Blog by: Tanay
This latest edition of the UEFA Champions League contains a club which is not very well known to the top tier teams of Europe. FC Steaua București is a Romanian club based in, as the name suggests, Bucharest. Steaua is the easily best team in the Romanian Liga I and also, the most successful Romanian club domestically and in Europe.
Founded on 7th June 1947 after an initiative by several members of the Romanian royal house, it took them just two years to get their first piece of silverware. They won the Romanian Cup beating CFR Cluj 2-1 in the finals. In the 66 years of their existence, Steaua have managed to win a staggering 53 trophies, including the European Cup (now christened the UEFA Champions League) and the European Super Cup. They are well poised in the league once again this year having won three of their opening four games and drawing one, and are just four points behind the leaders with two games in hand.
Steaua played in the Europa League last season and advanced till the round of 16, beating Dutch champions Ajax on the way. They then beat eventual winners Chelsea 1-0 at home but lost over two legs as they ended up on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline at Stamford Bridge.
The two games against a vastly better Chelsea side were indicative of how fearless and assured Steaua were of their ability. They kept the ball the best they could, defended deep and broke quickly for the counter. They refused to be intimidated by the English club and gave them a real run for their money. Having won three of their six matches in the qualifiers of the UCL and having lost none, Steaua have secured their place in the Champions League group stage this season with relative ease.
Their style of play has been very intriguing as they seemed to prefer to keep the ball when they could, but did not mind dropping back and defending with two banks of four when they did not have it. In the home game against Ajax, they showed all of their best qualities as they retained the ball surprisingly well and also transitioned from defense into attack quickly on the counter, with Raul Rusescu being their primary target (he also ended up being their top scorer in the Europa League).
In contrast, they adopted a very defensive strategy against Chelsea, allowing them time on the ball but never really giving them much space to play into around their box. This switch also shows the flexibility of the team as they managed to outplay Chelsea in Romania.
This season, however, Steaua may well be a weakened side compared to last year as they have lost their best defender in Vlad Chiriches to Tottenham Hotspur and Raul Rusescu to Spanish club Sevilla. Unless they have found a replacement for the 23-year-old Chiriches, Steaua would be facing some problems in defense as he was not only their best center back, but he was also adept at recycling possession when the midfielders were being harried by the opposition.
Their problems could be further compounded with Rusescu leaving, as they were heavily reliant on him to score as his 21 league goals in 34 appearances show.
Steaua Bucuresti may not even make it out of the group in the Champions League this season, but it would be foolish to consider them as a walkover. In fact, it would not be too far fetched to say that excluding Chelsea, the other two teams in their group are going to find it very difficult to take three points back from their trip to Romania.