NB1 – Round 20 Preview

Eleven weeks. 77 days.
Yeah, it’s been that long since we’ve last seen NB1 football. The festive season has come and gone. A New Year has been ushered in and another Winter Olympics has run its course.
A lot can happen in eleven weeks. For the teams in the Hungarian top flight it’s been a time of movement. After 19 rounds of heavy swinging in the autumn, each team has tended to their wounded, rested their weary legs and added reinforcements to fuel hopes of a championship or to stave off relegation.
Paul Treso and Chris Barrett  haven’t slept this week as they’ve pored over the winter transfers and taken an in-depth look at Saturday’s matches – the first of 2018 and the beginning of the Spring season.

Paul: Chris,  Happy New Year to you and all Hungarian football fans.  We are nearing the end of February and the 2nd half of the season is only just  about to begin.  The weather promises to be abysmal so we will have to see how the games play out in these dire conditions with goals and/or good play questionable.  The Winter transfer season was quiet for most teams but the top and bottom clubs were busy in the quest for the championship or just staying up in the NB1.
Chris: Happy New Year Paul. It’s about time things get ramped up again. It’s been far too long and despite dire weather forecasts it will be good to see the teams return to action. It has been a relatively quiet transfer season, but there were some significant moves at the top two clubs. Dominik Nagy’s return to Ferencváros on loan from Legia will provide depth on the left side for the title challengers, while Stefan Scepovic has joined his brother Marko at Videoton forcing Ezekiel Henty on loan to Puskas to make room for the new arrival. Let the games begin!

Saturday, 24 February
Videoton vs Vasas
at Pancho Arena, Felcsút

Paul: Who knows when Szabolcs Huszti will play for Vidi?  It is an interesting, expensive signing that could prove to be a boom or bust for Vidi.   The Scepovic brothers are together with the signing of Stefan and this could post immediate benefits for Vidi.  Look for both to score here in the match.
Vasas made a few signings but none of them will make much impact on this young squad.  The fight for relegation will be real for a Vasas team that only  last year had everything go right for them.
Prediction: Videoton 3-1 Vasas

Chris: The Ezekiel Henty experiment has been scrapped after 15 league games. Five goal and three assists by the big Nigerian apparently isn’t enough to keep a spot on the team as he was shipped to Puskas to make way for Marko Scepovic’s brother Stefan who joined from Spanish side Getafe at the end of January. As Paul mentioned Huszti is an interesting signing, the 34 year-old hoping to mirror his time at Hannover a few seasons ago.
Vasas are struggling – seven matches without a victory and with only seven goals scored in their last nine, Michael Oenning’s men are a shadow of the team that threatened an unlikely championship last season. Vidi too strong at home.
Prediction: Videoton 2-0 Vasas

Debrecen vs Balmazújváros
at Nagyerdei Stadion, Debrecen

Paul: The performance of Debrecen was amazing and the question is can they keep this up?  No major additions were added to the squad other than a back up keeper. Balmazujvaros made several new signings, including Gergely Rudolf from NB2, in the hope of staying up in NB1.  With the poor weather, goals will be hard to come by in this match.
Prediction: Debrecen 1-1 Balmazújváros

Chris: Debrecen’s lighting start seemed to lose steam toward the end of the autumn season and perhaps a break was just what the doctor ordered for Andras Herczeg’s side. Loki are in third place with a three-point cushion over trailing Honvéd.
Balmaz finished the first half of the season impressively with only one defeat in their last seven matches. I’m interested to see how new winger Lasha Shindagoridze gets on after his move from Georgian first tier side Saburtalo during the transfer window, joining fellow countrymen Iraklis Maisuradze and leading scorer Bachana Arabuli.
Prediction: Debrecen 2-1 Balmazújváros

Mezőkövesd vs Puskás Akadémia
at Városi Stadion, Mezőkövesd

Paul: Mezokovesd was very busy in the Winter, signing 8 new players.  One has to admire their effort to stay up in the first division.  The squad improved later in the year and can these new additions improve the squad is the question?  Puskas also added players and have spent loads of money with very little return.  Will we ever see the great play of Henty as we did against Bordeaux in European play?  Puskas sure hope so…
Prediction: Mezőkövesd 1-1 Puskás Akadémia

