NBI – round 20 preview

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So, in case you’ve been counting (and I have) it will have been 69 days 23 hours and 49 minutes at kickoff on Saturday since we’ve last seen live Hungarian top flight football. That’s a long time for most people, but for some of you that’s not a big deal. You’re the ones who celebrated the holidays, rang in the New Year, took in a film or binge-watched a Netflix Original series … but come on! Ten weeks feels like an eternity (at least to me). What’s happened in the last ten weeks? A new Star Wars movie was released, the U.S. got a new President, the New England Patriots won another Super Bowl, Cameroon won the African Cup of Nations, and Dmitri Payet left for France.

So much is happening in the world of sports, why look into this relatively small league on the vast European landscape? Because this has been a drama-filled, roller-coaster campaign for NBI thus far. The first half of the season saw the likes of Vasas take the league by the throat early on before the chasing pack caught up to them – leaving a three way tie at the top of the table right as the league shut down for the holidays. Last season’s champions Ferencváros, who had nearly clinched the title at this point last season, are four points off the pace in fourth and under a lot of pressure to retain the title.
Join the few who have discovered the gem of the Nemzeti Bajnokság I, and gear up for the final 14 matches of the season. It’s going to be a great ride. Here are the reports ahead of each game this week.

Gyirmót (12th) vs Paks (8th)
at Alcufer Stadion

Gyirmót dropped into the relegation zone on 29 October and haven’t seen the light of day since. They have lost eight consecutive matches and have only scored twice in that span (dating back to 15 October). Leading scorer Dániel Sallói (2 goals) is already on his way back to Kansas City to get ready for the start of the MLS season, and with no one else stepping up as a goal threat the future looks bleak for Gyirmót. They did add a number of players over the break including Ukrainian winger Volodymyr Tanchyk who is the most intriguing if not the best of the new recruits. Tanchyk played regularly for Olimpic Donetsk who were fourth in the Premier Liga and will look to bring some pace and creativity to their attack.
The last time Gyor won at home was against Vasas but, impressive a result as that was, it was back in September. For István Urbányi and his squad it’s going to be more a question of damage control rather than searching for a way to survive the drop.
Paksi, on the other hand, are a team that impressed in the last few weeks before the break. Consecutive victories over Haladás and Vasas pulled them out of the relegation zone and into 9th place – 3 points clear of the red zone. János Hahn leads the way on offense (5 goals, 1 assist), scoring the winner against Vasas in their last league match. Their away form hasn’t been great but they did defeat Ferencváros at Groupama in early November.
Their first encounter with Gyirmot this season ended in a goalless draw at Paks. It was their first competitive meeting in over ten years, and it’s quite probable that a similar result will take place this week. There were only 7 goalless draws in 114 games in the first 19 rounds, however,so I’ll go for a low scoring draw.

Prediction: Gyirmót 1-1 Paksi

Key facts:
– No player on Gyirmót’s current roster has scored more than one league goal this season
– Gyirmót have scored just four goals in their nine home matches
– Paksi have lost just once in their last six league matches
– Gyirmót have not scored in over 372 minutes of competitive football

MTK Budapest (11th) vs Budapest Honvéd (2nd)
at Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium

New MTK supremo Zsolt Tamási survived the transfer window without losing his leading goal-scorer Sándor Torghelle while picking up another attacker in January. Yuri Kolomoets moved from struggling Vorskla Poltava in the Ukrainian Premier Liga and the 26 year-old striker promptly scored for MTK on his debut – a 2-0 friendly win against Senica. As bad as MTK have been on the road this season, they’ve gone unbeaten at home in their last six. They also haven’t won in their last six games and that simply comes down to a lack of goals. The last time MTK scored more than one goal in a league match was in their 3-2 defeat at Vasas in mid-October. Tamási is hoping that Kolomoets (7 goals in 14 games with Vorskla this season) can help contribute to the cause.
Honvéd ended the first half of the season with a six-match unbeaten run including five victories to put them joint top of the league. Impressively, they’ve only conceded 3 goals in that stretch as well. However, Honvéd’s winter break business has left me scratching my head. They allowed their hottest goal-scorer Dániel Prosser to join NBII side Puskás Akedémia. Perhaps it was a move necessitated by market value, but Prosser had scored three goals in Honvéd’s last six contests and was a big factor in Kispest reaching the top spot in December. They looked very good to rattle the cage and challenge for their first title since 1993 but the jury is still out. They also parted ways with right back Endre Botka (to Fradi) and picked up Balázs Villám, who hasn’t played top flight football for two years.
These types of games are so hard to predict because, after such a long layoff, much will depend upon chemistry and mindset. MTK played five friendlies starting in January, and Honvéd just two, but Honvéd played competitive football last week in a 2-1 Magyar Kupa first leg defeat against Ferencváros. Davide Lanzafame was back on the scoresheet for the first time since ending his seven-match goal scoring run back in early November. Can Marco Rossi pull off a tactical masterpiece and lead this side to a title? Can they repeat their September 5-0 thrashing of MTK? I’m guessing not and it will start with a frustrating draw at the concrete palace.

