava and Mlada Boleslav also caused problems for the third-placed Bulgarian team. The loss to Rabotnicki on 15th February just underlined the unpleasant state of the team.

Missing Asamoah and Genkov could prove to be very harmful for Lokomotiv Sofia. Signing Johnson looks like a good bargain, but Idrissi and Saidhodzha just doesn’t look very reliable up front. Of course, they will have the opportunity to prove me wrong, moreover Dormushali didn’t play in the friendlies because he was signed few days ago. Pisarov and Romanov should be expected to lead the team, but in overall Lokomotiv just doesn’t look very competitive. On the top of that the team will continue playing on “Vasil Levski” stadium, not on their home “Lokomotiv”. I think that Loko won’t be able to hold on that 3rd place and at least CSKA will surpass them.

Prediction: 5th – 7th place

Chernomorets Burgas

Transfers in Transfers Out
Anton Velkov (coach) Krasimir Balakov (coach, resigned)
Branimir Kostadinov (Chernomorets Pomorie) Matthias Morys (VfR Aalen)
Yani Pehlivanov (Chernomorets Pomorie) Marcio Nuno (FC Krasnodar)
Venelin Filipov (Chernomorets Pomorie) Nikolay Krastev (Chernomorets Pomorie)
Savio Nsereko (Fiorentina, loan) Lazar Jovisic (Chernomorets Pomorie)
Zhivko Petkov (youth team) Dimitar Blagov (Chernomorets Pomorie)
  Krum Stoyanov (Chernomorets Pomorie)
  Stanislav Dimov (Chernomorets Pomorie)
  Adrian Fernandez (released)
Winter Preparation (4W - 2D - 0L 10:4)
Chernomorets Burgas Svetkavitsa Targovishte 29.01 1:0 (0:0)
/Kostadinov 60'/
Chernomorets Burgas Dobrudzha Dobrich 30.01 1:0 (1:0)
/Ricardo Andre 20'/
Chernomorets Burgas FC Winterthur 05.02 1:1 (0:1)
/Koita 88'/
Chernomorets Burgas Ramnicu Valcea 07.02 2:1 (2:1)
/Koita 33' ; Ricardo Andre 40'/
Chernomorets Burgas Admira 09.02 5:2 (3:0)
/Lys ; Koita 19', 52' ; Krumov 23' ; Tsonkov 83'/
Chernomorets Burgas Brann Bergen 11.02 0:0 (0:0)

Anton Velkov

Chernomorets Burgas Emblem

Chernomorets were solid in the autumn, conceding just 1 loss – 2:0 to Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the 15th round. Some changes, though, were made in the winter – chairman Mitko Sabev announced that the budget will be decreased and that resulted in the resignation of coach Krasimir Balakov. Anton Velkov was hired as his replacement – a good move from the board.

Argentinean forward Adrian Fernandez was released little before Balakov’s resignation. Midfielder Marcio Nuno had a successful trial period with FC Krasnodar and also left. German forward Matthias Morys returned to his homeland, while experienced defender Krastev will play for the feeder team Chernomorets Pomorie. Three youngsters arrived from the Pomorie side and they will be looking to establish in the elite. Savio Nsereko was taken from Fiorentina on loan and there will be big expectations from him, as he has a respectable CV. Chernomorets had problems away from home in the autumn and the pace of Nsereko could help “The Sharks” in their mission to change that.

Chernomorets didn’t concede a single loss in the training camp, but the oppositions were not that scary. Winning over Svetkavitsa and Dobrudzha by only 1:0 wasn’t impressive, while the draw against Winterthur came in the 88th minute. Beating Admira by 5:2 was the only really positive result in this preparation, as Lys and Koita showed determination to lead the attack. Chernomorets had planned to play against OFK Sliven the weekend before the start of the championship, but the match wasn’t played. So there will be 14 days break between the last friendly and the first official game – that should be taken into consideration.

Nuno and Fernandez will be missed, because they were important players for Chernomorets in the recent years. Coach Balakov was appointed to turn Chernomorets into a good European club and I believe he succeeded. But now he’s gone and Anton Velkov will try to achieve what Balakov couldn’t – an European spot. Chernomorets’ schedule, however, won’t be easy and I think they won’t be able to finish in top4. Nsereko, Koita and Lys will have opportunity to drive the team forward, but CSKA and Lokomotiv Plovdiv look better-shaped and should finish above Chernomorets.

Prediction: 5th – 7th place

Lokomotiv Plovdiv

Transfers In Transfers Out
Bojan Dojkic (Trikala FC) Basile de Carvalho (Levski Sofia)
Juan Barrientos (Trikala FC) Emil Argirov (Botev Plovdiv)
Yordan Todorov (Minyor Pernik) Kiril Kotev (Dalien Aerbin)
Lyubomir Vitanov (Minyor Pernik) Martin Kerchev (Turan Tovuz)
Dimitri Durand (FC Red Star Saint-Ouen) Kostadin Gadzhalov (Botev Plovdiv)
Patrick Ogunsoto (Ergotelis FC) Tsvetan Yotov (Spartak Plovdiv)
Dimitar Grabchev (Maritsa Plovdiv) Krasen Trifonov (OFK Nesebar)
Serginho (Levadiakos FC) Angel Yoshev (Minyor Pernik)
Nenad Lukic (FK Teleoptik Zemun) Bassalia Sakanoko (White Star Woluwe)
Iliyan Marchev (youth team) Georgi Petrov (FK Montana)
  Ivaylo Gerdzhikov (released)
  Nikolay Chipev (released)
  Veselin Marchev (OFK Sliven, loan)
  Hristian Popov (OFK Sliven, loan)
  Blagomir Mastagarkov (Pirin Gotse Delchev, loan)
  Dimitar Grabchev (Pirin Gotse Delchev, loan)
Winter Preparation (4W - 2D - 6L 17:23)
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Vihren Sandanski 20.01 2:1 (1:1)
/Dojkic 7' ; Lazarov 73' pen./
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Pirin Blagoevgrad 22.01 1:3 (0:2)
/Raimondi 66'/
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Lech Poznan 26.01 0:4 (0:3)
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Stromsgodset 28.01 2:0 (0:0)
/Lazarov 53' pen. ; Zlatinski 55'/
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Lokomotiv Moscow 31.01 0:2 (0:0)
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Zenit Saint Petersburg 03.02 1:2 (0:1)
/Barrientos 72'/
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Kuban Krasnodar 05.02 0:3 (0:0)
Lokomotiv Plovdiv FC Zestafoni 08.02 0:3 (0:1)
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Shandong Luneng 10.02 1:1 (0:1)
/Lazarov 73' pen./
Lokomotiv Plovdiv Polonia Warszawa 12.02 3:3 (1:1)
/Ogunsoto 7' ; Kavdanski 53' ; Zlatinski 62' pen./
Lokomotiv Plovdiv UD Marbella 15.02 2:0 (1:0)
/S. Bengelloun 40' ; Durand 73'/
Lokomotiv Plovdiv FK Dimitrovgrad 18.02 5:1 (1:1)
/Todorov 43' ; Zlatinski 60' ; Barrientos 72' ; Stromajer 80', 90'/

Lokomotiv Plovdiv EmblemLokomotiv Plovdiv announced big ambitions ahead of the season, but managed to claim “only” the 5th position. Still, there are good chances for “The Smurfs” to climb up the ladder, but they will face a serious competition.

