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The European Journeyman Ep41

We’ve started well. This is the first season in my managerial career where I actually have some form of expectations to live up to. The SuperLiga season is 7 games old. We’re top with a three point lead, having won six and drawn one. Last season’s manager, Nebojsa Milosevic, could only manage to qualify for the Europa Conference League. The qualification rounds were long and gruelling, but we’ve made it to the group stage. Drawn against Turkish side Bestikas, Belgian Anderlecht and Scottish St Johnstone.

September sees us playing five league games and Bestikas. We have a two week break between games and up first after that is Proleter Novi Sad. They’re sitting in 5th currently but should be a mere stepping stone. Mijatovic REJECTS contract offers from Olympiakos and Valladolid to stay at the club. He’ll add a bit of extra quality to the midfield, but if more bids come in for him, they’ll be accepted. Bids DO come in for Idrissu Baba. The 30 year old Ghanian has been replaced in the starting line-up by Bulat, and there are able deputies available in the squad already. Cagliari’s £1.9 million bid is good enough for me with Werder Bremen, Hannover and Darmstadt all told to match the bid or go away. They say no but Baba says yes to Cagliari and off he goes to the land of pizza and pasta.

MATCH DAY Bjekovic and Milosavljevic come back into the match squad after being rested last time out. Simic continues up top alongside Lorenzi after scoring last time out. Once again, and despite Proleter standing quite high in the league, we start the game HOT!! Milosavljevic bursts into the area and is tripped as he’s about to pull the ball back from the by-line. The ref points to the spot, VAR confirms the decision, and after Stanic missed the last penalty, Campar steps up from 12 yards out. It’s going to be a left footed penalty…….WHICH HE BURIES HIGH TO THE KEEPERS RIGHT!!! 1-0 Red Star! The game settles down after the early goal. Red Star stay in the ascendency, but it’s not attack vs defence. Stanic brings out a wonder save from the Proleter keeper in the 20th minute, palming away his shot from all of 25 yards out. From the resulting corner though, Red Star score their second!! The dead ball is hit too hard and clears the area to the far side. The ball is worked back into Lorenzi’s feet just inside the area. A quick shuffle and he lets fly with a shot that crashes against the crossbar. The keeper is left stranded though as the ball drops at the feet of Simic who prods it into the empty net!!!…….VAR is looking at it though……Was Simic offside when Lorenzi took his shot? NO!! No he wasn’t!! 2-0 Red Star!!! The second goal has taken all the wind out of the Proleter sails and Red Star start to dominate. It’s minutes at a time that Proleter are chasing shadows. The ref finally calls time to the first half and Red Star walk down the tunnel having had a MASSIVE 64% possession.

SECOND HALF There’s nothing much that I can say to a first half performance like that. We’ve blown them away and after getting the second goal, just squeezed the life out of the opposition. The domination continues after the restart. Red Star could conceivably be accused of bullying, they are keeping the ball THAT well. With ten minutes to go, Proleter’s day goes from bad to worse. Mitrovic goes right through Bjekovic from behind and he earns a straight red for his trouble. Three minutes later and Red Star make the extra man count. Substitute Mijatovic, fresh from rejecting a move away, picks up the ball and drives at goal. The Proleter defence finally decide to close him down, but it’s to late. He takes one final touch then let’s fly with a shot that nestles in the bottom corner!!! 3-0 Red Star!! The ref once again calls time and puts Proleter out of their misery.

It’s another incredibly dominant performance. THIRTY chances and NINETEEN on target!! We finish the game with 62% possession and an impressive 93% pass completion.

Partizan have kept the gap at three points after beating Vojvodina 1-0. All attention turns to Europe now though and our trip to Istanbul to play Bestikas. If we can get a result here then it’s a massive marker for the rest of the group. There’s only four days between games and the starting eleven are given an extra days rest in an attempt to keep them fresh. It works, with the exception of Campar. He’s knackered and needs the rest. Mijatovic, fresh from his goal scoring sub appearance, moves into the starting eleven but there are no more changes needed and it’s a strong line-up that heads out in Istanbul.

