Due to bad weather, the Croatian league will return to action next week after two months away on winter break. December and January has seen the usual shake up of playing staff with numerous comings and goings. Highlights of the winter transitional period has been Dejan Lovren's move from Dinamo to Olympic Lyon, Edy Reja's parting with Hajduk to coach Lazio and Josip Knezevic's switch to Amkar Perm. Moves for Mario Mandzukic, Ermin Zec, Senijad Ibricic and Domogoj Vida failed to materialised and there were few arrivals as most sides turned their youth academies to fill in for any out going players. Their was however a swift exit from much maligned Greek international Dmitrios Papadopoulos and Bojan Vrucina completed a move to Hapoel Tel Aviv from Slaven Belupo.
Player to Watch: Milan Badelj
Dinamo have had a successful transfer window after making another major sale following Dejan Lovren's switch to Lyon. The deal also gave them the power to cut the size of their squad after transferring Dmitrios Papadopoulos to Celta, Emiliano Villa to Tirana, Carlos to Shandong Luneng, Ilija Sivonjic and Guilermo Suarez to Inter Zapresic. Matias Chago has also been loaned out to Istra 1961. The sale of Lovren and Carlos, plus serious injury to Igor Biscan does leave Dinamo short in defence with 35 year old Robert Kovac, Tomislav Barbaric and left back Leandro Cufre, the only experienced defenders remaining on the clubs books. Dinamo's winter break results however have been good with Mario Mandzukic having refound his goalscoring touch and youngsters Domogoj Antolic, Sime Vrsaljko, Mario Situm and Mirslav Komorski offering a lot of hope for the clubs future. Dinamo also retained star players Pedro Morales and Milan Badelj who is expected to play a major role in the remainder of the season.
As for arrivals, Dinamo kept their hands firmly in their pockets during winter break, preferring to give opportunities to the highly promising Andrej Kramaric as opposed to recruiting Ermin Zec. Mamic is also preparing to sweat it out with Osijek over Domogoj Vida. Dinamo did take two new strikers, but Karlo Primorac arrives as a free agent on a six month deal, whilst the pacy Dodo also arrives cheaply from Inter Zapresic. It is hard to see further than another title win for Dinamo this season. Also do not count out the rise of another Croatian star after Dinamo spring cleaned the squad to make more room for players from their academy.
Player to Watch: Arjian Ademi
Sibenik still have a major chance of Europa Liga qualification after retaining the services of their highly talented Bosnian duo Mehmad Alispahic and Ermin Zec. It was not expected that Zec particularly would still be in a Sibenik shirt in 2010 with the club actively trying to sell him. Anderlecht however only presented a bid in the form of a loan with intention to buy later, whilst Dinamo and Hajduk only sounded out the player in the media, with the club claiming to have recieved no official bid. Zec, who is still only 21 could still yet to Ukraine or Russia. However for now he stays in Croatia, with the club still well placed in the league and still in the Cup. If Zec and Alispahic were to go, Jusuf Dajic and Ivan Bozic appear able deputy's up front, whilst Sibenik are very happy with midfielders Arjian Ademi, Nemi Husmani and Antonio Jakolis. Should Sibenik retain all their stars then a top five four is highly realistic. As for arrivals and departures there has been few. Four leave with only one arrival.
Player to Watch: Tomislav Pavlicic
Cibalia coach Stanko Mrsic would appear the outstanding coach of the season in Croatia as things stand having taken a Cibalia side with few stars into second. Cibalia however do have a solid side performing at their best. The clubs policy this winter was to retain the current staff and keep to the same system which has served them so well. Cibalia is a team built on experience with players like Josip Miladorvic, Dino Kresinger, Mario Lucic, Boris Leutar and Tomislav Pavlivic. Their one young talent may be of interest to Croatia. Keeper Mario Antolovic is just 20 and has already attracted interest from French side Strasbourg. Cibalia may be chased down by clubs of more financial might such as Hajduk, Slaven Belupo, Rijeka and Osijek in the coming months, but as yet Stanko Mrsic's team show no intention of moving aside.
