Having wrapped up a title in Hungary, following previous success in Poland and Turkey, Russian manager Vladimir Latunov was swiftly on his way to the Czech Republic to join Viktoria Plzen in May 2026. He signed a two-year deal worth £4,200-per-week.
Plzen paid £375,000 to bring Latunov to the Czech Republic in an attempt to change their fortunes. Shockingly, Plzen finished seventh in the season just gone, 16 points behind winners Slavia Prague, and haven’t won the title since 2018. Despite that, the board expect the club to win the First Division title this season, which seems a little ambitious. To do that, they have great training and youth facilities and excellent youth recruitment.
Unexpected end of season games!
Annoyingly, Plzen still had games remaining with a strange European Places Playoff Final against Jablonec, who finished fourth and won the league the previous season. More annoying was that the club’s star player Matías Arezo was away on international duty. Regardless, life in Plzen began well as young striker Radim Koukal doubled his season tally to four with a first half brace. Right-winger Jan Petrak scored his first of the campaign after an hour to make it comfortable and a 3-0 win. These exciting talents had been poorly or criminally under used this season, and would become a key part of Latunov’s plans moving forward.
The star man at Plzen side was Uruguayan striker Matías Arezo. However, he was already unhappy when Latunov arrived and put in a transfer request to get a move to a bigger club. Bayer Leverkusen bid £7.5 million rising to £11.25 million (when they could have activated a £7.75 minimum fee clause) and the striker was on his way for a club record sale. That record was smashed as Wuhan came in with a £15 million offer for midfielder Luka Ivanusec, which was also a national record transfer fee.
With them gone, the best players at the club were Romanian midfielder Alexandru Cicaldau and goalkeeper Martin Jedlicka, but the squad needed a bit of work to rebuild for a title challenge.
However, the club has a very young squad, with 13 of the 23-man squad being teenagers. This included several young prospects who’ve come through the academy and are already useful first teamers. The best of those may by attacker Koukal and left-winger Dusan Bezdicka, as well as defender Marek Tafat and Tomas Vuch and midfielder Josef Jezek. While the best prospect at the club is 16-year-old left-winger Florijan Bukvic.
Latunov set about rebuilding his squad, also cashing in on a couple of sell-on clauses to boost his transfer budget to £35 million. His first move was to target his star striker at Honvéd, Sandro Luiz, for whom a £1 million bid was accepted. He also brought in another young Brazilian star from Honvéd in midfielder Bruce Alves Borges.
The club didn’t have a proper right-back so Latunov activated the £2.9 million release clause of Red Star’s 18-year-old Mateo Brzoja, who he’d been tracking when he was at Honvéd. Other than that, he struggled to find any players of good enough quality to strengthen the squad, which left a big pile of cash burning a hole in his pocket.
Latunov was working with a couple of tactics to fit these players into, the main one being a standard 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder, as well as a 4-4-2 formation that would require a bigger striker to play alongside Sandro Luiz. But here’s the 4-3-3 he’s starting the season with:
First taste of Czech First Division
Plzen come into the campaign as the media’s third favourites at 7/2, behind Sparta Prague at 9/4 and champions Slavia Prague at 11/4, but seven of the Plzen side are named in the media’s dream 11.
The Czech league began very early on 12 July and with a trip to Hradec Kralove. Plzen came out flying, firing eight shots at goal in the first 20 minutes. And they made one of them count through a familiar face, as Sandro Luiz scored 17 minutes into his debut! They continued to dominate and Koukal made one and scored another to make it comfortable.
Latunov’s first game at Stadion Mesta Plzen was against Sigma Olomouc. Plzen got a great start as left-back Eduard Sobol tucked away a penalty. Holding midfielder Jezek got sent off for throwing an elbow at an opponent but Bezdicka immediately doubled the lead by nodding home from a corner. The left-winger doubled his tally straight after the break, which sealed a second 3-0 win. A third win out of three followed at Slovacko, but only thanks to a late goal from centre-back Lubomir Satka after throwing away a two-goal lead. A tougher test followed at home to early leaders Slovan Liberec, who finished fifth last season. A pretty poor game saw Liberec create nothing and Plzen struggle to put chances away until set-piece expert Sobol curled home a delicious free-kick after an hour.