Chris: Mezőkövesd finished the autumn season with consecutive goalless draws to remain rooted to the bottom of the table. With just 20 goals scored in 19 games, only Haladás scored fewer to start the season. With Marek Strestik and Lazar Veselinovic leaving the club, they brought in Stefan Drazic from Belgian side Mechelen to hopefully give them a boost up front.
Despite Puskás’ ability to effortlessly draw talent to their squad they’ve been unable to form a cohesive team. Henty is by far their biggest addition but can they get the best out of him? Attacking midfielder Gonzalo Vega is another interesting signing and time will tell if he can bring something to their inconsistent attack.
Prediction: Mezőkövesd 1-1 Puksás

Újpest vs Haladás
at Szusza Ferenc Stadion, Budapest

Paul: Haladas had a great ending to the year in beating both Fradi and Vidi while Ujpest was up and down in the Fall.  Neither team was too busy in the Winter with only minimal new signings.  Haladas is a different team away from home.  In a tight game, Ujpest may just win on a late goal.
Prediction: Újpest 2-1 Haladás

Chris: As much as I’d like to see Újpest get back to winning ways they’ll be taking on the team that ended the fall with the hottest form. Consecutive home wins against the top two with an away win against Puskás sandwiched between was a great way to enter the break. Manager Michal Hipp has really turned things around and should be encouraged at his team’s workmanlike performances.
Újpest are still a couple of steps away from a top three finish. Nebojsa Vignjevic’s side stumbled into the break with a draw and a defeat after three consecutive wins. They added left back Dzenan Burekovic from Vojvodina to shore up their back line. A change in mentality and more concentration – especially late in games – could do wonders for a team that sometimes looks quite capable of making a run. I think these two will cancel each other out this week, however.
Prediction: Újpest 2-2 Haladás

Paks vs Diósgyor
at Paksi Stadion, Paks

Paul: Not sure if either squad has markedly improved in the Winter.  DVTK signed a trio of foreigners with Brkovics being a name familiar to fans of Debrecen.  Paks were also quiet in the transfer department but are always tough at home.  I believe we had another lackluster match in Hungarian weather that may not encourage beautiful football.
Prediction: Paks 1-1 Diósgyor

Chris: Paks picked up András Simon once more after a fairly encouraging stint with relegated Gyirmot where he scored six goals and created four more in 14 appearances with the NB2 side. András is reunited with his brother Ádám who joined Paks from Haladás at the start of the season. Paks haven’t been their usual dominant selves at home this season but they’re still very formidable in front of their own fans.
Diósgyor pulled up from a steep dive at the end of the fall season with a superb 3-2 home win over Debrecen in eearly December. Manager Tamás Bódog are hoping the additions of Florent Hasani and winger Sergiy Shestakov will help spur an offense that had scored only twice in four games before their three-goal haul against Debrecen. They were hammered 4-2 at home against Paks earlier this season and I see them falling here again.
Prediction: Paks 2-1 Diósgyor

Ferencváros vs Honvéd
at Groupama Arena, Budapest (TV: M4 Sport)

Paul: Fradi really came on at the end of 2017 with the team coming together as several new signings added some extra punch to the squad.  The Joseph Pantsil saga dominated the Winter news for Fradi but he is here at least for the remainder of the season.   Barring injury and effort, the Championship is Fradi’s to lose.
Honved have a new manager but not much else.  Tonci Kukoc, the nephew of ex-NBA player Toni Kukoc  is added on defense and the only true positive addition to the squad.  Not sure the new manager will add some of last year’s fire to the squad desperately missing Marco Rossi..
Prediction: Ferencváros 2-0 Honvéd

Chris: The biggest move for champions Honvéd was the removal of manager Erik van der Meer and replacing him with a familiar face in Attila Supka. The former Szeged manager will take over Honvéd for a third time in hopes of getting Kispest back among the European places. Honvéd won their last game of 2017 to end a three-match losing run.
Thomas Doll has been busy tweaking his side over the break but there’s not much that needed to be done. Fradi ended the first half winning 10 of their last 12 games and have only conceded six goals at home all season. All signs point to a home win here but since when has common sense ruled in NB1 – especially in capital derby like this one. Look for the visitors to cause some problems as they rally around their new manager in frigid conditions.
Prediction: Ferencváros 1-1 Honvéd