NB1 Round 1 preview

Hello everyone!  We’re back!

After what seemed like a short summer break, we welcome back the teams of NB1 on Saturday as they raise the curtain on another season. No longer will we see the likes of Gyirmót and MTK as they’ve slipped into the murky waters of NBII. Instead Puskás Akadémia and Balmazújváros have climbed into the fray and will begin testing their mettle against the top teams in the country to see if they have what it take to remain in the top tier.

The start of the season has come early for some with Champions League and Europa League qualifiers already underway, but for the rest – competitive football begins this weekend. Read on for a quick summary of each club’s summer moves and a preview to their opening games.

I also welcome Gaby Kovács who will join me this season in making predictions for each week’s NB1 matches. I’m guessing he’ll have me buried by midseason.

Saturday, 15 July

Paks vs Újpest
at Paksi Stadion, Paks

Paks: Last season Paks equaled their second highest finish as they reached 5th place with their third highest points haul in the top flight (45). At home they only lost once in 16 games while conceding just 9 goals – a veritable fortress. Over the summer Paks have made very little change to their club. They did bring on left back Ádám Hajdú as a permanent signing from Honvéd despite being seldom used on loan last season. They also added forward Bence Daru from Zalaegerszeg for depth up front. Their main threat on attack last season was winger László Bartha who scored 11 goals in 27 appearances. Lajos Bertus was another catalyst in attack with 2 goals and 8 assists, but attack was not their forte. Paks shone on defense and veterans Dávid Kulcsar and Zsolt Gévay were instrumental in keeping them close in most games.

Újpest: After finishing a seventh straight season without qualifying for Europe, Újpest are looking to turn things around in Nebosja Vignjević’s third season with the club. Now off the UEFA naughty list they were able to dip into the transfer market this summer and they made a headfirst dive! After conceding more goals at home than any team in the league they had to make some wholesale changes to their back line and they look to have addressed that issue. They started by releasing veteran goalkeeper Szabolcs Balajcza and bringing on 23 year-old Filip Pajovic from Cukarički into their ranks. Defender Jonathan Heris departed to make way for Cracovia defender Róbert Litauszki. They also picked up Mijusko Bojovic from relegated Gyirmót.
On attack they dumped wingers Nemanja Andric and Souleymane Diarra and in their place they brought on Donát Zsóter (Sint-Truiden) and Branko Pauljevic (Mesokövesd). Winger Krisztián Simon returned to the club after an injury-riddled season at 1860 Munich. They also signed Soma Novothny who played on loan for DVTK last season – a physical forward who chimed in with 4 goals in 23 appearances to help Diósgyor escape relegation. Újpest’s best transfer business to date, however, has been who they haven’t sold – Enis Bardhi. The fantastic Macedonian showcased his talent at the U21 European Championship this summer and so far has not been claimed by a larger club. It’s unlikely he’ll be with the club come September but for now Vignjević can start the season with his midfield engine intact.

Prediction: Paks 1-1 Újpest
If Paks can continue their solid defensive play at home then they’ll be a formidable opponent. It’s too soon for Lilák to be ‘world-beaters’ and they’ll be happy with a point at Fehérvári úti stadion.

Gaby’s prediction: Paks 1-1 Újpest

Debrecen vs Mezokövesd
at Nagyerdei Stadion, Debrecen

Debrecen: An 8th place finish was the club’s worst in 16 years as they suffered through managerial turnover and substandard performances on the pitch last season. Loki tried to keep the faith with Portuguese boss Leonel Pontes but in the end couldn’t justify near relegation as Director of Sport András Herczeg took over the reins for a second stint to push the team over the finish line last term.
Debrecen have seen most of their summer movement between the posts as their number one, Branislav Danilovic returned to Puskás and they shipped backup István Verpecz to Paks. In return they plucked Oleksander Nad from Gyirmót and Ján Novotna from Rapid Vienna. The one area they haven’t bolstered yet was their biggest weakness last season – forward. They employed 10 forwards last season. As a group they scored 10 goals with none scoring more than two goals. Attacking midfielder Dávid Holman led the way with 7 goals, and winger Norbert Könyves turned it up toward the end of the season scoring 4 goals in 17 games.
It looks as if Herczeg is going to bring some homegrown players through and give them a shot as the team rebuilds which could mean another long season for Loki.

