Ones to watch, season so far and media narrative: Expert gives insight on Slavia Praha

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan will take on Slavia Praha at San Siro tonight in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie, having avoided some of the more daunting names in the draw.

Milan beat Stade Rennais 5-3 on aggregate in the play-off round to qualify for this phase, while Slavia on the other hand won their Europa League group – one that included Roma, who they beat 2-0 at home – to secure an automatic passage to this stage.

It will be the first time in Milan’s over 124-year history that they will face off against Slavia, but it is not the first time they will face a Czech opponent.

We decided to ask Czech football writer Jan Pikous – who has covered Slavia for several years now – to give us some insight.

What kind of a season did Slavia Praha have last season (2022-23), compared to the expectation?

“Well they didn’t win a title for the second year in a row after winning it three times in 2019 through to 2021, so maybe a little disappointment. On top of that, some of the lost or drawn games were just unnecessary and unforced.

“Some fans would say that last year Slavia lost the title by themselves, through their own mistakes. However, they still won the Czech cup, so not a terrible season.”

What summer transfer business did they do, and were you impressed/surprised by it?

“I definitely must say Mojmír Chytil. He’s one of the many centre-forwards Slavia have, but definitely the best one. He’s a great finisher, but also he’s very strong, physical and great in playing with his back to goal. He can hold the ball in difficult situations, he’s an unpleasant opponent for centre-backs.

“Not a summer transfer, because he came in January, but I must say David Zima too. He was sold from Slavia to Torino years ago and now they bought him back for circa €4.5m, which is really enormous money for a Czech league transfer, and for a defensive player.

“Some fans are little sceptical about it. They are not sure if its sensible transfer from Slavia and they also are afraid it could mean less minutes for Tomáš Vlček, who is a big talent at CB.”

How has this season gone so far for Slavia, and what were the expectations?

“Overall, I would say good. They won the group stage in Europa League finishing above Roma, and in the league they have 17-5-1 stats [in wins, losses and draws].

“Unfortunately for them, their main rivals Sparta are doing even better (they have four more points) and they are playing really well. They even eliminated Slavia in the domestic cup quarter-finals. So you really cannot say it is a bad season, but some of the draws were unnecessary – and there is a rival who doesnt loses points so often.

“If you want ratings: 10/10 in Europe, and I would say 7/10 in the league. It is still a great team that could (especially at home) beat some of their opponents 5-0 for fun.

“But in general, I think this team is not THAT strong like for example the Slavia from 2019 (when they were playing against Inter in the Champions League) was. They can be vulnerable in some moments.”

Who are the key players for Slavia that Milan must look out for?

“Definitely Chytil, as I said. Goalkeeper Jindřich Staněk could be the key for the good result, he’s a probable Czech number 1 at the Euros. Oscar Dorley is a great midfielder – energetic, versatile, very good all around player.”

Are there any injuries or suspensions for Trpišovský to worry about?

“Midfielders Christos Zafeiris and Petr Ševčík are missing, at least for the first game. Its unpleasant, because they are two of maybe three/four most creative players of the team. Other midfielders are different mould.”

How should the team line up against Milan? Are there any selection dilemmas?

“Dilemmas? Well they are many of them, and its also unpredictable because coach Trpišovský is well known for unexpected line-up decisions or playing players in different positions. And even in the big matches, sometimes he surprises even the Czech fans and media.”

How are the Slavia/Czech media presenting this tie? Do they think they have a real chance or is it David versus Goliath?

“Media perspective: I would say both – its David vs Goliath, but Slavia have a chance.

“Some media in Czech Republic use phrases like: ‘We played against Roma in the group stage, so it would be similar’. I really do not agree with this opinion, because Mourinho’s Roma and Milan are two totally different teams. Milan is better but also playing a totally different style.

“In my own preview for the game I wrote that some Czech fans and pundits maybe do not realise that this is not a ‘typical Italian team’ – they maybe expect some good but lazy technical players who you can wreck easily when you play physical football full of pressing, running etc. But they don’t realise this Milan side is very physical too.

“My personal view: I think there are two possible scenarios. The first: Milan has a sufficient individual quality to beat Slavia like 3-0 in the first leg and it’s over. I have to say, I’m really afraid for players like Tomáš Holeš or David Douděra to keep up with Theo, Rafa Leao, Pulisic.

“However, if the first leg result were not bad (draw or loss by one goal), it could be a very dramatic second match in Prague as Slavia are really strong at home and the fans will go crazy, the atmosphere at Slavia is amazing, so they will really push their players for best possible performance.”

What is your prediction for how the two legs will go?

“I would say 2-0 for Milan at San Siro and 1-1 draw in Prague. The overall quality is speaking for Milan, definitely. And now its the only chance for Milan to win a trophy, so they won’t underestimate it.

“However, if I can have a bold statement: I still think that Jindřich Trpišovský is a better tactician than Stefano Pioli!”


Tags AC Milan Milan Slavia Praha
Serie A Standings

Live football scores . Current table, fixtures & results.