Loko made many transfers this winter with some very important “moments”. Basile de Carvalho was sold to Levski, he was very important in the autumn and Loko decided to cash in. Both teams, as I mentioned above, are arguing where should Carvalho play after recovering from the operation and the matter was taken to FIFA. A lot of players were shown the exit door, after the failed the requirements – Kerchev, Gadzhalov, Sakanoko and Chipev had their chances, but failed to impress, Yoshev and Trifonov had long-term injuries and just couldn’t fit in the current squad, while Argirov, Yotov, Petrov and Gerdzhikov was just labeled as “not good enough”. Kiril Kotev was promised to be let without transfer fee if any club is interested and the defender signed for Chinese Aerbin Dalien, where Bulgarian Aleksandar Stankov is at the helm. Youngsters Marchev, Popov, Mastagarkov and Grabchev will hope to gain experience on loan. A lot of new players arrived – Patrick Ogunsoto arrived from Ergotelis with big hopes of becoming a top goalscorer of the team but he scored only 1 goal in the friendlies and generally played poorly. Yordan Todorov and Lyubomir Vitanov arrived from Minyor and I believe these are the best transfers for Loko this winter. For Todorov this will be a second spell at Loko, where he played before joining Steaua and subsequently Minyor. Vitanov is a solid defensively-oriented player and could help a lot. Dojkic and Barrientos are unknown to me, as well as Durand and Serginho , but given the fact from where they are coming, I don’t think they will make a sudden impact.

Lokomotiv were very inconsistent in the preparation – they won only 4 games (none of them against a really serious opposition) and lost comprehensively to Lech, Loko Moscow, Kuban and Zestafoni. These losses raise a big question mark toward Lokomotiv’s ambition to reach the top3. The squad is solid and big and all the players should be kept in form, but Loko conceded 23 goals this winter and even conceded against third division side FK Dimitrovgrad.

We could expect Loko to play really well at home, but the away games will be integral for the team’s ambitions. It will take some time before the new players gel in the squad and it’s a bit of luck that Loko start will a home game against struggling Vidima. The schedule for the spring looks good, but whatever the schedule this team just has to perform or the fans will be disappointed. I don’t believe that they will be able to reach the top3, but the 4th place should be achievable.

Prediction: 4th place

CSKA Sofia

Transfers in Transfers Out
Stanislav Kostov (Pirin Blagoevgrad) Rais M'Bolhi (Slavia Sofia, end of loan)
Blagoy Makendzhiev (Pirin Blagoevgrad) Cristian Tiboni (Atalanta, end of loan)
Chetin Sadula (Kaliakra Kavarna) Marco Esposito (Portogruaro)
Stanko Yovchev (Pontioi Katerini) William Tiero (Olhanense)
Petar Stoyanov (OFK Sliven) Atanas Zehirov (Pirin Blagoevgrad)
Nicolas Medina (CA Osasuna) Dormushali Saidhodzha (Lokomotiv Sofia)
Emil Gargorov (Universitatea Cluj) Dimitar Iliev (Pirin Blagoevgrad, loan)
  Nicolas Medina (Akademik Sofia, loan)
  Bozhidar Stoychev (Akademik Sofia, loan)
  Martin Dechev (Ludogorets Razgrad, loan)
  Pavel Vidanov (Rapid Bucuresti, loan)
Winter Preparation (8W - 2D - 0L 20:4)
CSKA Sofia Vihren Sandanski 24.01 3:0 (2:0)
/K.Stoyanov 23' ; Galchev 40' ; Delev 47'/
CSKA Sofia Sportist Svoge 28.01 6:0 (2:0)
/Sadula 7' ; Delev 12', 77', 83', 85' ; Yovchev 81'/
CSKA Sofia Chavdar Etropole 31.01 0:0 (0:0)
CSKA Sofia Ludogorets Razgrad 04.02 2:0 (1:0)
/Marquinhos 1' pen. ; Trecarichi 90'/
CSKA Sofia Chernomorets Odessa 06.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Aquaro 72'/
CSKA Sofia Metalurh Donetsk 08.02 1:0 (1:0)
/Marquinhos 30'/
CSKA Sofia Amkar Perm 09.02 3:2 (2:2)
/Delev 4' ; Nelson 32 ; Radulovic 48'/
CSKA Sofia Gurnik Zabrze 12.02 0:0 (0:0)
CSKA Sofia FC Vaslui 15.02 2:1 (0:0)
/Nelson 61' ; Platini 77'/
CSKA Sofia Chavdar Byala Slatina 19.02 2:1 (1:0)
/Tonev 42' ; Sheridan 57'/

CSKA Sofia Fans

CSKA Sofia EmblemCSKA had to undergo very difficult periods in the last years and even though that now things look just fine, the fans just don’t dare to be optimistic. The team finished the autumn period with 11 less than leaders Litex and that just couldn’t be met with satisfaction. CSKA fans are used to success so the expectations towards the second half of the season will be big.

CSKA will be, however, without their best player in the autumn – goalkeeper M’Bolhi. Russian Krylia Sovetov decided to buy him and his loan contract was terminated and the Algerian international is now gone. International defender Pavel Vidanov went to Rapid Bucuresti on loan, but he is not the kind of the player that would be sorrowfully missed. The other players that left wasn’t regulars – the likes of Tiboni, Esposito and Tiero were disappointing and never really got going, while Zehirov, Iliev, Saidhodzha, Stoychev and Dechev had their reasons to move away. Chilean forward Nicolas Medina was signed, but his questionable fitness made CSKA board to send him on loan to Akademik. Youngsters Kostov and Makendzhiev were snapped up on free transfer from Pirin, while Sadula, Yovchev and Stoyanov complete the CSKA selection. Some days ago Emil Gargorov announced his decision to return to CSKA and that will be a massive boost for the team, but only if Gargorov is in form. However, the decision not to sell Marquinhos is probably the best move from the CSKA board this winter – the Brazilian is the man to watch at CSKA.