Mezokovesd: In their first season back in NB1 they had a great start under manager Attila Pintér reaching 5th place by December. Pintér left for Puskás over the mid-season break and they fell off greatly in the second half of the season under replacement Tomislav Sivić. Under Sivić’s leadership their solid defense began to collapse and Mikuláš Radványi was brought in at the end to secure safety from the drop in the final few weeks of the season. With only two wins in their final 13 games and leaking goals at over a 2 goal per game average they needed to work on shoring up their defense. Mezo made a number of changes this summer bringing in no less than ten players including MTK left back Dániel Vadnai and Rapid Vienna centre back Attila Szalai.
Mezokovesd were another team that lacked a singular target man. Ulysse Diallo was probably their closest player to fit that role but he was inconsistent at best and switched to Puskás over the summer. 22 year-old Csanád Novak was brought in from Vasas as well as attacking midfielder Jakub Brasen from Dunajska Streda to hopefully bring some help to Gábor Molnár who led the team with 8 goals and 7 assists last season.

Prediction: Debrecen 1-1 Mezokövesd
I’m predicting a low scoring affair where both sides will probably cancel each other out.

Gaby’s prediction: Debrecen 2-0 Mezokövesd

Budapest Honvéd vs Haladas
at Bozsik Jószef Stadion, Budapest

Honvéd: The champions will kick of their title defense against Haladás who they beat twice and drew once last season. Since Honvéd won the league they have already seen a change in manager as Marco Rossi didn’t even wait for the bubbles on the champagne to clear before announcing his departure. Dutch manager Erik van der Meer took the reins this summer and has made very few changes to his inherited squad. He added veteran Brazilian forward Danilo on a free as his only impact signing which may show some respect for the squad that delivered Kispest’s first title in 24 years.
They made a solid start to their Champions League campaign this week with a narrow defeat in Beer Sheva where Davide Lanzafame scored an important away goal against the Israeli side. With that result behind them and the confidence of being champions, Honvéd will have some momentum heading into their first game of the season.

Haladás: In his second full season with the club Géza Mészöly led Haladás to an expected mid-table position last term. Haladás had bursts of good form but finished the season with just one point in their last four matches dropping them into sixth place. Forward Bálint Gaál started the season with them and looked to be on course for a career season with 7 goals in 14 games but was transferred to Vasas over the winter break where he became a rotation player. David Williams found his form in the second half and picked up the offensive workload with 11 goals and four assists to lead the team. Defensive midfielder Bence Iszlai was another player who had a standout season for the club with six goals and five assists but has since has been released from the club.
41 year old goalkeeper Gábor Király will continue to don the gloves for Hali this season which is a positive in terms of leadership on the pitch but the question will remain if he’s up for it physically throughout the season. Mészöly has brought in some defensive help in right back Dávid Tóth and left back Milán Németh, both from Sopron. He’s also unloaded seldom used central midfielder Sjoerd Overgoor to Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch second tier, and forward Zsolt Gaidos who transferred to Nyíregyháza.
Haladás have bolstered their attack by bringing on veteran forward Miroslav Grumic from Kozármisleny and 20 year-old Patrik Pinte from Slovan Bratislava.

Prediction: Honvéd 2-1 Haladás
With one eye on next week’s Champions League second leg against Hapoel Beer Sheva, Honvéd might be a bit distracted but not enough to miss out on maximum points here.

Gaby’s prediction: Honvéd 3-0 Haladás

Sunday, 16 July

Ferencváros vs Puskás
at Groupama Aréna, Budapest

Ferencváros: In what can only be considered a season of disappointment, Ferencváros ended their title defense finishing out of the European spots in fourth place. They did win the Magyar Kupa which put them in the Europa League and they have already advanced past the first qualifying round with a 3-0 aggregate win over Latvian side Jelgava.
Manager Thomas Doll has the giant task of reclaiming the club’s unbeatable status and in typical “Doll-like” fashion he’s made numerous changes to jettison dead weight and add talent. The most notable departure was midfielder László Kleinheilser who was on loan from Werder Bremen. No offer was made to extend his stay and he moved to Kazakhstan side FC Astana.
Doll also let 8 goal scorer Marco Djuricin return to parent club Red Bull Salzburg and unloaded midfielder Florian Trinks and defender Oliver Hüsing as well.
In return Fradi welcomed aboard forwards Tamás Priskin (Slovan Bratislava) and Lukács Bole (Iasi) who have already paid dividends as they’ve both contributed to their first round win over Jelgava in the Europa League. Uruguayan midfielder Fernando Gorriarán and Portuguese attacking midfielder Rui Pedro are exciting additions to the club as well, but last season’s uncovered gem Roland Varga is set to have breakout campaign. After coming on strong toward the end of last season, Varga has looked solid with 3 goals in Europe already.

Puskás Akadémia: Puskás won the NBII last season bouncing right back into the top flight after just a season away. Manager Attila Pintér left Mezokóvesd to take over in late December and guided them the rest of the way. Unsurprisingly they have seen a lot of turnover since promotion and have added a number of players. Starting from the back they will have talented and experienced stopper Branislav Danilovic (returning on loan from DVTK) between the sticks. Former Újpest duo Jonathan Heris and Balázs Balogh should strengthen their spine while midfielder Patrick Mevoungou (Diósgyor) and Ulysse Diallo (Mezokövesd) will attempt to give them enough quality in attack to keep them in games. They also picked up Ferencváros forward András Radó who will give them some depth up top.
They seem to be a team building for the future and will be aiming to stay up this season.