The toughest test yet followed with a trip to the champions Slavia Prague, who dominated with 31 shots to seven and just about won 2-1 but only with a very dodgy penalty that the commentary described as “contentious to say the least.” And that was Latunov’s first defeat in Czech Republic.
Two more away days followed with a trip to Opava, in which Sandro Luiz bagged a brace in a 4-0 win, then Vlasim, where Cicaldau nicked a 1-0 win. Games continued through an international period, which was odd, but those that remained laid siege on Usti nad Labem with five goals in the first 23 minutes and won 6-0.
A home game against struggling Mlade Boreslav was the Sandro Luiz show as he laid on the opener for Koukal then bagged a first half brace. The visitors got two back, but the Brazilian striker made the game safe by wrapping up his first Czech hat-trick. Then Latunov’s 300th game in management saw him take his third-place Plzen to fifth-place Banik Ostrava and drew 1-1 despite having 20 shots to eight. But they were much more clinical as all the front three scored in a 3-1 win over Jablonec. After 10 games, Latunov’s side were second with 25 points from 10 games and just three points behind Sparta with a game in hand.
Goals, Goals, Goals!
Plzen had enjoyed a great first 10 games but next up was a tough trip to all-time record Czech title winners and leaders Sparta Prague. Sparta dominated the first half and made it count by scoring from a corner on 39 minutes. Bezdicka levelled against the run of play just after the break and suddenly the game swung as Plzen took control and that man Sandro Luiz scored a one-on-one to put them ahead. Sparta came back into it but a solid defensive effort sealed a huge 2-1 win that sent them top of the league!
Bezdicka and Sandro Luiz bagged braces in a 6-0 thumping of Taborsko, Bezdicka repeated the feat alongside midfielder Frantisek Vitek and Petrak screamers in a 4-0 win over Pribram, then it was Koukal’s turn in a 3-0 win over Bohemians 1905, and Sandro Luiz scored his 20th of the season in a 4-1 thrashing of bottom side Hradec Kralove. That took Plzen to 11 league games unbeaten, scoring 34 in the process.
There were less goals in yet another win at Signa Olomouc, just the one in fact from substitute Lubos Frydek as the hosts didn’t even manage a shot! But a 4-0 hammering of Slovacko and 3-2 win at Slova Liberec were fitting ways to end a goal-heavy 2026 in Czech Republic for Vladimir Latunov.
His side go into a two month winter break five points clear at the top of the First Division with 11 games remaining in the regular season, after which all kinds of chaotic stages follow. After 19 league games, Plzen have scored 53 goals, which has been trumped by Sparta’s 55!, and conceded just 14. And that’s despite selling two of their best players in the summer!
Europa Conference League
Latunov’s random first game in charge ensured Plzen reached the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League. The club had never previously made it past the fourth qualifying round into the group stage. They eased past Slovak side Senica then Partizan Belgrade before facing Olimpija Ljubljana, who they edged past 1-0 at home then won 2-0 away. And that meant a group stage place for the first time in the club’s history!
They were drawn in a potentially tough group with Villarreal, Gent and Kosovan side Trepca ’89. Villarreal at home was up first and the Czechs got off to a flyer as Bezdicka and a Koukal screamer had them 2-0 up inside six minutes! Sandro Luiz had a goal disallowed 12 minutes later and Villarreal offered nothing – a 0.05 xG! – and Plzen claimed a famous win.
They also started well at home to Gent as exciting young winger Martin Maly scored twice to claim a lucky 2-1 win. But that had nothing on their first away day in which they led Trepca 5-0 after 12 minutes, including a five-minute hat-trick by Petrak. They went on to win 8-0 with Sandro Luiz also bagging a hat-trick in a club record win! A 3-0 win in the home game confirmed qualification before going to play the bigger two sides away. They lost 2-1 in Villarreal but came from behind to win 2-1 in Gent and finish top of the group – aided by Villarreal ridiculously only drawing at home to Trepca.
In 34 games with Vladimir Latunov in charge, Viktoria Plzen have scored goals for fun – plundering 95 goals in all competitions and conceding just 25!
Join us next time to discover if Vladimir Latunov can figure out how the Czech league stages work in an attempt to win the title in a fourth country on his Soviet Surge.