Half a season in Bulgaria had seen Vladimir Latunov spark a major upturn in CSKA-Sofia’s fortunes, taking them from eighth to finishing fourth in the summer of 2039. However, plenty more work was ahead as he looked to bridge the gap to the top three and Ludogorets, who’d won the last 14 titles!
The summer began by flogging shaky goalkeeper Sandi Pavlicic to Al-Arabi for £3 million and a load more deadwood and ageing players, which boosted the transfer kitty to £12 million.
Latunov began rebuilding with 19-year-old Bulgarian centre-back Dilyan Tsanev for £500,000 from Cherno more. He moved early to snap up exciting striker and Chelsea target Jan Filipovic from Domzale for £3 million. Then took a bit of a gamble on an early scout report of Viitorul winger Cosmin Somesan for £3 million, which worked out nicely.
Three more Slovenians arrived in young goalkeeper Vaclav Otepka for £425,000 from Zlin then midfielders Anze Zizmond and Saso Malnar on end of contract deals. The summer transfer business meant Latunov had sold 23 players and signed 18 in seven months at the club!
The summer also saw hero of the save Sandro Luiz announce he will retire at the end of the season, which means he’ll see out his career with his favoured personnel Latunov. And Latunov decided to stick with his preferred 4-2-4 formation for the season ahead.
Flying start to Bulgarian First League
CSKA began the 2039/40 campaign at home to Septemvri Sofia. They made a bright start and eventually made it count as left-winger Ivo Valchev headed home after 40 minutes. Nothing happened after the break as they eased to a dull 1-0 win.
The most difficult task in Bulgaria followed with a trip to perennial champions Ludogorets. The hosts started brightly and had a goal disallowed inside three minutes. That forced Latunov to go more cautious, which worked a treat as Somesan scored his first CSKA goal on 14 minutes. The hosts continued to push until the referee awarded them a dubious penalty 20 minutes later but Otepka pulled off a superb save. More of the same followed after the break and Ludogorets eventually equalised, only for Filipovic to go down the other end and restore the lead! Otepka pulled off 12 saves to keep his team ahead and earn CSKA a massive win at the champions, who lost their 20-game unbeaten run.
Another rival clash followed at home to CSKA 1948 and Vladimir Danko’s first two goals of the season and winger Lucas Linares’ first CSKA goal earned a 3-0 win. The good start continued with Danko, a brilliant team goal finished off by Somesan and Linares scoring off the bench again sealing a 3-1 win at Cherno more.
A Somesan double, including a wonderful solo goal for the second, led them to a 2-0 win over another local rival Slavia to send CSKA top of the table. A trip to Arda, against whom CSKA were unbeaten in 20 games, saw the winning start stretch to six games thanks to Danko’s third penalty of the campaign, a screamer from Linares – who’s scored three in three as a sub – and Filipovic.
Injuries struck before Latunov’s first home Eternal Derby against Levski, who handed their rivals a win with a 16th-minute own goal. First dropped points of the season appeared to be coming at home to Pirin, who scored inside two minutes. CSKA battered them, Latunov went on all-out attack and it eventually paid off as Vasil Velkov scored from long range on 86 minutes before substitute Yavor Kaymakanski nicked the win on 90 minutes!
The winning start ended courtesy of a poor refereeing performance at fourth-place Beroe, in which CSKA led only to have Valchev sent off then concede a penalty to lose 2-1. But they bounced back immediately with braces from the strike duo of Danko and Filipovic dowining bottom side Spartak Pleven 4-0. More dubious refereeing saw midfielder Yordan Syurdzhiev sent off after just three minutes at home to Botev Plovidv, who then scored a frustrating corner breakaway goal. But CSKA rallied and mounted an impressive comeback with two goals in thee minutes from Valchev and Danko.
A Danko goal nicked a 1-0 win at home to Yantra Gabrovo before central defender Samo Oblak’s first CSKA goal and a late Filipovic winner edged them past Belasitsa 2-1. Then a 1-1 draw at Septemvri set up a huge top of the table clash.
CSKA and Ludogorets were tied at the top of the league with 12 wins, a draw and a defeat apiece as the champions visited CSKA, who only led on head-to-head. The size of the game showed as both sides missed early penalties before Filipovic headed home a Somesan cross after half an hour. Ludogorets equalised with a direct free-kick but CSKA responded well and Malnar picked a great time to curl home his first goal for the club after an hour. The visitors offered nothing and CSKA held on for a second huge 2-1 victory over the champions of the season.
A big game followed with a trip to struggling rivals CSKA 1948, which was founded in 2016 by unhappy CSKA-Sofia members following financial issues and a subsequent relegation. Form told as CSKA dominated from the off and Filipovic and Danko both scored from crosses in the first half. Filipovic doubled his tally before lax defending gifted the hosts two totally undeserved late goals, but they held on to win 3-2. Surprisingly, Ludogorets lost their game in hand at Septemvri, which saw CSKA move six points clear.
Another local rival clash saw Latunov’s boys travel across the city to Slavia Sofia. Linares, starting due to yet another injury to Valchev, got things started with a screamer after 14 minutes. Slavia equalised with their first attack then got a red cared with 20 minutes remaining and CSKA went on the attack and nicked a winner through Velkov.
2039 concluded with two home games. A strong second half effort saw wingers Somares and the increasingly impressive Linares, with an absolute blinder of a volley, score before Danko and Dmitriy Smirnov’s first of the season wrapped up a 4-0 win. CSKA then welcomed fifth-place Arda and a double deflection from a Somares shot fluked them in front with an own goal before Filipovic doubled the lead just before the break. Oblak headed home a third and Somesan hit a late fourth to send them into the winter break in fine form.
CSKA topped the table at the winter break, sitting eight points clear of champions Ludogrets with seven games of the Preliminary Phase remaining. They’d only lost one game and only drawn one! No CSKA players topped individual rankings in the league, but the exciting Linares had the division’s third-best average rating of 7.49.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov’s CSKA-Sofia look to continue their title battle up against perennial champions Ludogorets.