CSKA made an excellent preparation and didn’t concede a single loss. Only the 0:0 draw with Chavdar Etropole could bring some bitter taste to the fans, but the other results were good. Winning over Metalurg Donetsk, Amkar Perm and Vaslui was impressive, so noone should write off CSKA – this is an institution in the Bulgarian football. The likes of Platini, Nelson and Sheridan showed determination to show their worth, while Spas Delev scored 6 goals. The position expected to be problematic – the goalkeeper position – looks secured with the presence of Makendzhiev, Karadzhov and Chavdarov – even though none of them is of M’Bolhi’s class, they should be in good form in that competition. Coach Milen Radukanov said that he already knows on which player he will rely and it’s expected the likes of Kostadinov, Baharov, Amzin, Trecarichi and Radulovic to be loaned to clubs, where they could gain first-team experience. Left back Yordan is still yet to renew his contract after he failed to move abroad this winter. An young player to watch is Aleksandar Tonev, who is showing good development.

CSKA look stabilized and ready to start climbing. Catching Litex and Levski will very difficult, but the third-place competition is open and “The Reds” should relish the opportunity to snatch it. The squad is good, a win over Levski at the start could even motivate the players to fight for the title, but we are going into the hypotheses’ sphere. Let’s not forget that CSKA won’t play on their home stadium, so I will be reserved in my expectations.

Prediction: 3rd place

Slavia Sofia

Transfers in Transfers Out
Steeve Joseph-Reinette (Sibir Novosibirsk, end of loan) Rais M'Bolhi (Krylia Sovetov Samara)
Pavle Popara (Astra Ploesti, end of loan) Steeve Joseph-Reinette (Krylia Sovetov Samara)
Ivan Zdravkov (Kaliakra Kavarna, end of loan) Nikolay Dyulgerov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Deniran Ortega (Banants Yerevan, end of loan) Todor Kolev (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Rais M'Bolhi (CSKA Sofia, end of loan) Nikolay Pavlov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Juninho (Banants Yerevan, end of loan) Yordan Petkov (Ermis Aradippou)
Filip Filipov (OFK Sliven) Radoslav Rangelov (released)
Martin Sechkov (Akademik Sofia) Stefan Kikov (released)
Ivan Kokonov (OFK Sliven) Rafael Barbosa (released)
Yordan Yurukov (Cherno More Varna) Simeon Mechev (Beroe Stara Zagora, loan)
Erison Baiano (Politehnica Iasi) Galin Ivanov (Arminia Bielefeld, loan)
Martin Kushev (Amkar Perm) Atanas Drenovichki (Ludogorets Razgrad, loan)
Diyan Moldovanov (Pirin Blagoevgrad) Emil Martinov (FC Bansko, loan)
Josias Basso (Universitatea Cluj) Ivan Zdrakov (Svetkavitsa Targovishte, loan)
Miranda (unknown, trial) Ivan Kokonov (Botev Vratsa, loan)
  Galin Bogdanov (Dorostol Silistra, loan)
  Deniran Ortega (AWOL)
  Daniel Peev (Amkar Perm, trial)
Winter Preparation (4W - 3D - 5L 15:13)
Slavia Sofia FC Bansko 21.01 2:1 (2:1)
/Iliev 2' ; Yurukov 27'/
Slavia Sofia Pirin Razlog 25.01 0:1 (0:0)
Slavia Sofia Ludogorets Razgrad 28.01 0:0 (0:0)
Slavia Sofia Chavdar Etropole 29.01 3:0 (2:0)
/Juninho 5' ; Iliev 26' ; Aleksandrov 79'/
Slavia Sofia PFC Oleksandria 04.02 1:4 (0:2)
/Georgiev 76'/
Slavia Sofia Partizan Belgrade 06.02 0:0 (0:0)
Slavia Sofia FC Zbrojovka Brno 08.02 1:2 (1:2)
/Bozhov 45'/
Slavia Sofia Amkar Perm 11.02 3:4 (3:1)
/Bozhov 2', 33' ; Kushev 10'/
Slavia Sofia Krylia Sovetov Samara 13.02 0:0 (0:0)
Slavia Sofia Ramnicu Valcea 14.02 3:0 (0:0)
/Vasev 83' ; Juninho 86' ; Zhelev 89'/
Slavia Sofia Petrolul Ploesti 15.02 0:1 (0:0)
Slavia Sofia Dorostol Silistra 19.02 2:0 (1:0)
/Kushev 27' ; Hristov 62'/

Slavia Sofia EmblemSlavia were aiming in the European spots before the season but are currently 7th. The 3rd place is not that far away, but there are a lot of teams in the competition for it. Slavia’s management is oriented into developing players and selling them, so it won’t be a tragedy if “The Whites” don’t finish around the top.

Slavia made many changes in the winter, showing time and again their ambition to sell players if the opportunity is present. M’Bolhi and Reinette signed for Krylia Sovetov, after being on loan at CSKA and Sibir, respectively. Midfielder Galin Ivanov was taken by Arminia on loan, as the German team is trying to avoid relegation. Antonio Pavlov, Nikolay Dyulgerov and Todor Kolev were sold to Ludogorets, while Drenovichki was sent on the same destination, but on loan. Experienced defender Yordan Petkov was released, as well as Radoslav Rangelov, Rafael Barbosa and Stefan Kikov. This created the necessity of acquiring some new players and Filipov, Sechkov and Yurukov were signed from the domestic market. Later on, Slavia added Moldovanov, Erison Baiano, Martin Kushev and Josias Basso. Popara, Juninho and Ortega finished their loan periods and returned to Slavia, thus reducing the negative effect of the departure of so many players. Juninho and Popara could be very important for Slavia, as well as veteran Kushev, so this team have to be looked closely. Deniran Ortega had some disciplinary problems and even went AWOL at some time, so he probably won’t be part of the squad.

Slavia weren’t successful in the friendlies, as they conceded five defeats, the worst being the one to Oleksandria by 1:4. Winning over Bansko, Chavdar Etropole, Ramnicu Valcea and Dorostol is just not that impressive, maybe the most creditable result Slavia achieved was the 0:0 draw against Partizan Belgrade. We should really see this Slavia squad in an official game, because on paper it’s good, but the results are poor.

Slavia were left by three regulars (Petkov – DF, Ivanov – MF, Kolev – FW) this autumn and fourth is on the road (Peev is on trial at Amkar). However, some very interesting players will wear Slavia shirts this spring, namely Yurukov, Popara, Juninho, Kushev and Filipov. I believe this Slavia squad is strong in comparison with the autumn one. “The Whites” are capable of reaching the 5th position, but I can’t see how they could rise further, given the fact that CSKA and Lokomotiv Plovdiv are very motivated and differ from Slavia in terms of mentality.

