Macedonian football returns from the long winter break this weekend. First league matches are starting on Saturday, while the Second League follows a day later.
After 19 completed rounds in the first half-season, we have a very tight race at the top of the table. Horizont Turnovo, Vardar and Pelister all share the top spot with 34 points each with only goal difference and mutual matches separating them. All of those three teams are visitors in the 20th round. Horizont Turnovo travels to Shtip to face Bregalnica, Vardar goes to Kichevo for a match against Napredok, while Pelister seems to have the hardest task as they travel to Skopje to meet Rabotnichki.
Horizont Turnovo has sold Dejan Blazhevski to Xəzər Lənkəran in Azerbaijan and will certainly have a hard time replacing him as he was one of the best players in the domestic championship. But, Dejan Cvetanoski from Napredok is a player with similar characteristics and Turnovo also added experienced striker Cvetan Churlinov and Bulgarian international Georgi Kakalov. Furthermore, Turnovo did not lose too many players during this transfer period, besides Blazhevski, so they are still a serious contender for the title. In fact, online bookmakers price them at 4.50 for winning the title, while Vardar is seen as having the best overall odds as they are priced at 1.50. Metalurg follows those two teams with odds of 6.00, Pelister is at 15.00, Rabotnichki 21.00 while Shkendija is at a whopping 251.00. You can learn why you should bet online by clicking here.
Vardar, with new owner Sergei Samsonenko, is slowly rebuilding a new squad. The first change was bringing in a new manager in Russian coach Sergey Andreyev who has replaced Blagoja Milevski. They have also brought in Filip Ivanovski and Ilcho Naumoski, two experienced strikers with national team appearances on their resume. Along with these players, they have also introduced Aleksandar Trninić and Anej Lovrečič. Aco Stojkov, Jorge Giménez, Aleksandar Petrović and Edin Adamović are no longer with the team.
Pelister is the only team in the top 4 that did not travel to Turkey for their winter training camp. Instead, they trained in Ohrid. At first glance, their squad seems mostly similar to the one during the first half-season, but we will see how they will cope with the fact they no longer have Stênio Marcos da Fonseca Salazar Júnior who has moved to Shkendija as well as Marjan Altiparmakovski and Tome Kitanovski.
Rabotnichki and Metalurg will be looking to capitalize on slip-ups from the top 3 in order to make a move up the table. Rabotnichki sold captain Krste Velkoski to Sarajevo, but brought back another high-quality striker in Blazhe Ilijoski. They also signed another former member of their club in midfielder Stephan Vujčić, along with adding two players from Bulgaria, so they will certainly be a team to watch. In the first spring round, as previously mentioned, they are hosting Pelister. Metalurg did not made big changes in their squad as consistency is one of their biggest strengths. In the first game of the second half-season, they host table neighbors Renova.
Renova is currently in the middle of the table, safe from relegation and 7 points away from third place, but several good or bad matches can completely turn things around. They also did not make many big changes to the squad.
We are now coming to the last 6 teams on the table. Come May, four will no longer be part of the First League, as this season 4 teams will be relegated to the Second League. Gostivar and Napredok face the toughest task as they sit rock bottom, and neither team was very active during the winter transfer window. However, if either team plays with pride, no team should underestimate them.
Makedonija Gjorche Petrov, Shkendija, Bregalnica and Euromilk Gorno Lisiche will be battling to avoid the other two places which lead to the Second League. Makedonija Gjorche Petrov did not make any noteworthy changes during this transfer window, similar to Bregalnica, and these two teams will really need to step up their play if they are to avoid relegation. This is because Shkendija and Euromilk were two of the most active teams as both sides brought in 9 new players. Considering there are 14 rounds to go and 42 points still in play, these two teams could not only safely avoid relegation, but they can also move up several spots in the standings.
Saturday at 14.00 CET:
National Arena Philip II of Macedon in Skopje
Rabotnichki vs. Pelister
Referee: Goran Spirkoski (Prilep)
Gradski stadium in Kichevo
Napredok vs. Vardar
Referee: Josip Barton (Tetovo)
Gradski stadium in Gostivar
Gostivar vs. Gorno Lisiche
Referee: Marjan Markoski (Ohrid)
Zhelezarnica stadium in Skopje
Metalurg vs. Renova
Referee: Stojanche Stojanov (Shtip)
Gradski stadium in Shtip
Bregalnica vs. Turnovo
Referee: Dalibor Gjorgjevski (Kumanovo)
Sunday ay 14.00 CET:
Gradski stadium in Tetovo
Shkendija vs. Makedonija Gjorche Petrov
Referee: Marjan Eckoski (Ohrid)