Player to Watch: Domogoj Vida
Osijek's winter break has been not all good for the club with financial pressures forcing them to part with key players and several key players engaged in long running contract talks. One of those is Domogoj Vida, who it seems has outgrown Osijek and was interesting Dinamo Zagreb as replacement for Dejan Lovren. Osijek are holding out for somewhere in the region of 2m Euro's. However selling key midfielder Josip Knezevic to Amkar Perm also did not appear to be in their plans as cast aways Goran Todorevic and Antonio Hrncevic refused to part forcing them to sell. The departure of Karlo Primorac on a free was also not Osijek's intention. Sporting director Dragan Vukoja did tie up Vedran Jugovic, Ivan Milicevic and Josip Barisic to sign new deals, but coach Tomislav Steinbruckner has been frustrated by unsatisfactory offers made to Jurica Pranjic and Vedran Nikisic. No replacement has been signed for Knezevic with Milan Pavlivic expected to step in. Osijek still remains a young talented side who can still aspire for the top 5.
Player to Watch: Zvonko Pamic
Coach Igor Pamic may have his work cut out this spring with Slaven Belupo, Hajduk and Rijeka all on the coat tails of Karlovac. Karlovac retained the playing staff that did phenomenally well for them in the first half of the campaign which gives them a chance. Finishing in the top five is going to be hard, but Karlovac have a massive chance of keeping their first division status by the summer. Despite the impression form of Zvonko Pamic, Rijeka chose not to recall him which is a big plus for Karlovac. The club has been sounded defensively, but need more goals going forward with their top scorer having netted only 4 times.
Player to Watch: Matias Delic
Slaven Belupo spent December and January fine tuning their squad which looks very able to mount a challenge on the sides immediately above them. Belupo are one of the more financially stable Croatian sides having sold Mato Jajalo to Siena for 2m Euro's and Stipe Lapic to South Korea in the summer. This winter they succeeded in keeping a healthy balance sheet by transfering Bojan Vrucina to Hapoel Tel Aviv. The club are arguably one striker short, but will give opportunities to youngsters Francis Tepuric and Matija Poredski to impress alongside their player of the year so far Matias Delic. The club also has 3 very attack minded midfielders in Aljosa Vojinovic, Srebenko Posavec and Nikola Safaric, so will not be short of forward thinking players. Belupo were looking to take free agent Goran Mujanovic, but any deal would only occur should his trial in Poland with Legia Warsaw prove unsuccessful. One concern for Belupo is that they have numerous players out of contract at the end of the season. Zlatko Dalic already allowed Igor Gal, Mario Bilen, Sinisa Rozman and Krunoslav Jambrusic to go free, whilst Csaba Czismadia returned to Hungary with Ferencvaros. The experienced Filip Marcic will fill his place. If Belupo click second place might not even be out the question.
Player to Watch: Senijad Ibricic
Hajduk's never ending instability which has characterised their season continued further this week as coach Edy Reja left for Lazio. Although the club recieved compensation its likely that will quickly disappear on a squad which is obscenely large. Hajduk currently have a side full of experienced Croatian stars who they've placed in seperate training from the squad after being deemed surplus to requirements. Marijan Buljat, Hjorve Vejic, Ante Seric, Dario Jertec, Mladen Pelaic, Ivo Smoje, Ivan Rodic, Ante Aracic and Kreso Ljubicic all face very uncertain futures. Even after Josko Svasgusa cut these players from the squad, they are still able to name a bench which features Ante Vukusic, Marin Tomasov, Jurica Buljat, Duje Cop, Mario Ticinovic, Marin Ljubicic and Goran Jozinovic. With no member of Hajduk's staff eligible to go free at the end of the season Hajduk face a serious financial crisis, which makes the inability to cash in on Bosnia Herzegovina international Boris Pandza and Senijad Ibricic all the more obscure. Hajduk appear to be waiting for offers for many of their players, though nobody is likely to walk out on their contracts to take a lesser contract elsewhere leaving the situation deadlocked. Hajduk look set to pay out compensation, but their plan appears to be to use money obtained from Drago Gabric and Nikola Kalinic to pay the squad and then to engage in a fire sale in the summer when players such as Ivan Strinic, Daniel Subasic and Anas Sharbini could become sellable assets.