Prediction: 5th – 7th place

Beroe Stara Zagora

Transfers in Transfers Out
Karamfil Ilchev (retired) Vanja Dzaferovic (Enosis Neon Paralimni)
Ivan Kanev (Botev Galabovo) Milen Tanev (Chernomorets Balchik)
Simeon Minchev (Botev Galabovo) Tsvetan Filipov (Chernomorets Pomorie)
Milen Mitev (OFK Sliven) Miroslav Radev (Kaliakra Kavarna)
Atanas Apostolov (FC Lyubimetz, loan) Romario (Radium FC)
Todor Dinchev (FC Lyubimetz, loan) Martin Temenliev (Chernomorets Balchik)
Ivan Yanchev (PFC Nesebar, loan) Vladislav Yamukov (OFK Sliven)
Georgi Hashev (OFK Sliven, loan) Simeon Mechev (Slavia Sofia, loan)
  Martin Raynov (youth team)
  Ivo Gyurov (youth team)
  Georgi Dinkov (youth team)
Winter Preparation (3W - 2D - 3L 13:9)
Beroe Stara Zagora Spartak Plovdiv 02.02 3:0 (2:0)
/Zlatinov 22' ; Bozhanov 24' ; Gyurov 54'/
Beroe Stara Zagora Dobrudzha Dobrich 04.02 0:2 (0:2)
Beroe Stara Zagora Kaliakra Kavarna 05.02 0:1 (0:0)
Beroe Stara Zagora Chernomorets Balchik 09.02 3:4 (1:0)
/Mladenov Jr. 8' ; Genchev 67' ; Zlatinov 87'/
Beroe Stara Zagora PFC Nesebar 09.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Stankov 70'/
Beroe Stara Zagora Chernomorets Pomorie 11.02 0:0 (0:0)
Beroe Stara Zagora FC Lyubimetz 16.02 5:1 (2:1)
/Dimitrov 25', 33' ; Zlatinov 54' pen. ; Yordanov 60', 90'/
Beroe Stara Zagora Arka Gdynia 19.02 1:1 (0:0)
/Yordanov 64'/

Beroe Stara Zagora EmblemBeroe were the surprise cup winners last season and everybody expected another season of good football from “Zaralii”. The team is currently in the middle of the table with a good opportunity to rise in the table – it will depend on them.

Beroe were among the most “silent” teams during the transfer window. Regular goalkeeper Karamfil Ilchev decided to hang up the gloves and Beroe reacted by brining Miroslav Radev from Kaliakra. Radev, however, picked up an injury, so Martin Temenliev from dissolved Chernomorets Balchik was signed. Some young players were sent on loan in second division and one to survival battlers Sliven. Some interesting players, namely Dzaferovic, Filipov, Tanev, Romario and Yamukov arrived to create competition. Defenders Dzaferovic and Yamukov could really boost the defensive quality of the team, but the Croatian will miss some of the first rounds due to injury. Filipov, Romario and Tanev are all midfielders, so coach Ilian Iliev showed that he needs some creativity and depth in the midfield. Strikers Zlatinov and Yordanov should be once again fighting for the attack place.

As for the friendly games, I expected more from Beroe. Losing to Dobrudzha and Chernomorets Balchik was shameful and in general Beroe played two reall “serious” matches – 0:1 loss to Kaliakra and 1:1 draw with Arka Gdynia.

Generally, Beroe kept their squad and that’s the best move they did. The likes of Zlatinov, Todor Hristov and Petar Dimitrov are good players and could drive the team forward. Adding Yamukov and Dzaferovic could only boost the team. Creating competition in midfield is also a good move, but Beroe will have a very tough mission to climb up. A lot of ambitious teams are up there, a lot of even games we will see and I don’t think Beroe will be above the 8th place in the end. They will good at home as usual, but they have a lot of hard tasks this spring... Their schedule is not very optimistic.

Prediction: 8th place

Cherno More Varna

Transfers in Transfers Out
Rosen Kolev (Kom-Minyor Berkovitsa) Eli Marques (AEL Limassol)
Samuel Camazzola (Clube Esportivo) Vladko Kostadinov (FK Suvorovo)
Ismet Muradov (youth team) Yordan Yurukov (Slavia Sofia)
Georgi Kitanov (youth team) Nikolay Domakinov (FK Montana)
Vladimir Kaptiev (Dunav Ruse, trial) Daniel Dimov (Levski Sofia)
  Mario Jardel (Rio Negro)
  Milen Petkov (Dobrudzha Dobrich)
Winter Preparation (3W - 3D - 1L 12:5)
Cherno More Varna Svetkavitsa Targovishte 25.01 5:0 (1:0)
/Atanasov 27' ; Ademar 70' ; Nikolov 73', 77' ; Marchev 81'/
Cherno More Varna PFC Nesebar 28.01 2:2 (0:0)
/Churlinov 16' ; Ratnikov 29'/
Cherno More Varna Chernomorets Pomorie 31.01 1:0 (0:0)
/Atanasov 80'/
Cherno More Varna Universitatea Cluj 04.02 0:1 (0:0)
Cherno More Varna Celik Zenica 07.02 1:1 susp.
/Marco Tiago 26'/ Suspended after 40 minutes
Cherno More Varna Pandurii Targu Jiu 09.02 1:1 (0:0)
/Nikolov 82'/
Cherno More Varna Dukla Prague 12.02 1:1 (1:1)
/Ratnikov 21'/
Cherno More Varna HNK Gorica 15.02 2:0 (1:0)
/Ratnikov 30', 55'/

Cherno More Varna EmblemCherno More are on the disappointing 9th place but with so many ambitious teams, some of time must occupy the middle of the table. As usual, Cherno More showed some very good football at home, but were weak away, winning only 4 points from 7 matches.

Transfer moves this winter were modest. Midfielder Dimov was sold to Levski, while attacking midfielder and one of the best players in the last years, Yurukov, was released. Defender Domakinov and veterans Jardel and Petkov were also released, while Brazilian Eli Marques preferred to move to Cyprus. The arrivals were only two – youngster Rosen Kolev came from Kom-Minyor, while Brazilian Camazzola was acquired from Clube Esportivo. Vladimir Kaptiev is currently on trial, after failing to impress at CSKA and has the chance to become the third winter sigining for Cherno More. I think this Cherno More is weaker now with the absence of Dimov and Yurukov, at least “The Sailors” usually take good Brazilians, so Camazzola could be a bargain.

My words find confirmation in the preparation games of the team. Only the win over HNK Gorica could be called “impressive”, but the draws against Dukla, Celik, Pandurii and Nesebar are not that notable. 6 goals scored in the 6 games for Cherno More and given the fact that the oppositions were not that scary, this is not an optimistic achievement.

Cherno More have attacking problems and that’s not something new. Youngster Rumen Nikolov will probably lead the attack this spring, that’s something good to hear, but I don’t know whether he is ready to do this properly. Estonian midfielder Ratnikov showed great effectiveness in the friendlies and could finally be trust for a regular shirt. Yurukov and Dimov will be missed, I have no doubt about that, so Doncho Atanasov, Georgi Iliev and Daniel Georgiev should take the weight of the matches. I don’t rate highly this Cherno More squad, I think they will be able to keep their 9th position, but all the teams I’ve written above are more classy in my eyes, so the 9th place should be reasonable for “The Sailors”.