MTK Budapest 1-1 Budapest Honvéd

Key facts:
– The home team has won 5 of the last six meetings between these two clubs
– MTK were winless in their last six league matches but had four draws
– MTK haven’t lost at home to Honvéd since 2011 and have only lost twice to them there in their last 19 meetings.

Mezőkövesd (6th) vs Diósgyor (9th)
at Mezőkövesd Városi Stadion

As the first half of the season came to a close many were talking about how impressive a job Attila Pintér had done at Mezőkövesd as they sat in sixth position in their first season back in the top flight. Pintér has since moved on to Puskás and his successor, Tomislav Sivic, has some mighty big shoes to fill. Their last two home matches were stuff of legend – victories over Videoton and Ferencváros were inspirational and added to the magic of this season’s competition. One major need for Mezo was the addition of a proven goal-scorer. Pintér brought in Ulysse Diallo who scored three goal in his first two games and then went quiet. There were rumors that his services were being peddled in Turkey but he wasn’t interested in making a change. Mezo did acquire 30 year-old Serbian striker Lazar Veselinovic from the K-League, replacing seldom-used Jan Vosahlik who returned home to the Czech Republic at FK Teplice.
A big boost for Mezőkövesd came in goalkeeper Tomas Tujvel who has kept five clean sheets in their last seven matches.
Diósgyor had a bit of a renaissance in their final four games of the first half. Home wins over Haladás, Paksi and Gyirmót might not seem impressive but they did they the job and picked up maximum points against teams fighting it out in the bottom half of the table. DVTK’s problems have come on their travels, however. They lost 7 of their 9 away games conceding a massive 23 goals. Ferenc Horváth did nothing to address this issue during the winter break. In fact, he lost his most potent attacker István Bognár in a swap deal to Ferencváros. It will be interesting to see how his replacement, Attila Busai, does in his place in central midfield.
I’m not expecting a stroll here for Mezőkövesd but they should still feel pretty confident heading into this one. The only match they played in since the break was a goalless first leg against Gyirmót in the cup. DVTK defeated Cegledi 1-0 on Valentines Day to advance in the cup as well – a rare away victory.

Prediction: Mezőkövesd 2-0 Diósgyor

Key facts:
– Mezőkövesd have won their last four league games at home, conceding just one goal in that span.
– DVTK haven’t lost to Mezőkövesd in their last five meetings home or away
– Roland Ugrai scored his third goal in DVTK’s last five competitive matches in their midweek win over Cegledi.

Vasas SC (3rd) vs Szombathelyi Haladás (7th)
at Szusza Ferenc Stadium

Vasas were the darlings of the league in the autumn as they took a page out of Leicester City’s 2015/16 campaign and kept up the momentum of a strong start to being joint top of the league in December. Manager Michael Oenning went about his business during the winter break in the right way, keeping the majority of the players who got him where they are and adding a pinch of scoring up top. The addition of Bálint Gaál was nothing short of masterful for Vasas. The striker scored 6 goals in his last eight matches for Haladás and will bring to bear that form against his former side as the season gets back underway. Mahir Saglik, who missed the last three games of the autumn season due to suspension, will be back and that will do nothing but help their cause. He had scored four goals in five matches before his red card against Fradi.
Haladás have not won away in six matches and have lost their last four on the road. The loss of Gaál will hurt, but Gezá Mészöly has brought in a bouquet of attacking options that will be fun to watch. U-17 Nigerian World Champion winger Funsho Bamgboye has been brought in from Qatar, and Karol Mészáros was plucked from Debrecen’s dust bin. Also Zsolt Gajdos was brought in from Puskás to replace Sjoerd Ars who left for Fortuna Sittard in the Dutch Second Tier.
Vasas should return with complete confidence that they have the winning mentality and all the right pieces to make a sustained title run as the season goes on.