On the pitch Hajduk have been lightened by the form of youngsters Mark Livaja and Matej Jonjic. Mirko Oremus, Mario Maloca, Cop and Ticinovic are also expected to push on in the remainder of the season. Frustratingly for Hajduk there has been little activity on the transfer front with only Brazilian misfits Paraiba and Thiaquinho heading out the exit door. Hajduk's union with HNL2 side Mosor is positive, however whilst the clubs hoards such a large number of players who have no future at the club, Split's finest remains a ticking timebomb. Stanko Poklepovic has been charged with pushing the side into the Europa Liga. However with the side sitting in 7th place he has a lot of work to do.
Player to Watch: Radomir Dalovic
After a disappointing first half of the campaign, Rijeka sought to right the wrongs in their club. Nastja Ceh, Mirslav Karoglan, Johann Smith and Jonathan Germano have been sent packing. The arrival of Macedonian international Vlad Lazarevski and Belgian Mikael Yourasawsky seems to have stabilised the defence. A new formation involving Ramon Fernandez, Sandi Krizman and Hjorve Strok behind a revitalised Radomir Dalovic has also given the side new impotus. The team now appears to posess less journeyman and should make moves into the top half of the table. Hopes the recruit Goran Mujanovic and Stjepan Poljak may have helped the club further as the squad appears to lack the depth for a top 5 finish.
Player to Watch: Nino Bule
With Lokomotiva sitting comfortably in midtable, Dinamo decided it was the right time to end the loans of Domogoj Antolic, Emiliano Villa, Dalibor Pandza and Sime Vrsaljko. Antolic and Vrsaljko have big futures at Dinamo, but Pandza was sent down to Dinamo's second team and Villa has returned to Albania. Dinamo hope Moldovan wizzkid Gheorghe Andronic will fill the boots of Antolic, whilst keeper Ivan Keleva, Josip Pikvaric and Matej Males have also been told to stay with Lokomotiva. Whilst players such as Tomislav Puljic, Tomislav Martinac, Matej Bagaric, Nino Bule and Zjelko Sopic continue to perform it is hard to see Loko losing their top flight status. Bule has scored 8 times already this season, but the team will hope for more from Croatia Under 21 player Marko Simic who has barely figured so far.
Player to Watch: Ilija Sivonjic
Zapresic have been one of the most active sides in the transfer market as they released 10 and brought in Nenad Nikolic, Tomislav Zivko, Ilija Sivonjic, Sasa Balic and Guillermo Suarez. Dodo was also recruited by Dinamo to help fund the moves. It would seem that Dinamo are attempting to back Zapresic's effort to stay up, after sending Sivonjic back to Inter despite the player scoring 6 goals in just 11 league appearences this season. Dinamo also sent misfit Suarez down to Zapresic rather than see him train alone in Zagreb. Suarez has just returned from a loan at Tigre where he played 13 times so should be more than capable at this level. Zapresic's exploits in the first half of the campaign were decent. Sivonjic actually scored more times than Dodo in less games so should be a more than suitable replacement, adding to Tomislav Saric, Miroslav Saric, Mario Grgurovic's contribution which were all impressive in the first six months of the season.
Player to Watch: Matija Smrekar
With consideration to the financial plight of Varteks, the club did well to position themselves near mid table with a good chance of survival. Their winter preparations have been turbalent however as coach Drazen Besek departed to become Miroslav Blazevic's assistant in Shanghai. Star player Goran Mujanovic also went free after his contract expired and is on trial with Legia Warsaw. The club are also awaiting to discover if they will get any income from Igor Prahic's switch to Sedan which was unsanctioned by Varteks. One positive move however was Miljenko Mumlek's decision to stay for the remainder of the season. Josip Kvesic and Mario Sacer also have improved the standard of the squad, whilst Matija Smrekar seems back to his best and his sale at the end of the season could prove the teams long term saviour. Varteks will however demand more from the experienced Ivan Jolic and strike partner Gordan Vuk. If Andrej Vuk and Hojski keep up their form however the team should stay up.