Prediction: 9th place

FK Montana

Transfers in Transfers Out
Moussa Gueye (Nejmeh SC) Miroslav Antonov (Levski Sofia, end of loan)
Nikolay Domakinov (Cherno More Varna) Stanislav Zhekov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Boytan Gaytanov (Lokomotiv Mezdra) Miroslav Ivanov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Nikolay Nikolov (Banants Yerevan) Dimitar Nakov (Pirin Blagoevgrad)
Georgi Petrov (Lokomotiv Plovdiv) Lyubomir Ivanov (Dunav Ruse)
Anderson Goncalves Pedro (Sao Bento) Murad Ibrahim (FC Lyubimetz)
Aleksandar Stoyanov (Sportist Svoge) Viktor Georgiev (released)
Leni Georgiev (youth team)  
Valeri Berov (youth team)  
Winter Preparation (5W - 2D - 3L  21:15)
FK Montana Chavdar Byala Slatina 22.01 0:0 (0:0)
FK Montana Dorostol Silistra 26.01 4:1 (2:1)
/Michev 6' ; Chipilov; Eduardo 60'; Gaytanov 76'/
FK Montana Litex Lovech 29.01 0:4 (0:0)
FK Montana Sportist Svoge 01.02 2:1 (0:0)
/Chipilov 40' ; Eduardo 60'/ 2 halves of 35 minutes
FK Montana FC Lugano 05.02 0:4 (0:2)
FK Montana Hradec Kralove 07.02 1:1 (1:1)
/Eduardo 15'/
FK Montana Chernomorets Odessa 09.02 2:0 (0:0)
/Hristov 74', 86'/
FK Montana Horizont Turnovo 11.02 2:0 (0:0)
/Hristov 62' ; Michev 74'/
FK Montana FK Haugesund 15.02 2:3 (2:2)
/Eduardo 20', 41'/
FK Montana Chavdar Etropole 19.02 8:1 (4:0)
/Chipilov 22' ; Eduardo 39', 43', Dimitrov 40' own goal ; Gaytanov 53', Hristov 62', 67' ; Fidanin 83'/

FK Montana EmblemMontana conceded 7 defeats in the autumn period and I think coach Dzhambazki hoped for lower number. Still, the team is 5 points above the relegation zone, so they first half of the season cannot be billed as a failure. Montana aim will be to at least keep this 10th position and they have a relatively easy schedule in the first five rounds in order to gather some points.

Montana sold to Ludogorets defender Zhekov and midfielder Miroslav Ivanov, while striker Antonov returned to Levski and subsequently moved also to Ludogorets. Midfielder Dimitar Nakov signed for Pirin, so the the number of first-team players that have left is 4. Coach Dzhambazki strengthened his squad with 7 players – he signed defenders Gueye, Domakinov and Nikolov, midfielders Petrov and Anderson and striker Gaytanov, as well as goalkeeper Stoyanov. Domakinov and Nikolov look like a good bargains – both have good experiences and are generally good players, that should help Montana in defense.

The team achieved mixed results in the friendlies – wins over Chernomorets Odessa, Horizont Turnovo and Chavdar Etropole (8:1) were impressive, but slipping to Swiss second division side Lugano (0:4) was frustrating. Brazilian Luiz Eduardo showed good goalscoring skills in the camp, netting 7 goals. Chipilov and Hristov also had their moments, so in terms of forwards, Montana should be OK. The midfield line, however, looks problematic as playmaker Miroslav Ivanov is now gone, so is Dimitar Nakov, leaving the like of Gadzhev the only interesting figure in the center of the park. Brazilian Anderson could fill in, but he was signed recently and his form is questionable.

Montana have a relatively good squad, with some interesting attacking-minded players. The defense was a problem in the autumn, that’s why Dzhambazki added three players in the winter. Miroslav Ivanov will be missed, that’s life as we know it. Cherno More are 6 points away and I rate Montana chances to surpass them as “very doubtful”. The team will have to play 8 away games in the second half of the season so I think the 10th place should be OK for the North Bulgarian team.

Prediction: 10th place

Kaliakra Kavarna

Transfers in Transfers Out
Desislav Rusev (Chernomorets Balchik) Ivan Zdravkov (Slavia Sofia, end of loan)
Tsvetan Dimitrov (Levski Sofia) Svetoslav Petrov (retired)
Lachezar Baltanov (Levski Sofia, loan) Chetin Sadula (CSKA Sofia)
Michael Tawiah (Levski Sofia, loan) Miroslav Radev (Beroe Stara Zagora)
Daniel Shmedin (Levski Sofia, loan) Aleksandar Mladenov (PFC Sevastopol)
  Dimitar Chechev (Malesh Mikrevo)
  Stoyan Stefanov (OFK Sliven)
  Delcho Stoilov (released)
Winter Preparation (6W - 2D - 0L 17:5)
Kaliakra Kavarna Malesh Mikrevo 22.01 6:1 (2:0)
/Rusev 1' ; Baltanov 37' ; Dimov 53' ; Filipov 55' ; Shmedin 75 ' Aleksandrov 78'/
Kaliakra Kavarna Botev Vratsa 26.01 1:0 (1:0)
/Tawiah 7'/
Kaliakra Kavarna Vihren Sandanski 29.01 2:0 (1:0)
/Aleksandrov 26' ; Shmedin 72'/
Kaliakra Kavarna Beroe Stara Zagora 05.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Markov 84' pen./
Kaliakra Kavarna Svetkavitsa Targovishte 09.02 2:2 (2:2)
/Markov 10' pen. ; Radentsov 15'/
Kaliakra Kavarna Dorostol Silistra 11.02 2:2 (1:1)
/Filipov 40' pen. ; Stanchev 50'/
Kaliakra Kavarna Bulgaria U19 16.02 2:0 (1:0)
/Filipov 11' ; Rusev 80'/
Kaliakra Kavarna Sportist Svoge 18.02 1:0 (1:0)
/Aleksandrov 40'/

Kaliakra Kavarna EmblemKaliakra are newcomers this season and in that role they did pretty well in the autumn. They have a 5-point lead ahead of Pirin, so the team is moving on schedule.

Coach Antoni Zdravkov used his relations at Levski to bring some players on loan – Baltanov, Tawiah and Shmedin will play for Kaliakra until the end of the season. Goalkeeper Tsvetan Dimitrov also arrived, but permanently, while the last signing was the Chernomorets Balchik striker Desislav Rusev. Looking at the other graph we see some leaving players, the most important being winger Chetin Sadula and the retired midfielder Svetoslav Petrov who became assistant coach at CSKA Sofia. Some not needed players were released and we can conclude that Kaliakra were very cautious on the transfer market.