MATCH DAY Bestikas are the ones that come out the block quickest. Gyan making contact with a back post header that rebounds against the crossbar and is cleared to safety. It takes a while for Red Star to get any kind of traction in the game. But when they do, it’s to lethal effect!!! Bjekovic controls a throw-in on the right and the ball makes it’s way to the roaming Cardoso. The centre-back drives at the defence and his shot is arrow straight into the bottom corner!!! 1-0 Red Star!!! We take that goal and grow into the game. Stanic grabs the midfield by the scruff of the neck and begins to boss the game. It’s his pass, on the half hour, that finds Lorenzi in the Bestikas area. Stanic gets to the by-line after chasing down an overhit Simic pass. He pulls it back to the unmarked Lorenzi on the penalty spot. He takes one touch to get the ball out of his feet, and fires it across the keeper and in off the far post!!! 2-0 Red Star!!

SECOND HALF The restart changes nothing. We control the game but can’t kill it off. Bestikas slowly come back into it and pull a goal back with twenty minutes to play!! Then, with five minues left, we finally put the result of out reach. Rosic comes out and collects a long ball before launching a counter attack. Ilijin, on as a sub, brings the ball down and brings Stankovic into the attack. His ball out wide to Lorenzi is controlled and pulled back to Stanic. Stanic plays a first time pass into Ilijin’s feet, and HIS shot is swept past the keeper and in!! 3-1 Red Star!! The final few minutes are played out in the middle of the park!! The ref blows and it’s Red Star that come away with a massive victory!! FINAL SCORE 3-1 Red Star!!

We’re still three points clear of Partizan at the top of the table and there’s another four league games until we play them. With any luck, we’ll have a bit of a bigger gap by the time we play them.

The transfer window shuts and the squad list is finalised. We had a busy window, eight players incoming and FIFTEEN heading out!! We spent £13.75m, but £11.5m of that was for Cardoso. Without that outlay we’d have received £7m for than we spent.

There’s only three days between games, so not a lot of time for things to go WRONG. On the flip side, there’s not a lot of time for the players to rest up!! The starting eleven that beat Bestikas are given extra days rest, but it’s still too soon for Bjekovic, Stanic and Milosavljevic. They’re replaced by Pankov, Campar and Mijailovic and still a team that should be too strong for Vozdovac.

MATCH DAY We dominate the opening 15 minutes, but despite carving out 8 chances, we can’t make the breakthrough. Our job is made a little harder around the twentieth minute as Lorenzi breaks down and has to be replaced. Ilijin replaces him, we continue to boss the game and finally take a chance in the 23rd minute. Campar twists and turns on the edge of the Vozdovac area and lays the ball off to Mijatovic. He takes a touch, and from fully 25 yards, finds the bottom corner!! 1-0 Red Star! Five minutes later and we’re knocking on the door again. Campar again is the spark as he plays a great reverse pass into the path of Simic, but his tame shot is easily saved. With ten minutes to half time, Bulat has a chance for glory. His freekick, from 20 yards out, rebounds off the crossbar before being hacked away. Ilijin has his first real attempt on the stroke of half time. He’s put through by Simic but is forced wide and his shot from an acute angle is blocked.