Player to Watch: Ivan Curjuric
One of the relegation threatened sides in biggest danger from the rejuvenated NK Zagreb is Zadar who lost several key players this winter. Matej Jonjic, Goran Jozinovic and Marin Ljubicic have all gone to Hajduk Split. Ivan Curjuric is under experiencing pressure to hold together the midfield in Ljubicic's absence. Strikers Ivan Santini and Zelimir Terkes also need to score more goals as have just two apeice. It is likely Zadar will be in the mix for relegation at the end of the season.
Player to Watch: Eliomar
Medimurje had been progressing admirably in the first half of the campaign under Mario Cutuk, but are now under severe threat from revitalised NK Zagreb who appear disinterested in a forey down in the Croatian second division. Medimurje appear however to have to tools to mount some form of a fight back. Serbian striker Bojan Golubovic has been providing the goals, supported by impressive Brazilian attacker Eliomar and the experienced Marijan Vuka and Ivica Zuljevic. Ex Varteks stopper Daniel Madaric has been brought in to help the defence, alongside ex Croatian Under 21 player Adrian Valentic. Zoran Lesjak, Marko Grgic and Goran Juros also arrive. Medimurje could just survive, but it will be tight.
Player to Watch: Davor Vugrinec
NK Zagreb will be hoping to make headway up the league after finding their form under Igor Stimac. Pivotal to their success has been Davor Vugrinec who fired 11 goals which is a better tally than that of current Croatia international Mario Mandzukic. Vugrinec needs to keep his form, as well as targetman Ivan Kristanovic. Stimac was not slow however in providing them with additional help as Goran Ljubojevic was recruited from Racing Genk. Ljubojevic has a impressive CV having performed well with Osijek in a team that featured Daniel Pranjic, Marijan Buljat and Tomislav Mikulic, before moving onto Dinamo. Ljubojevic was also impressive as a Croatia under 21 international most remembered for a excellant double in a 3-0 win over England. At Genk Ljubojevic was a fans favorite helping put pay to Anderlecht and Club Brugge, before suffering injury which has curtailed his career. In addition to Ljubojevic arrives the promising Stjepan Babic from Amkar Perm and highly experienced former Croatian international Mario Tokic, who has played regularly in European competition and successfully in Austria. Going by the signings of Jethron and Marin Skender, Stimac may have also provided Zagreb with just what they needed. With such talent at their disposal its hard to see Zagreb going down. A successful season would be midtable, but Stimac is no doubt it will hard to achieve such heights.
Player to Watch: Asim Sehic
Although wealthy Russian owner finally took over Istra, it is going to be hard for the club to retain top flight status. Although Ante Tomic, Ivo Smoje, Marijan Buljat, Dario Zahora, Kristjan Caval and Dragan Blatnjak was linked none of those players arrived leaving Istra with much of what they had as well as four more recruits. Gjerj Bushaj and Bosko Stupic arrives with good reputations from Vllazina and Vardar Skopje, but are unproven at present in HNL1. A big plus is Marijan Markovic's stay despite interest from Tomsk and Khallilou Traore and Asim Sehic are still on board. The club's one high profile signing was Cameroon international Matias Chago who is out of favour at Dinamo Zagreb. Although some of Istra's targets appeared unrealistic Ivo Smoje was close to coming and his absence may be felt by the club as the season progresses. Istra will need their key players to shine to retain their top flight status. Macedonia Alimi was said to have been the biggest plus point during the winter break and will hope he continues his form from next week.
Player to Watch: Marko Guja
With just seven points to their name and Tomo Labudovic, Vedran Celiscak, Artim Polozoni and Stjepan Jukic following a whole host of players out the exit down its hard to see Sesvete even meaning from bottom spot. Despite the clubs financial status, they have in fact invested in players of some reputation. Pero Pejic arrives from Kapfenberg, Ante Serdarusic was with Grunther Feurth, whilst keeper Ivan Banovic - famous for being booked for removing a cat from the pitch - was first choice at Medimurje. On the plus side for Sesvete's players if any of them were to impress they could attract offers from other HNL1 sides in the summer. 62 year old Austrian Adolf Pinter is the new man the helm and will have nothing to lose when the season resumes.