Red Star is once again left without European competition after being bounced 4-1 on aggregate from Italian side Sassuolo. It has been nine long years since the Serbian giants have made any European competition, which is way too long for a team that once in the early 90s ruled European-even world-football.
Sassuolo was without a doubt the better team in the two ties. The Italian side has been playing together for two or three years now and it showed on the pitch. They have great team chemistry and know their own strengths and weaknesses. But this is not an excuse. Red Star came out flat in the first tie, which took place in Italy losing by a score of 3-0. In Belgrade the team looked a bit better, as they settled for a one all draw.
This is a huge disappointment for Red Star. Champions League was never a realistic goal, but Europa League was a target that the team had set out to accomplish at the start of the 2016-2017 season.
Champions League-so close, yet so far
In the third round of Champions League qualifying, Red Star faced Bulgarian side, Ludogorets. Similar to Sassuolo, Ludogorets has been together for a few years now. They made the Champions League group stage two years ago and Europa League three years ago-and it showed. The first tie, which took place in Bulgaria, ended in a 2-2 draw, but it should have been a win for Red Star, if not for a couple of costly mistakes that Ludogorets took full advantage of.
The second tie was played in a full Marakana stadium. The match finished 4-2 in favour of the Bulgarian champions. Ludogorets’ experience on the big stage helped them mightily to say the least. Having played versus the likes of Real Madrid and Liverpool in past years really gave a boost to Ludogorets and ultimately helped them progress to the playoff where they defeated Czech side Viktoria Plzen. The biggest moment came in the second match where a Ludogorets player picked up his second yellow card and had his team reduced to 10 men. Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, Red Star attacking midfielder, Kanga picked up a stupid red card at halftime and thus had his team reduced to 10 men as well. This is definitely where the match swung in Ludogorets hands. The match, at one point, was tied at 2-2. Instead of Red Star having all the momentum now-since they were playing at home-the team basically stalled. They created nothing after the 70th minute (this is when Luis Ibanez scored from a penalty kick to tie the match at 2-2), they looked very tired and drained. Once extra-time rolled around, Ludogorets proved to be too much, as they scored two more goals to seal the victory. I truly believe if Red Star were able to get past Ludogorets, they would have had a great chance to make the Champions League group stage, judging by the draw.
Takeaways so far
Aleksandar Katai was by far the best player in these qualifications. He is not the fastest player on the pitch, but his technical ability and the ability to use both feet very well is what makes him great for this club. Latest rumours have Katai signing for Club Brugge for approximately two-three million euros. If there were five or six Katai’s on the pitch, maybe Red Star could have had a better shot.
Damir Kahriman might be a good enough goalie for domestic league matches, but not so much for European competitions. He let in two or three goals that he should have stopped and they all came at crucial times. Filip Manojlovic, who is currently on loan at OFK Backa could potentially be the number one keep come next season, or the team could opt to purchase someone else.
The backline was in shambles the entire qualification process. Red Star could not even hold a clean sheet vs Valletta (Malta). Ludogorets put six goals past them in two matches, while Sassuolo did much of the same scoring four. Thomas Phibel has not been a great addition, while the carousel at the other centre-back position changes from game to game.
Guelor Kanga was great in the first match versus Ludogorets, but as I mentioned he picked up a really silly red card at halftime in the return leg. He has shown that he has the necessary tools to be effective for this team, but he needs to keep his emotions in check in big matches.
Pablo Mouche has been the worst signing this season…by far. Mouche is on loan from Palmeiras and big things were expected of him when he first came over to the club. I am surprised that Miodrag Bozovic still has him in the starting eleven due to his awful form with the likes of Srdjan Plavsic and Andrija Lukovic on the bench among others, who could potentially offer more to the team.
Up top, Red Star has not gotten any goals from their strikers. Hugo Vieira is in dreadful form when it comes to European matches, and if you believe the rumours, he could possibly be headed to Legia Warsaw any day now.
What is next?
Worry about winning the double-league title and cup. Also expect two or three, maybe even four players to be sold in the next couple of weeks to give younger players from the academy a chance to prove themselves.
Ogi is a graduate of Humber College’s Sport Management program. He is the founder of Blago Blogger Sports.