SECOND HALF Twenty-three shots but only EIGHT on target highlights our plight. We’ve bossed the game but it’s still on a knife-edge. The players are praised, but also told that they need to up their efforts, and two minutes into the half, Simic is pushed in the area when attempting to reach Rahman’s cross. The ref sends it up to VAR and they back up his decision. PENALTY to Red Star!!! Mijatovic steps up to take it…’s left-footed…….AND LOW TO THE KEEPER’S LEFT!!! 2-0 Red Star!! Straight from kick off and we go again. Bulat wins another free kick but is foiled again by the woodwork. Vozdovac head straight up field and, after great work on the right, Lasickas bundles to ball in to keep the game alive!!! 2-1 to Red Star!! Campar flashes a shot wide as we look for an immediate reply, but we don’t have long to wait. Ilijin floats a ball over the top of the defence and Simic tracks the ball and places his cushioned volley beyond the keeper!!! 3-1 Red Star! Simic looks like he strained too much to get to the ball though, and picks up a knock. Stanic replaces him for the last half hour. He takes just ten minutes to make his mark. It’s a quick, one-touch move, that carves the Vozdovac defence open with Stanic firing past the keeper from inside the area after having it laid on a plate by Campar! 4-1 Red Star!! With ten minutes to play Vozdovac attempt to gain a little bit of dignity. Dinic lets loose from outside the area after good work by Stoisavljevic. It’s only 4-2 but the last ten minutes are just that little bit more nervous now. The game drops back into it’s usual pattern of Red Star attacking and Vozdovac defending. We create another couple of chances and with just a couple of minutes to play, Ilijin finally gets his goal. It’s a towering header from Cardoso that drops to Stanic. His simple touch to Mijailovic is moved on quickly into the path of Ilijin. He strides, unopposed, into the Vozdovac area and slams his shot past the helpless keeper!! 5-2 Red Star! We’ve still not finished hammering our superiority home. It’s another Bulat freekick that is palmed over for a corner. From that corner, taken by Bulat, Cardoso rises magnificently at the near post, and flicks his header home!! 6-2 Red Star!! The ref finally puts Vozdovac out of the misery and we head back to Belgrade with all three points!!

It’s disappoint to concede two goals, although one was a banger from outside the area. There’s no defending against that type of goal, it’s the other goal that could, and maybe should, have been cut out when the ball was out wide that irks me.

Partizan attempt to hold on to our coat-tails with a 2-0 win against Feniks, who are bottom but one, with just 6 points from nine games.

We are rocked after the game though, Lorenzi’s injury is a bad one. The young striker has broken his ankle and is out for 4 months!! Simic’s knock is nowhere near as serious though, he’s only out for a few days.

It’s only three days again till the next game, there’s no rest for the players this time though. It’ll be a squad rotation of any players not fully fit. There’s the small matter of Anderlecht on the horizon and we’ll be needed a full strength eleven for that one. It’s a total of SEVEN changes for the Mladost Lucani game. We SHOULD be too strong for them, even with the changes.

MATCH DAY It’s an even game to start with. Ilijin has a couple of efforts. One beaten away by the keeper and one the is skied over the bar. We stay on the front foot and Nikolic heads over from a Matic corner. The break-though comes in the 23rd minute. It’s a simple long ball over the top from Stankovic, Ilijin out paces the defence and fires past the stranded Mladost keeper!! 1-0 Red Star! Mijatovic has a golden chance to extend our lead five minutes later, but his shot is dragged wide before our job is made harder in the 36th minute!! Matic dives into a tackle on the side-line and misses the ball. There’s nothing malicious but the yellow card is his second of the game. It’s an incredibly early bath for him and we have to play with ten men for the remaining hour!!! Mladost take advantage for the next five minutes and attempt to press their luck. Instead, we soak up the pressure and hit them hard on the break. Stankovic, playing deeper now in place of Matic, lifts a ball for Ilijin to chase. He takes the ball into the Mladost area before squaring it across to Stanic. His shot is blocked but rebounds back to Ilijin. The Mladost defence is all at sea, and it’s another simple square ball from Ilijin to Stanic and he rolls it into the unguarded net!! Ten men Red Star go 2-0 up!! The ref calls time and it’s another dominant 45 minutes of football in the bank.