Kaliakra is one of the teams that didn’t concede a loss in the preparation. It has to be noticed, however, that all the matches (except vs. Beroe) were against second division sides. Despite that, the Kavarna team conceded just 5 goals in 8 games, while new players Rusev, Baltanov, Tawiah and Shmedin all scored. Draws against Svetkavitsa and Dorostol can be labeled as disappointing, but winning over Beroe is positive.

Looking at Kaliakra’ squad I don’t see much quality, but this team won 16 points in the autumn, so they should be treated with respect. Not many changes were made in the winter; I think we will see one well-packed Kaliakra side in the spring, capable of winning surprise points. Rusev is an experienced forward, while Baltanov will be determined to show good form in order to force Levski to get him back. Marko Markov, Georgi Filipov and Ivan Aleksandrov will be relied on lead the team. I don’t believe this team will relegate, but moving up the table also doesn’t look very realistic. Maybe the 10th position is the most they could achieve, but since I tipped Montana for it, then Kaliakra should be content with the 11th spot.

Prediction: 11th place

Akademik Sofia

Transfers in Transfers Out
Mario Barrera (coach) Boris Angelov (coach)
Kristiyan Uzunov (Chernomorets Pomorie) Martin Sechkov (Slavia Sofia)
Enzo Malindi (KF Tirana) Emil Mihaylov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Ender Gunlu (free agent) Mihail Aleksandrov (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Nicolas Medina (CSKA Sofia, loan) Samir Aess (Minyor Pernik)
Bozhidar Stoychev (CSKA Sofia, loan)  
Winter Preparation (2W - 4D - 4W 10:13)
Akademik Sofia Dorostol Silistra 20.02 0:2 (0:2)
Akademik Sofia Chavdar Byala Slatina 21.01 1:1 (1:1)
/Issaka 25'/
Akademik Sofia Olimpi Rustavi 02.02 0:1
45 mins
Akademik Sofia FC Wil 02.02 1:0
/Petkov/ 45 mins
Akademik Sofia Sankt Gallen U21 03.02 3:3 (1:2)
/Dinchev ; Sakaliev ; Vasilev/
Akademik Sofia FC Chiasso 04.02 2:3 (1:1)
/Gunlu 25' ; Manchev 78'/
Akademik Sofia Rapid Wien (A) 07.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Mbemba 70'/
Akademik Sofia FK Sarajevo 09.02 1:2 (1:1)
/Sakaliev 12'/
Akademik Sofia Delta Tulcea 13.02 1:1
Akademik Sofia Ulysses Yerevan 16.02 0:0 (0:0)

Akademik Sofia EmblemAkademik confounded the critics, who were expecting the team to suffer in the autumn. “The Students” are above the relegation zone, having a slender lead over Pirin. Priority, of course, is staying in the elite, so don’t expect miracles from them.

Akademik had a very strange winter. Coach Boris Angelov went through all of the friendlies and few days ago was fired, with the replacement being the unknown Argentinean specialist Mario Barrera. Barrera was expected to become assistant to Milen Radukanov at CSKA, but Radukanov was reluctant to work with an unknown coach. Chilean Nicolas Medina and goalkeeper Bozhidar Stoychev were loaned to Akademik from CSKA and the relation between these two teams could be boosted these days, as some CSKA youngsters are expected to join the newcomers on loan. Young defender Uzunov was signed, after previously being at CSKA, Cyprus and Chernomorets Pomorie, Turkish midfielder Ender Gunlu and Albanian forward Malindi are the other two new guys. Malindi has experience in the Bulgarian football, having previously played for Slavia and Spartak Varna. Three regular players left the team – goalkeeper Mihaylov and midfielder Aleksandrov were sold to Ludogorets, while defender Sechkov signed for Slavia. Rotation midfielder Samir Aess signed for Minyor Pernik and we can see that Akademik have found replacements on all “vacant” positions.

Akademik weren’t impressive in the preparation, winning only versus Swiss second division side Wil and Austrian third division side Rapid Wien (am.). Losses to Dorostol and Chiasso were frustrating, as well as the draws versus Chavdar Byala Slatina, Delta Tulcea, Sankt Gallen U21 and Ulysses. These results hint at potential problems for Akademik in the spring.

Akademik may slip in the table and this coach change after the whole preparation is very strange. Keeping Mbemba and Bonfim was good, but Barrera is unknown to me and he has little time to get used to the surroundings. Medina scored in his first game for Akademik, but “The Students” played against Romanian second division side Delta Tulcea in that game. I smell problems for the newcomers and I think they will occupy the playoff place in the end of the season. Not playing on their home stadium is another reason for my fears.

Prediction: 14th place

Minyor Pernik

Transfers in Transfers Out
Yavor Vandev (PFC Brestnik) Lyubomir Vitanov (Lokomotiv Plovdiv)
Borislav Stoychev (FC Lyubimetz) Yordan Todorov (Lokomotiv Plovdiv)
Angel Yoshev (Lokomotiv Plovdiv) Kostadin Hazurov (Bnei Sakhnin)
Samir Aess (Akademik Sofia) Velimir Ivanovic (Dorostol Silistra)
Milen Vasilev (OFK Sliven) Hristo Gospodinov (Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo)
Kostadin Adzhov (Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo) Tsvetomir Todorov (Bdin Vidin)
Tomas Oklestek (Zbrojovka Brno) Ivaylo Ivanov (released)
Fares Brahimi (Saint-Etienne) Yuri Ivanov (released)
Svetlin Slavchev (Vitosha Dolna Dikanya) Mladen Stoev (released)
Nikolay Bankov (Spartak Varna)  
Miroslav Petrov (free agent)  
Dimitar Petkov (youth team)  
Iliyan Iliev (youth team)  
Winter Preparation (4W - 2D - 4L 15:11)
Minyor Pernik Vihren Sandanski 22.01 0:1 (0:0)
Minyor Pernik Malesh Mikrevo 25.01 5:0 (1:0)
/Rangelov, Brahimi, Vasilev, Adzhov x2)
Minyor Pernik Pirin Blagoevgrad 28.01 3:4 (0:1)
/Tsvetkov 58' ; Petkov 85' ; Stoyanov 90'/
Minyor Pernik Botev Vratsa 04.02 0:1 (0:1)
Minyor Pernik Targu Mures 09.02 0:1 (0:0)
Minyor Pernik Lokomotiv Zagreb 10.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Rangelov 65'/
Minyor Pernik Universitatea Craiova 12.02 0:0 (0:0)
Minyor Pernik Chernomorets Odessa 15.02 2:2 (1:1)
/Petrov 32' ; Rangelov 85' pen./
Minyor Pernik Esbjerg fB 16.02 2:1 (1:1)
/Pavlov 15' pen. ; Todorov 60'/
Minyor Pernik GKS Katowice 18.02 2:1
/Rangelov 5', 42'/

Minyor Pernik EmblemMinyor were very disappointing in the autumn and are currently very close to the relegation zone. Coach Velkov was dismissed and Stoycho Stoev was hired as replacement with the task to save Minyor from relegation.