Prediction: Ferencváros 3-1 Puskás
Fradi were cruising against Midtjylland in the Champions League this week before a late first half red card and penalty turned the tide and tipped the scales for the Danish side who ran out 4-2 winners in Budapest. That result and the ensuing second leg in Denmark will surely be on the minds of Ferencváros but it shouldn’t stop them from making a positive start to the season.

Gaby’s prediction: Ferencváros 3-1 Puskás

Vasas vs Diósgyor
at Szusza Ferenc Stadion, Budapest

Vasas: A surprisingly positive start to last season allowed Vasas to finish among the top sides one season removed from a relegation battle. Michael Oenning has put together a squad that can beat any team in the NB1, but their first foray into continental football in 12 years was one to forget. Vasas were cruising with a 3-1 lead over Beitar Jerusalem in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier when they conceded 3 goals in the final few minutes to scupper their chances. The return leg in Budapest was a continuation of Beitar’s ascendancy as they put three past Oenning’s side to brush past them on the way to the 2nd qualifying round.
Vasas have been conservative in the transfer market again. With central defender Zsolt Korcsmár transferring to Midtjylland, Oenning looked to fill that hole with Czech defender Vit Benes who has signed from Dukla Prague but has yet to be cleared by the league to play because of the discovery that he had a kidney removed 15 years ago.
Vasas are also uncertain about the futures of defender and Canadian national Manjrekar James as well as secondary striker Mahir Saglik (contract). Rumors have them linked with Ferencváros attacking midfielder István Bognár and Honvéd’s Patrik Hidi but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

Diósgyor: DVTK were headed for relegation until the appointed Brøndby assistant Tamás Bódog in March. From the point of his arrival, Diósgyor lost just two of their last ten matches and the club escaped relegation because, level on points, they had two more victories than MTK in the end.
Bódog looks to be keeping the core of his squad and mainly adding young, home-grown players to his squad. He did sign useful forward Nikolaos Ioannidis from Asteras Tripoli who isn’t expected to light up Christmas trees with his numbers but should add some depth to his attacking corps. Diósgyor didn’t have a target man last season with six players scoring 4 or more goals and that’s something they’ll need to address at some point this summer.
There’s really only one direction for DVTK to go – anything else will mean utter disappointment and relegation this season.

Prediction: Vasas 2-2 Diósgyor
This is my surprise pick as DVTK ended the season on a high and have had a good preseason. Vasas have played in two competitive games already but it may have done more harm than good as their defensive deficiencies have been exposed.

Gaby’s prediction: Vasas 2-1 Diósgyor

Videoton vs Balmazújváros
at Pancho Aréna, Felcsút

Videoton: Marko Nikolic took over from Henning Berg after the final game of the season that denied Videoton their second title in three years. Nikolic’s summer has been rather bright with his new club as they’ve successfully navigated past Maltese side Balzan in the first qualifying round and then got off to a good start against Kalju with a 3-0 first leg win in Estonia earlier this week in the second qualifying round.
In the transfer market Nikolic has been quiet, bringing in only one player – young left back Krisztián Tamás from relegated Gyirmót. They have a solid team with an experienced attack force led by Serbian duo Mark Scepovic and Danko Lazovic who scored 23 goals between them. Young forward Krisztián Géresi is set to have a solid season as well if he can break into the squad on a more regular basis.
Vidi’s defense is very good as well conceding the least goals (28) over the season with captain Roland Juhász leading the back line. Vinícius and Maté Pátkai also add to a strong a deep defense that should be just as solid this season.

Balmazújváros: Winning promotion on the last match day of the season was quite a feat for this small town club who are making their first appearance in the NB1. Ferenc Horváth replaced the title-winning manager Tamás Feczkó soon after the team won promotion and Horváth returns to NB1 after piloting DVTK to the relegation zone last season.
With plenty of hope at the start of the season Balmaz will have to know that they are in for a tough season and should be preparing for a quick trip back down.
Horváth did well to bring in winger Nemanja Andric from Újpest and defensive midfielder Attila Haris from Ferencváros. Hard work does pay off in this league, however, and if they can put together some good results and create a positive atmosphere in the dressing room anything can happen.

Prediction: Videoton 3-0 Balmazújváros
Videoton are in the middle of Europa League qualifying and they are in high gear in terms of form, but they may take it easy on Sunday to make sure they have enough to put Kalju to the sword later in the week. Balmaz will be looking to keep the score respectable here.

Gaby’s prediction: Videoton 4-0 Blamazújváros