SECOND HALF The players are praised, and told to continue where they left off, EXCEPT Matic, he gets a water bottle thrown at him and berated that his actions are unacceptable!! We continue to control the game and on the hour the player count is levelled out. Cumic goes straight through Pankov and earns HIS second yellow card of the match!! With the Red Star mentality and attacking intent tempered down, the second half peters out and it’s a very comfortable win in the end. FINAL SCORE 2-0 Red Star

Cumic’s rush of blood to the head, getting two yellow cards in the space of just NINE MINUTES in the second half, killed any chance of Mladost getting themselves back into the game. It’s an incredible SIXTEENTH win in a row in all competitions

Once again, there’s only a couple of games between the Mladost victory and an away trip to Surdulica. It’s a case of rest and replace if we can. Tanasijevic makes his Red Star debut in defence as Nikolic moves into the defensive midfield spot vacated by the suspended Matic. Simin and Simic replace the tired Ilijin and Mijatovic up top as well as it’s ANOTHER three changes!!

MATCH DAY The games starts even enough. Surdulica aren’t intimidated by our incredible start to the season and attack for than most do against us. It does serve to do nothing more than offer us a chance to hit them on the break though!! Pankov, standing in at right-back, plays a ball into Simin’s feet. He get the ball under control and plays a bending early cross into the path of Simic who despatches it smartly to the keepers left!! 1-0 Red Star after just ten minutes!!! Surdulica are not to be put off though. The disjointed and jumbled squad are kept on their toes and it’s not until the 39th minute that the 2nd goal comes! It’s a fantastic cross to the far post from Nikolic that finds Stanic steaming in!! His leap is too good for the flat footed defenders and the ball nestles in the back of the net!! 2-0 Red Star!! The first half ends with the opposition massively behind on possession, but ahead on chances. Most importantly though, is the fact that they are behind in goals!!

SECOND HALF More of the same, is what is asked of the players. And it’s more of the same that the players deliver!!! Mijailovic to Simic. Simic to Stankovic. Stankovic to Stanic. Stanic to the back of the net!! Just four touches from backline to goal. Stanic’s finish is precise and trickles in off the far post!! 2-0 Red Star!! The early second half goal seems to take all the wind out of the Surdulica sails. Their heads drop and it’s just five minutes later that the next goal goes in!! It’s Stanic again, timing his run from deep to perfection and latching onto Simic’ pass. His shot is blocked by two defenders, but the rebound falls to Simin who has the easiest of finishes!! 4-0 Red Star!!! Surdulica finally wake up and start to make good on their early attacking play. It’s on the turn of the hour that they regain a little dignity. Bogdanovski throwing over three successive crosses, with the third finally reaching Burmaz at the near post!! It’s an instinctive headed finish from him! 4-1 Red Star!! It’s surely nothing more than a consolation. They’ve had their chances, but have been blown away by the Red Star attacks. All that might well be changing though just two minutes later. Burmaz again is at the heart of the action as his free kick is pushed onto the woodwork by Rosic. The rebound drops to the only player following up and Miladinovic has a two yard tap in to make it 4-2 to Red Star!! It’s like flicking a switch. All of a sudden, Surdulica have a self belief flooding through them. Rosic comes to the Red Star rescue pushing aside a close range Miladinovic effort. The resulting corner is cleared but the ball is recycled by Surdulica and Bogdanovski aims a cross to the far post that is met by Veljkovic!! Rosic is once again, up to the task and holds on to the ball this time!! The unsuccessful attacking efforts seem to take all the steam out the Surdulica and the final twenty minutes are controlled by Red Star. There’s no more goals though with the FINAL SCORE 4-2 Red Star!!

The result is a little harsh on Surdulica, who didn’t buckle when four goals down. In fact there were more than a few moments of doubt when the comeback was in full swing!!

It’s a been a profitable September. Five games and five wins, including the tricky away fixture against Bestikas!!

October brings another tiring SEVEN matches including the first round of the Serbian Cup and two Europa Conference League matches.

Thanks for reading folks. Any comments, likes, follows etc are ALWAYS appreciated. You can find me on my other social media sites




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