The weak form from the first half of the season resulted in releasing some regular players, namely Ivaylo Ivanov, Hristo Gospodinov, Velimir Ivanovic, Mladen Stoev and Kostadin Hazurov. Regulars Yordan Todorov and Lyubomir Vitanov signed for Lokomotiv Plovdiv so the intention of changing the squad is obvious. A lot of new players arrived, that could cover all the four main positions – two goalkeepers, two defenders, six midfielders and a striker. Logical moves, because most of the leaving players were midfielders.

Minyor started their preparation unconvincingly, losing to Vihren, Pirin, Botev Vratsa and Targu Mures, but from then on they really got in track and recorded draws with Universitatea Craiova and Chernomorets Odessa, before beating Esbjerg and GKS Katowice.

It’s really tough to predict where Minyor will finish the championship. I think they will finish ahead of the relegation zone, because they have traditions and good support. Brining so many new players reveals the ambitions of the board for change, so I am going to trust them that they’ve found the right players. Midfielders Todorov and Vitanov will be missed, there’s no doubt about that, but Czech midfielder Oklestek comes with a solid CV from Brno, Brahimi is a Saint-Etienne trainee, while Vandev and Yoshev have elite experience from playing for Lokomotiv Plovdiv. Rumen Rangelov and Goran Jankovic are also good players, so Minyor will take my credit. The first game of the spring is against Litex – a very tough start, but I doubt there will be easy matches for Minyor. A place just above the relegation zone will be fair enough for Minyor, who will try to avoid relegation.

Prediction: 12th – 13th place

Pirin Blagoevgrad

Transfers in Transfers Out
Dimitar Koemdzhiev (Vihren Sandanski) Blagoy Makendzhiev (CSKA Sofia)
Atanas Arshinkov (PFC Bansko) Stanislav Kostov (CSKA Sofia)
Atanas Zehirov (free agent) Atanas Nikolov (Septemvri Simitli)
Dimitar Nakov (FK Montana) Boris Kondev (Turan Tovuz)
Georgi Kakalov (Botev Plovdiv) Zoran Zlatkovski (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Ventsislav Bengyuzov (Litex Lovech, loan) Georgi Georgiev (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Dimitar Iliev (CSKA Sofia, loan) Kiril Chobanov (Malesh Mikrevo)
Vasil Vakadinov (youth team) Viktor Petakov (Chernomorets Pomorie)
Metodi Kostov (youth team) Zahari Dimitrov (Malesh Mikrevo)
Anton Karachanakov (youth team) Blagoy Paskov (Chavdar Etropole)
Smilen Zlatanov (youth team) Andrey Stoev (OFK Sliven)
  Diyan Moldovanov (Slavia Sofia)
  Miroslav Todorov (released)
Winter Preparation (7W - 5D - 0L 19:7)
Pirin Blagoevgrad Pirin Razlog 21.01 1:1 (0:1)
/Stoykov 65'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad Lokomotiv Plovdiv 22.01 3:1 (2:0)
/Mitrevski 11' ; Stoykov 44' ; Orachev 88'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad PFC Bansko 25.01 1:1 (0:1)
/Karachanakov 47'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad Minyor Pernik 28.01 4:3 (1:0)
/Savchenko 18' ; Gruevski 62' ; Katsimerski 67' ; Zehirov 88'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad Septemvri Simitli 02.02 4:0 (0:0)
/Mitrevski 68' ; Zehirov 73' ; Nakov ; Stoykov 87'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad Pirin Gotse Delchev 04.02 0:0 (0:0)
Pirin Blagoevgrad Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo 05.02 2:1 (0:0)
/Paskov 56' ; Stoykov 67'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad Etar Veliko Tarnovo 09.02 1:0 (1:0)
/Tsvetkov 24'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad CSKA U19 10.02 2:0 (0:0)
/Nakov 55 ; Vodenicharov 70'/
Pirin Blagoevgrad Malesh Mikrevo 12.02 0:0 (0:0)
Pirin Blagoevgrad Pirin Razlog 15.02 0:0
Suspended in 11th minute
Pirin Blagoevgrad Vihren Sandanski 19.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Ivanov 65'/

Pirin Blagoevgrad EmblemPirin had a very tough autumn and even tougher winter. The team is torn by financial instability and many players cancelled their contracts in the break. Luckily, the institution named “Pirin” will always tempt some players to give their maximum.

Many regulars left Pirin this winter – goalkeeper Makendzhiev (CSKA), defenders Georgiev (Ludogorets) and Moldovanov (Slavia) and forwards Zlatkovski (Ludogorets), Kostov (CSKA) and Kondev (Turan Tovuz). Yanko Sandanski was on his way to leave the club, but failed to reach an agreement with Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the very last moment and decided to stay. Coach Kostadin Angelov knew he had to bring some new players, despite the unpleasant financial situation. Goalkeeper Atanas Arshinkov moved from Bansko, former Pirin players Nakov and Koemdzhiev returned, yongsters Zehirov and Bengyuzov also joined... The last two newcomers are forwards Georgi Kakalov and Dimitar Iliev, who have a decent experience in the elite.

Pirin didn’t lose a single game in the preparation and that’s astonishing. Even at the beginning, when it was pretty unclear whether Pirin will continue functioning, the Blagoevgrad side won over Lokomotiv Plovdiv and Minyor Pernik, fellow elite teams. This good form eventually continued until the end for all the 12 matches. And if I remember right, at the end of December Pirin were tipped as one of the teams to finish on one of the two bottom places.

I believe won’t relegate. This team showed great spirit in the preparation and I think it will be transferred onto the official games. Blagoevgrad will Pirin’s fortress, where every point will be precious. Forwards Kakalov and Iliev are capable of ensuring hard times for the oppositions, while youngsters Zehirov and Bengyuzov are hungry for first-team football. Let’s do not forget about the presence of Yakimov, Sandanski and Stoykov in the team. I think Pirin will leave the playoff spot and will finish on 12th or 13th position in the end.