Prediction: Vasas 3-1 Haladás

Key facts:
– Vasas have won just once in their last six league matches
– Haladás have score one goal in each of their last six games (Bálint Gaál scored five of them)
– Vasas have never lost to Haladás at home (5W, 3D)

*UPDATE – the Vasas – Haladás match has been officially called off due to a bad pitch. 

Videoton (1st) vs Újpest FC (5th)
at Pancho Arená, Felcsút

In our latest podcast I was initially very skeptical of Videoton’s business over the break. Allowing league-leading goal scorer Róbert Feczesin to leave for Korea seemed daft for a team that has shown they have what it takes to challenge all rivals for the title this season. However, upon closer inspection, 30 year old Feczesin had scored six of his eight goals by early September and has only scored twice since then. The tandem of Danko Lazovic and Marko Scepovic have combined for 12 goals to make up for Feczesin’s drop off since then. Also, Krisztián Géresi has chimed in with 5 more so they had an abundance of scoring potential and Feczesin might have just been an expensive surplus to requirements.
Újpest did nothing over the break (as if they had a choice) but they can be proud of a solid display that put them in a good position to challenge for a Europa League qualification spot. Nebojša Vignjevic saw his team end a run of six draws with two victories in their last four matches. Lilák are unbeaten in ten and much of it has been down to the energy and leadership of 21 year old midfielder Enis Bardhi. The Macedonia international has been superb again this season with 8 league goals. Bardhi continued to show that he’s still in fine form with another goal in Ùjpest’s 4-1 cup win over Zalaegerszegi last week.
Look for Lilák to make a game of it, but their propensity to let up late goals will hurt them in this one.

Prediction Videoton 2-1 Ùjpest

Key facts:
– Videoton had the best home goal differential of any NBI club in the fall (+17)
– Vidi have not lost to Ùjpest at home since 2009 (8W, 3D)
– Ùjpest haven’t been defeated in their last 9 away days

Debrecen (10th) vs Ferencváros (4th)
at Nagyerdei Stadion

It’s out with the old and in with the new for champions Ferencváros who made significant changes to a side that has not met expectations this term. Fradi manager Thomas Doll will be out of excuses if his current side can’t produce for him now. With the best signing of the window (in my opinion) Fradi brought in Hungarian international Laszlo Kleinheisler on loan from Werder Bremen. With Dominik Nagy, Adam Pinter, and Cristian Ramirez all leaving for greener pastures, the champions needed to make some moves and they definitely brought in some talent. István Bognár was added from DVTK and Germans Julian Koch and Janek Sternberg were also brought on board. The question will be whether Doll can bring this talent together and erase the four-point gap from the top of the table. At this point last season Ferencváros practically had the league sewn up. Oh what a difference a year makes!
It’s probably a good thing they’re starting against Debrecen who are winless in five and have only scored one goal during that run. Leonel Pontes has seen his team go from being four points clear of the relegation zone to teetering on the edge of danger as the spring season begins. Leading scorer Dávid Holman has the potential to make a difference – especially from set pieces – but they will end up trying to hold off what should be a motivated Fradi side who will want to erase any speculation that they don’t have what it takes to repeat as champions.
Ferencváros hasn’t defeated Debrecen in their last two attempts on the road, but that should change here.

Prediction: Debrecen 0-2 Ferencváros

Key facts:
– Debrecen have scored one goal in their last five league matches
– Ferencváros had the worst away goal differential in the top five NBI places (-2)
– 3 of Fradi’s last five goals have either been own goals or penalties

Thanks to Gergely Marosi (Nemzeti Sport) for keeping me up to date and accurate on all fronts.