Prediction: 12th – 13th place

OFK Sliven

Transfers in Transfers Out
Dimcho Nenov (coach, youth team) Dragoljub Simonovic (rcoach, resigned)
Ivaylo Petrov (Svetkavitsa Targovishte, end of loan) Ivan Kokonov (Slavia Sofia)
Georgi Karaneychev (Ludogorets Razgrad) Filip Filipov (Slavia Sofia)
Stoyan Stefanov (Kaliakra Kavarna) Vladislav Yamukov (Beroe Stara Zagora)
Milen Mitev (Beroe Stara Zagora) Miroslav Mindev (Etar Veliko Tarnovo)
Stayko Stoychev (Kom-Minyor Berkovitsa) Adriano Miranda (Tuna Luso)
Dilyan Kolev (Kom-Minyor Berkovitsa) Milen Vasilev (Minyor Pernik)
Andrey Stoev (Pirin Blagoevgrad) Deyan Hristov (Kairat Almaty)
Plamen Dimitrov (Neftokhimik Burgas) Petar Stoyanov (CSKA Sofia)
Georgi Nedyalkov (Levski Sofia) Nikolay Dimitrov (Botev Plovdiv)
Stoyan Georgiev (Dunav Ruse) Evgeni Ignatov (Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo)
Martin Tsirkov (Dunav Ruse) Martin Kovachev (Vostok Oskemen)
Milcho Makendzhiev (Lokomotiv Mezdra) David Lazari (released)
Marko Ilic (Spartak Varna)  
Hristiyan Popov (Lokomotiv Plovdiv, loan)  
Veselin Marchev (Lokomotiv Plovdiv, loan)  
Georgi Hashev (Beroe Stara Zagora, loan)  
Winter Preparation (6W - 3D - 0L 18:8)
OFK Sliven FK Dimitrovgrad 22.01 4:2 (2:2)
/Mitev ; Nikolov 34' ; Malamov ; Balezdrov/
OFK Sliven Zagorets Nova Zagora 25.01 2:1
/Mihaylov 14' ; Veselinov 35'/
OFK Sliven Botev Plovdiv 26.01 1:1 (0:0)
/Stoychev 90'/
OFK Sliven Tundzha Yambol 29.01 4:0 (2:0)
/Penev 12' ; Nikolaev x2 ; Aleksiev 66'/
OFK Sliven Dorostol Silistra 29.01 1:0 (0:0)
OFK Sliven FC Lyubimetz 05.02 2:2 (0:0)
/Bakalov 53', 73'/
OFK Sliven Chernomorets Pomorie 09.02 1:1 (0:0)
/Veselinov 73'/
OFK Sliven PFC Nesebar 12.02 2:1 (1:1)
/Petrov 8' pen. ; Popov 72'/
OFK Sliven FK Svilengrad 15.02 1:0 (0:0)
/Marchev 47'/
OFK Sliven Yantra Gabrovo 22.02 7:2 (1:0)
/Karaneychev 42' ; Veselinov 55', 57', 67', 70' ; Ilic ; Petrov/

OFK Sliven EmblemSliven are second last at the moment after a weak autumn period and after many changes in the winter will try to avoid relegation. Media rate their chances as very slim, they are even tipped as one of the relegating teams after the season.

Sliven, similar to Pirin, have financial problems, so the coach and many players left in the winter, 8 of them regulars – three defenders, four midfielders and an attacker. A lot of players, hungry for elite football signed for Sliven and will try to prove themselves in the following weeks. I do not know the qualities of the most of the newcomers; I can just say that they are pretty inexperienced in the elite.

Sliven didn’t concede a loss in the preparation, but the team played only against lower league sides – from second and third divisions. You can see that one big percentage of the matches have been pretty even. The squad is containing players of second division level, who are determined to make a step up. They will a good opportunity, that’s for sure.

Sliven parted ways with many experienced players – experienced midfielder Miroslav Mindev signed for Etar, best player (in my eyes) Deyan Hristov went to Kazakhstan, defenders Yamukov, Filipov and Kovachev also chose to continue their careers elsewhere, winger Ignatov joined fellow elite strugglers Vidima, Milen Vasilev signed for Minyor and Brazilian attacking midfielder Adriano Miranda returned to his homeland. The biggest loss, however, maybe the departure of coach Dragoljub Simonovic, who really worked wonders with this team in the recent years. The youth coach Dimcho Nenov took his place and many players were signed in the winter, but I can’t see any really good players among them. They will have the chance to prove me wrong, but in my eyes Sliven will finish on one of the bottom places in the end of the season.

Prediction: 15th – 16th place

Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo

Transfers in Transfers Out
Evgeni Ignatov (OFK Sliven) Plamen Iliev (Levski Sofia)
Plamen Kolev (Chernomorets Pomorie) Anatoli Todorov (PFC Brestnik)
Lyubomir Velichkov (Sportist Svoge) Kostadin Adzhov (Minyor Pernik)
Ivan Skerlev (PFC Brestnik) Vladimir Pekin (released)
Hristo Gospodinov (Minyor Pernik) Zdravko Stankov (released)
Atanas Ivanov (Pirin Gotse Delchev) Atanas Pashkulev (released)
Ivaylo Vasilev (Levski Sofia, loan) Emil Stoev (released)
Kalin Shtarkov (Levski Sofia, loan) Dobri Dobrev (released)
Winter Preparation (2W - 4D - 2L 11:9)
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo FC Lyubimetz 22.01 1:1 (0:0)
/Vladinov 88'/
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo Etar Veliko Tarnovo 26.01 1:1 (1:0)
/Velichkov 15'/
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo Septemvri Simitli 03.02 3:2
/Vladinov ; Velichkov x2/
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo Pirin Blagoevgrad 05.02 1:2 (0:0)
/Rusev 63'/
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo PFC Bansko 07.02 3:0 (2:0)
/Gospodinov 22' ; Branekov 40' ; Tsvetkov 58'/
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo Malesh Mikrevo 09.02 0:0 (0:0)
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo Botev Vratsa 12.02 1:1 (1:1)
/Vladimirov 35'/
Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo Spartak Pleven 16.02 1:2 (1:1)
/Velev 16' pen./

Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo EmblemVidima tasted the bitter reality in the elite and are currently on the last place. The Rakovski side has to put a lot of effort in order to stay, but they will depend on the other teams, too.

There weren’t many changes in Vidima this winter. Regular goalkeeper Plamen Iliev was sold to Levski, but Plamen Kolev arrived from Chernomorets Pomorie in order to replace him. Regular defender Zdravko Stankov was released, as well as some rotation players, namely Anatoli Todorov, Vladimir Pekin, Emil Stoev and Dobri Dobrev. From the arrivals I can note the left back Kalin Shtarkov on loan from Levski and midfielders Ignatov (Sliven) and Gospodinov (Minyor).

Vidima were unconvincing in the friendlies, winning only against Septemvri Simitli and Bansko (both second division). Losing to third division side Spartak Pleven was very awkward and I have doubts over Vidima’s chances of survival.

I think Vidima will join Sliven on their way to second division. This Vidima squad just hasn’t got the necessary quality, IMO. There’s just nothing to be optimistic about – regular goalkeeper left, the other part of the squad from the autumn that finished last is kept. I am writing too little for Vidima but that’s because I can’t say much. The Rakovski can prove me wrong, but I think that’s improbable – I see them relegating after the end of the season.

Prediction: 15th – 16th place

Well, that’s all from me. I hope this preview will be helpful for you and the Bulgarian championship will catch your attention. Of course, I can’t guess right all my predictions, but I wanted to share my expectations and estimations just before the second half of the season. I wish you the best of luck!